Federal illegal tobacco inquiry to recommend crackdown on crime epidemic

ROARING TRADE: The sale of illegal cigarettes is extremely lucrative for Australian crime gangs.
ROARING TRADE: The sale of illegal cigarettes is extremely lucrative for Australian crime gangs.

The Federal Government must waste no time in implementing the recommendations of a Parliamentary Inquiry into illegal tobacco, if it’s to stop the criminal gangs who make millions from the trade.

Details have been revealed of a forthcoming report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, which has been examining the issue of illegal tobacco for two years.

Their recommendations will include:

• Recognising that raising excise is only fuelling the illegal trade.

• Additional resources for the Australian Border Force to prevent smuggling.

• More police on the streets to regulate and enforce penalties for the sale of illegal tobacco.

• New laws that prevent tobacco companies supplying to retailers who sell illegal tobacco.

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores CEO, Jeff Rogut, welcomed the tough proposed measures to address the illegal tobacco crime epidemic.

“We’ve been calling for tough action like this for years and we thank the Committee, albeit in advance, for recognising just how serious this issue has become,” Mr Rogut said.

“For too long, criminals have taken advantage of the gaps that exist around regulation of illegal tobacco, and have literally been driving trucks laden with contraband through those gaps.

“The sale of illegal tobacco undercuts retailers across the country and incentivises crime against not just my shops, but newsagents, petrol stations, convenience stores and supermarkets everywhere.

“The trade is booming – and cigarettes have become the most valuable commodity for crime gangs.

Our stores and our staff are victims of terrifying smash and grab robberies on a daily basis.

“The recommendations flagged last night are a good first step in addressing an issue that takes a shocking toll on the victims of crime, and also Australia’s economy.

“There was a recent KPMG report that said the Australian Government loses $1.6 billion a year in lost excise because of illegal tobacco, so it’s not just us hurting, it’s everyone.

“What we need is a swift implementation by the Federal and State Governments, after the recommendations are officially handed, which the news report said should be later this month.

“Police at both the border and street levels are in desperate need of more resources to take on the powerful crime syndicates who control this lucrative business, and the retailers are desperate for them to have those.

“For our part, retailers need to work together to provide any bolstered effort or agency with the information and cooperation they need to be effective.

“The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement is made up of members from across all political backgrounds and we are hopeful that this report will see them come together on this important issue.

“These recommendations will only be effective if they are enforced with close collaboration between all responsible agencies - police, health authorities, the Australian Taxation Office and local councils.”