Here at the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) we pride ourselves on the laser-like scrutiny we give to the movement of money between foreign countries and Australia and the skill with which we administer that sacred trust. You could validly say that we control and supervise the veins and arteries through which the financial lifeblood of our economy flows. But we also keep the closest watch on dubious and suspicious payments that might show the evil machinations of international terrorism and organised crime via their willing handmaiden, money laundering. Through the still watches of the night, our vast array of powerful computers purr quietly away, a sleeping dragon but with one eye open, ever alert to the smallest transaction that might be marginally suspect. When any such payment is discovered, our highly trained team of experts springs into action, pounces on the potential transgression and snuffs it out before it can take a single step towards consummating its evil intentions. Thus, so rigorous are our protocols and internal checks and balances that we are renowned throughout the exchequers and central banks of the financial world as the most efficient of all such supervisory institutions.
Now, being quiet achievers, we do not usually make much fuss over our activities and achievements, and it is only because some recent gossip and criticism was particularly ignorant and baseless, that I take this opportunity to set the record straight and put it into perspective. Some months ago, as part of our ever-astute observation and meticulous scrutiny of financial movements, 47,000 separate payments accidentally slipped past our eagle eye. These payments amounted to $2.3 billion that had been sent from the Vatican City to Australia over four years, and none of our senior executives was able to identify either the sender or the recipient of those substantial funds. Naturally, we investigated the transactions with our customary microscopic precision, but were still left with the unanswered question of why anyone or any group of people should send $2.3 billion from the headquarters of the Catholic church in Rome to Australia. Naturally, we brought our sharpest brains to the task and held numerous working lunches, stakeholder liaison seminars, executive retreats at the Greta Thunberg Centre for Self-Awareness and numerous inquiries to investigate the twin mysteries of how had the money been raised and on what was it to be spent? Was it for an investment project? Possibly, but was it not more likely to have been destined for one of the charitable projects for which the Catholic Church is so renowned? These and other explanations were possible, but the whole business remained a mystery that rivalled The Flying Dutchman and the Bermuda Triangle.
Eventually, after bringing to bear our most powerful computers and sharpest analysts, we discovered that the sum in question did not come from the Vatican alone but was the combined total of all monies that had been sent to Australia from both the Vatican and Italy. Compared with the total sum, the portion that had originated from the Vatican itself was miniscule, leaving $2 billion from Italy.
A horde of critics then descended on us and unleashed their ignorant criticisms. Not surprisingly, they turned out to be a very motley and dubious crew: pro-Trumpites, small government eccentrics, climate change deniers and such-like. Inevitably, they asked some very foolish and superficial questions like: how could you confuse Italy and the Vatican? With a name like AUSTRAC, how could you lose track of $2 billion? Your staff might have overlooked 47 transactions, or 470, but 47,000? What were they doing?
Well, we have more than adequate answers to all of those questions. First, it was a simple mistake. The man in charge was, as Julia Gillard observed about herself when she was accused of financial shortcomings, young and inexperienced. He was also in transition, and then in reverse, which takes twice the time. He had thought that the Vatican and Italy were one and the same: a perfectly simple mistake when you consider the educational standards of today, which is a state government matter. Moreover, we were implementing some highly sophisticated COVID-19 protection plans at the time and no one was in the office. They were all working from home and the young person says he/she/ they looked up a family atlas which had a dot for Rome which was definitely in Italy and that, as Rome was the same as the Vatican, it must be in Italy. They also knew there were a lot of Catholics here and it was not surprising that the Church was giving them money, because it does.
We know now, of course, that the $2b must have been payments to the mafia or perhaps for pasta and cheese for our valued Italian immigrants who have made such a contribution to our multicultural society. Anyway, missing 47,000 transactions is a small price to pay for keeping our employees safe. And $2 billion is really small, compared with the billions we did not say came from the Vatican.
Secondly, we had a lot of major projects on at the time. We were completely revamping our website, as you can see if you look it up at www.austrac.gov.au, to show that the Aboriginals own the land our building is on (we now have a working party on the issue of why, if the Aboriginals own the land, we don’t give it back to them?)
Thirdly, we were undergoing a major restructuring of the organisation to establish a new Wellness, Diversity and Equality Division and these things take time, especially filling the 516 executive positions in the new division and awarding Cartier watches to everyone involved in this significant downsizing.
Finally, we unequivocally recognise that this comparatively small problem must never happen again. So, we have installed a large environmentally sensitive and sustainable sign in our foyer that says in capital letters and 54 community and indigenous languages: “The Vatican is Separate from Italy.” Now, can we have some closure and privacy, please?
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