CPA Australia urges government to implement cost analysis on proposed changes to money laundering and terrorism financing laws

Labor senator Deborah O'Neill. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Labor senator Deborah O'Neill. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

One the nation's peak accounting bodies warns the expansion of money laundering regulation would ramp up costs to small businesses, which are already treading water because of the pandemic.

CPA Australia says no modelling has been conducted on the financial impact of broadening anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws on non-financial businesses and professions that would fall under the changes.

The industry body has placed submissions before a Senate committee looking into the expansion of the AML/CTF laws, claiming it would drive up cost pressures on smaller firms to comply.

Australia is one of three countries in the world left to implement tranche two of AML/CTF laws recommended by the global Financial Action Task Force, which broaden the scope to gatekeeper professions such as accountants, real estate agents and lawyers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to implement the changes.

The Senate inquiry chaired has heard evidence that organised crime is using high property values to launder money into Australia.

Law enforcement agencies such as AUSTRAC and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission support the expansion.

CPA Australia general manager Jane Rennie said there needs to be a distinction between accountants which are part of a professional body and ones who are not.

Dr Rennie noted CPA supports extending AML/ CTF, but is urging the Commonwealth to conduct a cost analysis of implementing the changes.

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The federal government in 2016 promised it would conduct a cost-benefit analysis on tranche two, however the report was never delivered.

"Without knowing how the government would implement these changes, it's difficult to estimate the potential cost to accounting practices," Dr Rennie said.

"That's why we're urging the government to undertake a cost-benefit analysis, as they originally committed to doing."

Dr Rennie also said current laws in place were designed for large corporate entities, claiming a significant proportion of professional accountants work in smaller businesses.

"Many accounting practices are one-, two- or three-person operations," she said.

"The government needs to be realistic about what it's asking accountants to do. Your local accountant, especially in the regional and rural areas, doesn't have the resources to perform the same checks as a bank does."

Labor senator Deb O'Neill last week flagged money laundering was costing upwards of $50 billion to the economy a year.

The Law Council of Australia last week claimed there was no evidence lawyers had been corrupted by crime and were assisting to launder funds.

Current AML/CTF laws apply to financial entities such as banks and casinos.

Financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC has been able to uncover money laundering activities within major companies including Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and Crown Resorts.

Companies regulated by AUSTRAC self report any suspicious activity which prompts investigation.

Senator O'Neill flagged the failure to enact tranche two has made Australia a prime target for criminal activity and were hiring the skills of professionals to hide money.

"They're pretty highly resourced and they actually go out seeking the skills of people like lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, to set up and provide end-to-end service providers for them to be able to launder their money," she said.

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This story Accountants at odds over changes to money laundering laws first appeared on The Canberra Times.