I recently drew attention to a Bill – the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Amendment (Increased Financial Transparency) Bill 2022 – introduced into the Australian parliament on 8 February 2022 requiring the government to introduce a Bill into the Australian parliament by Friday 30 September 2022. See Australia’s response to money laundering and terrorist financing – a Bill for a Bill | Murrays Legal
What Australia had to do, some years ago now, was to sharpen up its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) laws by introducing a beneficial ownership register and broadening the regulatory scope of Australia’s AML/CTF laws to cover powerful interest groups. This is the result.
Apart from Australia being remiss in its compliance with international AML/CFT obligations, it seems to struggle to attend to other comparable international obligations as well.
Open Government Partnership
As to the latest, Australia joined the Open Government Partnership Open Government Partnership | Committed to making governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens (opengovpartnership.org) (OGP) in 2015 with other governments around the world working to promote greater transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in government policy-making. Commitments undertaken by Australia included regulation of corruption among public officials, electoral funding, and public sector data use and sharing, including the beneficial ownership of companies. Free and open access to data was another, and a political corruption agency.
From the start, Australia seemed to struggle. It issued a first and then a second report on its efforts, the second mainly explaining incomplete actions from its first. It received an assessment from the OGP on its second report in September 2021. The OGP noted that while the Australian government’s key focus was on creating its third action plan, the second action plan gave little attention to actual implementation.
In respect of some commitments:
- five commitments were complete or substantially complete and three were incomplete. The level of fully or substantially complete commitments fell from 75% in the first action plan to the current 62.5%.
- “the government did not make progress [it] lacked interest in continuing these policy areas”.
- commitments on strengthening the national anti-corruption framework and enhancing transparency of political donations made little or slow progress.
- work on a national anti-corruption framework has been slow and “frustrating”
- there was no progress as to a beneficial ownership register, despite the government’s consultation of early 2017.
Also, the Minister and later the Assistant Minister did not respond to any invitations to meet the Open Government Forum, which it established, and which was said to negatively impact both the ambition of the action plan and its implementation. [See Ministers | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (pmc.gov.au)]
A special committee to help Australia
Now, the OGP has written to the government on 15 February 2022 saying that it had not received Australia’s 2021-23 Action Plan, a new one was required, by 31 December 2022, “in order to avoid acting contrary to the OGP process again”; if not, Australia will be placed under review by a special committee to help it resolve its inability to comply.
The government says this is “disappointing”, and indeed it is, but that it “is now considering its next steps”.
Tell us it ain’t so, Joe
To describe what seems to be Australia’s sad slide down a number of government integrity indices would take too long. But why have we dropped to 18th place on the Corruption Perception Index? 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index – Explore the… – Transparency.org
Other important issues
Meanwhile, I must return to important government initiatives being implemented in my areas of focus, where the impressively named “Regulator Performance Omnibus Bill 2022” would allow the indexing of statutory thresholds and amounts under the Bankruptcy Act to occur annually rather than bi-annually.
Hence, this would allow greater ease in increasing the $3,800 threshold for a bankrupt to keep their equipment to earn an income by “physical exertion”, down to three decimal places, but if an indexation factor is < 1, the indexation factor is increased to 1, using an amount worked out by multiplying the indexation factor for the indexation year with the $ amount for the previous year, the factor calculated by dividing the CPI for the March quarter immediately before the indexation year with the CPI for the March quarter before.
And where the Attorneys-Generals’ Our ministers – Attorney-General’s portfolio (ag.gov.au) MSE insolvency reforms would stop a licensed construction worker from working for a year, but extend her or his bankruptcy if she or he did not “disclose to the trustee, as soon as practicable, property that is acquired by him or her, or devolves on him or her, before his or her discharge, being property divisible amongst his or her creditors”; and would increase penalties to stop rogue, reckless and repeat bankrupts and unscrupulous, unregulated, unlicensed advisors.
Unless they are money-launderers.