The Federal Government is set to be grilled over “concerning reports” about Austrac operations, its CEO and claims it potentially bungled investigations into suspected child exploitation. Picture: Gary Ramage
The Federal Government is set to be grilled over “concerning reports” about Austrac operations, its CEO and claims it potentially bungled investigations into suspected child exploitation. Picture: Gary Ramage

Federal opposition calls for inquiry into Austrac, CEO

The Federal Government is set to face a grilling at Senate Estimates this week over "concerning reports" about the operations of Australia's financial crime watchdog, the background of CEO Nicole Rose and claims the agency potentially bungled investigations into suspected child exploitation crimes.

Nicole Rose, CEO of Austrac, at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage
Nicole Rose, CEO of Austrac, at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage

The Government is also expected to face questioning from Labor about the way Ms Rose was appointed to the top job at Austrac and claims made about the tertiary qualifications she held, as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton stood by her and said he had the utmost faith in Ms Rose.

MP Peter Dutton and Austrac CEO Nicole Rose. Picture: Stuart McEvoy
MP Peter Dutton and Austrac CEO Nicole Rose. Picture: Stuart McEvoy

Mr Dutton told the ABC Insiders' program on Sunday Austrac had not sat on information for too long before referring cases of suspected child exploitation to the AFP denying there was any delay.

He also referred to conflicting information about Ms Roses' qualifications in her CV and those stated in the annual report of Austrac, as a "hatchet job" and said the personal attack on Ms Rose came as she was taking the agency to new levels of success.

Nicole Rose’s CV used to apply to the CEO role she now holds with Austrac.
Nicole Rose’s CV used to apply to the CEO role she now holds with Austrac.

Opposition Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said there were serious questions needed to be asked about Austrac's protocols and processes when it became aware of suspected child abuse.

Ms Keneally said Labor will pursue inquiries at Senate Estimates this week.

Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Kristina Keneally says Labor will pursue inquiries at Senate Estimates. Picture: Joel Carrett
Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Kristina Keneally says Labor will pursue inquiries at Senate Estimates. Picture: Joel Carrett

"And I am concerned that it seems to demonstrate that the Minister Peter Dutton is not across all aspects of his portfolio in matters as serious as these," she said.

"Now Estimates is this week and this government with its allergy to transparency and accountability has demonstrated both in the Parliament and in Estimates and in public at media conferences and the like it is unwilling to give straight answers to questions."

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News Corp reported on Sunday Austrac potentially bungled a major online child exploitation investigation by sitting on vital evidence for too long and then compromising any police probe by prematurely releasing details about potential offenders without giving police time to act.

The affair has brought into sharp focus the role of Austrac CEO Nicole Rose, her meteoric rise to the $500,000 a year position and the way the federal agency operates.

The job advertisement for the Austrac CEO position which Nicole Rose now holds.
The job advertisement for the Austrac CEO position which Nicole Rose now holds.

Austrac receives reports about potential criminal money trails, including those involving possible child exploitation, tirages the information using computer systems and staff, before handing over evidence to police for investigation.

Nicole Rose, CEO of Austrac, at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage
Nicole Rose, CEO of Austrac, at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage

Crime experts and former senior international police officers say it is vital for police to be quickly informed - ideally within 24 hours - when evidence comes to light of active child sex crimes.

News Corp revealed Westpac sent suspicious matter reports to Austrac starting in 2018 but the watchdog did not refer them to police until November 2019 just days before taking action against Westpac for breaching anti-money laundering laws and being too slow to implement changes which would have identified suspicious activity sooner.

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It was also revealed Ms Rose was parachuted in the role of CEO in a deal signed off by former Justice Minister Michael Keenan, after being the contact person for the job, who also sat on the candidates' interview panel.

Conflicting statements in her CV supplied to News Corp and the annual reports of Austrac were also revealed.

Nicole Rose’s role as the chief executive officer with Austrac.
Nicole Rose’s role as the chief executive officer with Austrac.

Ms Rose declined to answer any questions about her qualifications including statements she had tertiary qualifications in business and management when the only formal qualification she had was a Hotel School Diploma in Hospitality Management.

ALP member for Fraser and member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Dr Daniel Mullino, said the claims raised about Austrac's conduct in relation to the Westpac child sexual exploitation affair are "deeply concerning".

Nicole Rose, CEO of Austrac, at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage
Nicole Rose, CEO of Austrac, at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage

"We need to know if it is true that Austrac only informed the AFP on 14 November 2019 that it was considering action against Westpac, despite Westpac self-reporting its concerns about child sex exploitation to Austrac back in 2018. What did Peter Dutton know about this and when?" he said.