THE FEDERAL government has finally released an exposure draft Bill covering its reform of Australia’s anti-money laundering (AML) laws amid fears that the new legislation could be too prescriptive.
Following a series of delays stretching over two years, financial services professionals breathed a sigh of relief at the Bill’s release last month, but concern over the nature of the laws is already evident.
“Some of the high-level principles we were expecting are there and we are encouraged to see statements in accordance with the Minister’s [Chris Ellison, Minister for Justice and Customs] promises at consultations,” said one senior financial services source.
“But it is interesting in that we have been told it will be principles-based yet there is already a lot of detail. There will be concerns over how the regulator handles implementation and supervision.”
The Bill will implement the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF’s) recommendations on combating money laundering. Australia was recently found to be non-compliant with FATF’s guidelines largely as a result of the Government’s failure to publish the draft ahead of inspections, and a subsequent assessment meeting.
FATF is a global body based in France that develops anti-money laundering guidelines.
However, lawyers and accountants that do not provide services in direct competition with the financial sector will be spared the initial compliance effort.
“The Government agreed to implement the FATF Recommendations in two tranches, with the exposure Bill setting out the first tranche of reforms covering a range of services provided by the financial services sector, gambling service providers and bullion dealers,” Ellison said. “It also covers lawyers and accountants to the extent that the services provided are in direct competition with the financial sector.”
A second tranche of obligations will be considered after the initial reform with real estate agents, jewellers, lawyers and accountants likely to be targeted.
Ellison has given interested parties four months to comment on the Bill, a period expected to be marked by intense debate.
Some sources have questioned predictions of the cost of compliance with the new laws. Estimates have ranged from a few million dollars to nearly $1 billion.
“We’ve seen some nonsense figures being touted around regarding the cost of all this,” said another senior financial services source. “There’s going to be some heated comment on this: the crucial thing is to ensure this is rolled out in a way that is practical and not too costly, both for us and for our customers.”
But some believe the issue is not with the legislation, but rather the legacy systems that will now need reengineering.
“You could argue it’s not the legislation that’s complex, it’s the internal structures that make it complex,” said one senior compliance expert. “Is AML and the money being put aside for it masking the fact that you actually aren’t able to run your businesses properly?”
Stuart Fagg is the editor of Lawyers Weekly’s sister publication, Risk Management magazine.