STATES AND territories continue to “thwart” efforts by the Australian Government to deal with terrorism-related and other money laundering offences, Attorney General Ruddock has said.
At the Standing Committee of Attorneys General meeting on Norfolk Island recently, Ruddock expressed frustration at not being given legislative remedies to fill what his office regarded as “significant gaps in Commonwealth constitutional powers” which are said to create problems for the enactment of comprehensive federal money laundering offences.
Referring to the current arrangement as “a combination of piecemeal powers across jurisdictions”, Ruddock called for a clear, unambiguous reference of power to the Commonwealth. He said this would prevent the thwarting of “our legitimate efforts to avail ourselves of every legislative weapon we can muster in the war against terrorism”.
The A-G’s office noted that in order to eliminate the risk of Commonwealth prosecutions failing on technical grounds, it was not enough just for the states and territories to reform their offences, though the Government did support these efforts to reform.
While the A-G’s state counterparts refused to commit to a reference of power, there was a risk that terrorists could be given “constitutional loopholes to help them escape prosecution”, Ruddock said.
“Clearly that risk is unacceptable to me and to the Australian Government and we will continue to push for a seamless and effective national regime of money laundering offences,” Ruddock added.
The states and territories had refused to commit to referring power to the Commonwealth “despite acknowledging a constitutional gap existed and despite providing no compelling reason to retain the current ad hoc approach to criminalising money laundering”, Ruddock said.
This countered earlier support for reform, Ruddock claimed. His office noted that at the April 2002 Leaders’ Summit on Terrorism and Multijurisdictional Crime, the Commonwealth, state and territory leaders committed to create effective offences, “including a reference of power to the Commonwealth if necessary”.
Yet at the SCAG meeting in November 2003 and again recently on Norfolk Island, states and territories refused to commit to referring power to the Commonwealth, the office noted.
Claiming the Australian Government did not seek to assume sole responsibility for money laundering offences, Ruddock said comprehensive Commonwealth offences would operate alongside improved state and territory offences.