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Retail industry leaders call for renewed focus on penalties for illegal tobacco activity
Representatives of thousands of small businesses say penalties “clearly insufficient” after Victorian man fined just $1000 in illegal tobacco case
Retail industry leaders have united to call for a renewed focus on laws to crack down on illicit tobacco after a Victorian court case in which a man who admitted to illegal possession and distribution of large amounts of illicit cigarettes was punished with a $1000 fine.
The leaders of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), the Master Grocers Asso-ciation (MGA) and the Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association (ALNA) said deterrents for participating in the booming tobacco black market were clearly insufficient.
“Enough is enough. We know that hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax revenue are being lost to the illegal tobacco trade, which supports other activities of criminal syndicates,” the associations said. “It also inflicts enormous costs on legitimate businesses who play important roles in their communities.”
“The Federal Government has been working hard to stop illicit tobacco at the border. But if the pen-alties for this type of criminal activity at a retail level fail to provide a sufficient deterrent, it is clear the market will continue to thrive,” the associations said in the statement released by AACS chief executive Theo Foukkare, MGA chief executive Jos de Bruin, and ALNA chief executive Ben Kearney.
This week a man in Shepparton, Victoria, pleaded guilty to reckless possession of imported tobacco products with intent to defraud the revenue, possessing a prohibited weapon, among other charges. In the investigation, police searches uncovered 18.625g of illegal loose tobacco, 100 boxes of 100 cigarettes, and 171 cartons of 200 cigarettes with an evaded excise value of almost $80,000.
The man told police he was being paid $300 a week to pick up consignments of tobacco and deliver them to a range of stores, over a period of five to six months. He was fined just $1000 for the tobacco possession.
“Crime related to illegal tobacco is far too commonplace across Australia. The thriving black market is not just a smuggling problem. Retail workers regularly have their safety at risk from thieves targeting stores for tradeable amounts of cigarettes.”
In September this year, Tania Maxwell MLC introduced a motion to Parliament calling for a strengthening of Victoria’s response to the retail trade in illicit tobacco, which was passed with support from the Government and the Opposition. The motion was welcomed by the retail industry who have been calling for a crackdown on illicit tobacco for several years.
“This case is another in a long line of examples that shows the law has not kept pace with criminal activity when it comes to illicit tobacco. We call on the state government to ensure the penalties for this type of activity are increased to become a credible deterrent for criminals.”
AACS, MGA and ALNA understand that the Victorian Government is currently assessing several measures that could aid in the fight against illicit tobacco including enhanced police powers, the introduction of significant on the spot fines and establishment of a tobacco licensing scheme. The associations will be writing to the Premier seeking clarity on the timing for introduction of these measures which are desperately needed to shut down this black market that continues fund organised crime at the expense of hard-working small businesses operators.
Victoria and Queensland are currently the only two states that do not have a regulated licensing scheme for the sale of tobacco.
Theo Foukkare is available for interview: 0423 003 133
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