Fines and jail time increase for illegal tobacco growing
THE Australasian Association of Convenience Stores has welcomed tougher penalties for illegal tobacco farms.
"Taxpayers lose $1.6 billion in excise each year as a result of organised tobacco crime, and that money is literally diverted from hospitals and schools to criminals,” association chief executive officer Jeff Rogut said.
The Federal Government recently announced higher fines and longer jail terms for offenders.
Almost 120 tonnes of illicit tobacco was reportedly seized and destroyed by the Australian Taxation Office in the last 18 months, with an excise value worth around $91 million.
"Illicit tobacco is illegally grown, illegally imported or illegally obtained, and while this legislative package is a great start, even more can be done to apply to other elements,” Mr Rogut said.
The new laws will increase the maximum jail term for excise offences from two to 10 years.
The maximum fine of $105,000 will rise to $315,000.
Investigators will no longer need to prove whether illicit tobacco was grown domestically or imported before applying the offences.
The Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP, said the government was delivering on the 2016-17 Budget commitment to stop the illegal tobacco trade which the Australian Taxation Office has identified as a major revenue source for organised crime.
"Under the current legislation, before charges can be laid under the Excise or Customs Act, the origin of the illegal tobacco seized in Australia has to be proven. As the origin of tobacco cannot be readily determined, this obviously limits the ability to impose penalties even where substantial quantities are involved,” Minister O'Dwyer said.
"Furthermore, the current law has inconsistent penalties and limitations on how they can be applied.”
"This measure will ensure that tobacco products imported and consumed domestically are fully taxed and comply with Australian regulations.”
The Bill provides for new tobacco excise fault-based offences and reasonable suspicion offences that can apply to tobacco.
The penalties take into account the seriousness of the offence and will provide a deterrent to illegal activities.
Once both Bills are enacted, the amendments as a whole will ensure there is a comprehensive set of offences aimed at stopping the importation, possession, purchase, sale and production of illicit tobacco.
In addition, the Bill makes it an offence to possess equipment used in the production of illicit tobacco.