In response to queries from iTWire, the spokesperson said that while bitcoin could now be purchased from newsagents — as reported — only those holding an account with a digital currency provider would be able to make a purchase.
Changes made to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) Amendment Act 2017 would make it compulsory for digital currency exchanges (DCEs) to register with the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and comply with anti-money laundering obligations.
These obligations are expected to commence on 3 April and would include the obligation to report suspicious matters to AUSTRAC, the spokesperson said.
"Regulation of DCEs will improve information-sharing between AUSTRAC and the sector, which in turn provides law enforcement with actionable financial intelligence that will support their investigation of criminal activities."
Earlier this year, after bitcoin plunged in value after sharp rises last year, a number of countries - among them China, South Korea, India and the US - indicated that moves were afoot to impose laws on the trading of such assets. At the time, efforts to ascertain Australia's response were unfruitful.
Asked about the use of cryptocurrencies for illegal purposes, the spokesperson responded that the AML/CTF regime regulated businesses that provide services which were likely to pose a risk of money laundering or financing terrorism.
"When regulated businesses provide these services, they are required to identify and verify their customers, and report certain information to AUSTRAC," the spokesperson said.
"AUSTRAC’s financial intelligence and analysis have been used by law enforcement partners to 'follow the money' and track down the financial networks of criminals linked to money laundering, serious crime and terrorism financing."
Asked about the rules around obtaining cryptocurrencies from an ATM, the spokesperson said similar rules would apply - one would have to open an account after providing ID to the digital vendor in question first.
Regarding the role of AUSTRAC, the spokesperson said under the AML/CTF Act, DCEs would be required to collect information to establish a customer relationship, monitor transactions and report to AUSTRAC where those transactions involved large amounts of cash, or were suspicious.
"AUSTRAC is working with digital currency exchange providers to equip them with the toolkit to identify, manage and mitigate the risks of money laundering and terrorism financing and to report suspicious activity," the spokesperson said.
"Compliance with these obligations ensures that AUSTRAC is able to collect information about the movement of money, domestically and internationally. Reports provided by DCEs will fill an intelligence gap about the movement of funds using digital currencies such as bitcoin, and allow AUSTRAC to provide financial intelligence and information to support investigations.
"The regulation has been generally welcomed by the digital currency exchange sector, as it will strengthen public and consumer confidence in the sector and further protect their operations from misuse from money laundering and terrorism financing."