Subjects: Illicit Tobacco Taskforce; deportation of criminals; Pacific Islands Forum.
I'm very pleased to be here in Sydney at the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce.
Firstly I want to say thank you very much to all of the Border Force officers and all of the members of the taskforce who keep Australians safe every day and in particular, in relation to this effort, are seizing record numbers of tobacco – both in terms of cigarette sticks as well as loose leaf and other aspects of what is a trade that costs us hundreds of millions of dollars a year – in fact some $600 million a year in lost revenue.
I want to say thank you very much to the Acting Commissioner of the Australian Border Force Mandy Newton who joins me here this morning as well.
The fact is that we have millions of people moving across our borders each year. We have millions of consignments and one of the reasons that we keep Australians safe is through the work of the Australian Border Force officers. I want to tribute, in particular, to the frontline men and women of the Australian Border Force. They are world-leading in the work that they do in keeping Australians safe.
The $70 million investment that we announced in the most recent Budget into this Taskforce will stop this trade, as much as we can, because we know that the profits from the trade of illicit tobacco are ultimately, in many cases, diverted back into other organised crime efforts. It doesn't matter whether it's terrorism, child exploitation, other aspects of organised crime – including the illegal movement of people across borders, as well as the movement of illicit substances such methamphetamine and other illicit drugs – all of these syndicates are involved in different parts of their businesses and tobacco is one of the most lucrative, given the high excise arrangement in Australia.
So we've had some 60,000 detections over the course of the last 12 months and to the Taskforce – which is made up not only the Australian Border Force, but also of officers from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, as well as AUSTRAC, also the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and the ATO – all of them work very closely together because we want to stamp out this trade.
The Government has before the Parliament at the moment some laws that will, we think, if they're improved and supported by the Opposition in the Parliament, they will further strengthen our arm in combating the scourge of the importation of illicit tobacco.
In addition to that we've also made an effort, not only around the $70 million, but we're requiring people that want to import tobacco into our country to first get a permit before they do that, and also we want to make sure that people are paying the duties when the product is imported into our country, not when it's dispatched from the warehouse.
So I want to again congratulate the Australian Border Force on the great success that they've had. There is, as I say, an enormous benefit to organised crime through the profits of the illegal importation of tobacco, but also importantly, it's very…as parents we need to recognise that tobacco coming in in this form is of course a health risk to children as well. People who are involved in organised crime gangs don't care the quality of the substance, or the tobacco leaf, or product that's coming into our country and ultimately it's being consumed by young Australians and the health outcomes of that, as we know, are devastating particularly later in life.
I also wanted to just make a couple of comments this morning in relation to the Australian Federal Police effort to help their counterparts in Thailand. I want to commend the efforts of the six ABF officers who have gone across. They are experts in their field and they've joined an international effort with the Thai Royal Police in locating and making sure that the 12 boys and their soccer coach are as safe as possible and that they're repatriated back to their families as quickly as possible. This is a demonstration of the effort, of the capacity of the Australian Federal Police and I want to thank very much the officers that have gone across to Thailand to be involved in that exercise.
Mandy, I might ask you to say a few words and then I'm happy to take any questions.
Thank you very much Minister for attending today at the CEF here in Sydney.
I want to emphasise the issue of the over 60,000 detections that have occurred in the last 12 months. In total, that's 152 tonnes of loose leaf and molasses tobacco and over 209 million cigarettes and certainly, the Australian Border Force want to make sure that organised crime are not benefiting and profiting from the use of tobacco.
So people in the community, when they choose to buy a packet of cigarettes from under the counter, underestimate what the long-term impact of managing those issues with organised crime and funding organised crime to actually undertake further illicit activity in the community, including drug-related matters of methamphetamine, opioids and other types of drug efforts.
The Australian Border Force are particularly skilled in the detection of tobacco – as you will see from the presentation here today of just a small amount that comes through the border on a daily basis – but the stand-up of this Taskforce actually means in the first instance, 64 additional staff working with the ABF, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and the Australian Taxation Office, working with the Commonwealth DPP in prosecuting people for offences related to tobacco.
There's been 137 charges laid against tobacco offences in the last 12 months and 83 successful prosecutions so far in relation to those offences. So I want to make the message very clear that the Australian Border Force, in conjunction with its Home Affairs partners and the ATO, will prosecute offenders for tobacco-related offences to make sure that proper duty is paid for tobacco and the industry is managed in the future, and ensuring the transit of tobacco across our borders is taken properly as a country in making sure that we're spending the money in a way that we're prosecuting those people that choose to offend and deal with organised crime. Thank you very much.
Are there any questions?
I've got a few.
Guess I'll take the floor. First of all, can I just ask you, in regards to a New Zealand juvenile that's being held in an adult immigration detention centre in Melbourne? Your thoughts on that?
Well, the first point I'd make is that my job is to keep Australians safe and I'm not going to allow people into the community that pose a risk to Australian citizens. If people are here on a visa – whether they're here from New Zealand or any other country – and they act outside of the visa conditions or they commit a criminal offence against Australians – and particularly in cases where somebody has committed multiple offences against Australian citizens – then I'll rely on the advice, firstly, in relation to the cancellation of that visa and secondly in relation to the deportation of that individual.
Now, it's open to this individual to return to New Zealand voluntarily at any time. If he wants to go on a plane today I'll facilitate his return to New Zealand today. We don't want him here in Australia and if New Zealand want him back, then he's welcome to get on the first flight out. We will make sure that he's deported at the first available opportunity, but at the moment he's delaying his return to New Zealand.
The broader point as I say is I'm not going to allow people out into the Australian community who are here as non-citizens, who have lengthy criminal histories, who pose a threat to Australian citizens and the sooner we can deport this individual the better for us and let it be a very clear message to other people involved in criminal activity that visa cancellations are up by some 1,200 per cent.
Australia is going to continue down that path because people who come to our country are most welcome, right up until the point they start committing criminal offences against Australian citizens. At that point, their visa will be cancelled and they'll be deported from our country.
The New Zealand Acting Prime Minister has accused Australia of ignoring the UN Convention on the Rights of Children on that issue. Do you think we're doing that?
Well I reject that and Australia has obligations which we meet. My primary obligation is to the Australian public, to keep Australians safe and we're deporting people at a record number. These are people that have been involved in serious criminal activity, many that have a long criminal history and if this person wants to return to New Zealand, I'll facilitate his return on a plane out of our country back to New Zealand today.
What's your reaction to that ABC being banned from the Nauru Pacific Forum?
Well it's an issue for Nauru. I don't take advice from Nauru on who should come to Australia or who I should issue a visa to, to travel to Australia and I won't be issuing that advice to Nauru in any case. It's an issue for the Nauruan Government and they've made their decision. I don't have any further comment on it.
Do you have a comment on Senator Leyonhjelm's comments about Sarah Hanson-Young?
No I don't.
Is there any reason why?
Well, it's an issue for Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Hanson-Young. It's not an issue for me to comment on.
Thank you very much.