MGA Independent Retailers has urged the Federal Parliament House of Representatives, House Committee on Tax and Revenue to recommend new powers to stop illegal tobacco.
Appearing before the Committee on Wednesday, MGA Independent Retailers CEO, Jos de Bruin detailed the crime’s devastating impact on the nation’s retailers.
“In the past twelve months, this crime has spiraled out of control and grocery and liquor stores across the country are struggling to make ends meet,” Mr de Bruin said.
“We are talking about thousands of stores across the country, who are major employers. When they are under threat, that means jobs are under threat – that is a completely unacceptable situation.
“Illegal tobacco is being sold at pop up stores and markets – people are openly buying 100 cigarettes for $30 dollars and no one seems to have the power to do anything about it.
“I thank the Committee for the opportunity to detail the terrible impacts of illegal tobacco and the fact that the illicit trade costs the Federal Government up to $4 billion a year in lost excise tax revenue.
“The thriving illegal market has created an additional blow to retailers – by making legal tobacco the key target for criminals who steal it and sell it onto the black market.
“The break ins and robberies at grocery and liquor stores across the country are at a level that’s never been seen before.
“This is happening at a time when there’s less and less cash in retail stores because everything is moving to tap and go. Criminals are after one thing – tobacco.
“Insurance companies can’t believe the spike in this crime either. In fact, some are now unwilling to insure businesses for tobacco.
“I’ve urged the Committee to recommend that the Federal Government comes up with a strategy to stop the major tax and revenue losses caused by illegal tobacco.
“At the moment, we have limited resources for agencies fighting smuggling at the border and a confused system for who is responsible for policing the sale of illegal products on the street.
“What we need is a coordinated national strategy led by law enforcement, which goes after illegal tobacco from the border to the street.
“Of course, we also need greater penalties when these crime gangs go before the courts. Currently, we have small fines and suspended sentences, which provide little deterrent.
“Combating illegal tobacco is in the nation’s interest – it will prevent billions going to crime syndicates, stop the huge economic losses being experienced by major employers across the country and will drive down crime.
“The Committee clearly recognised the size and scale of this issue. It’s time the Federal Government did the same.”