Calls for support to tackle illegal tobacco gangs

The Federal Government has been advised by Ritchies Stores not to ignore warnings from the Australian Border Force (ABF).

In a Senate Committee meeting recently, acting ABF commissioner Michael Outram said on many occasions the ABF “have been unable to collect sufficient evidence to prosecute” smugglers.

Ritchies Stores CEO Fred Harrison said it was a dire warning that the Federal Government shouldn’t ignore.

“This is a trade that’s costing Australia $1.6 billion a year in lost excise, according to an analysis by KPMG,” he said.

“In the last financial year, the ABF seized double the amount of illegal tobacco than it did the year before – 381 tonnes.

“That’s $350 million dollars in excise that they’ve stopped being funnelled off to these powerful crime gangs.

“But the most shocking fact is how much more is out there – that’s what the ABF is telling the Federal Government.

“The ABF Acting Commissioner has raised serious concerns about the organisation’s limited powers to track the smugglers behind the illegal tobacco and the prosecute them.

“This is the problem we as retailers have been raising for years – regulatory agencies don’t have enough powers to prosecute the gangs and more often than not those responsible go free.

“Illegal tobacco is a crime epidemic that is taking billions of dollars from taxpayers and causing significant losses to retailers – because they are undercut and suffer through related crime.

“How can the Federal Government afford to ignore this problem any longer? Illegal tobacco is now amongst the most valuable of the illegal contraband in the country.

“The Acting Commissioner also gave evidence that overseas crime gangs were using similar smuggling techniques as they’d previously used with illicit drugs.

“We now have the ABF, the ATO and the Black Economy Taskforce all calling for additional power to crackdown on this crime epidemic.

“As soon as this month, a Parliamentary Joint Committee is expected to hand down recommendations to the Government for action on illegal tobacco.

“The response must be speedy. As a nation we can’t afford to sustain these losses any longer.

“It’s time for the Government to act and back these agencies and officers, who are screaming about the size of this problem,” Mr Harrison concluded.

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