AACS warn of looming surge in rural crime

The Australasian Association Convenience Stores has warned ‘worrying’ rising unemployment figures in regional areas will spark a rural crime wave.

The association is so concerned it has issued a warning to authorities of potential increases in armed robberies, petrol theft, as well as in the trade of illicit tobacco.

The warning was prompted by recent unemployment figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which shows regional areas have been particularly hard hit. In the New England area, in northern NSW, the rate has risen from a pre-pandemic 4.6% to 6.1%. In Coffs Harbour and Grafton, also in the north of the state, it’s currently at a high of 7.7%.

The mid north coast isn’t faring much better, with Newcastle and neighbouring Lake Macquarie sitting at 6.6%. While the Illawarra region, south of Sydney, is 6.9%.

AACS CEO Jeff Rogut said the rising cost of living, combined with widespread loss of income, would lead to an upsurge in crime.

“We know from past experience that cost of living pressure leads to increases in crimes against convenience stores. Hold-ups, armed robberies and petrol theft are at risk of rising whenever the unemployment rate rises, and this could potentially be exacerbated by the ending of Government measures like JobKeeper and JobSeeker,” Mr Rogut said.

“In recent years, the saturation of illegal cigarettes throughout the community is creating serious additional headaches for legitimate retailers, who lose legal sales to criminals who sell illegal products of unknown ingredients and unknown origins to anyone, including minors.

“With the high cost of legal tobacco in Australia, recently made more expensive by the Australian Government’s latest round of excise increases, tobacco is consistently targeted by criminals, who can often turn violent and place store employees at huge risk.

Mr Rogut has called for a coordinated strategy by legislators, regulators and law enforcement to support C-stores and other small businesses as they emerge from the tumultuous year, as well as a targeted approach to street level crime.

 “Australia is one of the world’s most lucrative markets for illegal tobacco and as more people experience financial difficulty in the current climate, there are very real concerns that the illicit market could spiral further out of control,” Mr Rogut said.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) seized and destroyed 131 tons of illicit tobacco during the last financial year, worth more than $171 million in foregone excise. More than 181 acres of illicit tobacco growing in regional areas during search warrants along the east coast of Australia.

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