Ten retail chains and associations have joined in a call on the Federal Government to develop a national strategy to deal with increasing organised tobacco crime.
The illegal tobacco trade is making both retailers and the community less safe, driving up street and shop crime and diverting $1.6 billion from taxpayers. In 2016 Australian Border Force said some of the proceeds from the crime were even funding terrorism.
The call was raised at a meeting on 25 March by the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), Australian Retailers Association (ARA), MGA Independent Retailers and the Australian Lottery and Newsagents’ Association (ALNA). A few days later, major retailers TSG, Free Choice, King of the Pack, CTC and Cignall added their voices.
“Taxpayer money is going up in smoke, instead of going to our infrastructure, hospitals and schools,” said Jeff Rogut, CEO of AACS. Rogut means that the excise taxes imposed on tobacco products was going directly to organised crime, not the government.
Russell Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), said this also affected legitimate retail businesses and their employees, more than 1.2 million people, by losing customers to the criminals.
Fred Harrison, CEO of Ritchies, said crime gangs who previously dealt in drugs have moved into the tobacco market because it’s a low-risk, high-return crime.
“Criminal gangs are putting something worth thousands on a boat one end, and it’s worth millions by the time it gets here,” said Harrison.
The crime also pays because the fines are much lower, estimated last year by the Australian Financial Review at around $17,000 on average.
MGA CEO Jos de Bruin said some businesses can’t even get insurance for legal tobacco, because they are so often the victims of armed hold-ups.
Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association CEO, Adam Joy, said the Federal Government needed “a comprehensive and coordinated plan”, involving regulators, industry and state governments.
“We look forward to the Government’s swift response and stand ready, as Australia’s biggest retailers, to assist in any way we can,” Mr Joy said.