Tobacco Regulation — Speech in the Federation Chamber 18/03/2024

March 18, 2024

Hansard 18/03/2024  Federation Chamber

Mr LLEW O’BRIEN (Wide Bay) (14:20): I rise to speak on the motion in the name of the member for Cowper relating to illicit tobacco and vapes in our community and the sale of them. As we’ve heard from speakers previously, it is a major problem in all of our communities. It’s continuing to spread. It really does represent a failing of government on a number of levels. I’m not suggesting for a minute that this is something that has started since the last federal election. I’m not casting aspersions on the other side for that. This is something that has been happening for a long time. Governments at all levels have failed to step in and stop it. What we’ve had is a health approach—an approach towards smoking and the health related aspects and an increase in excise, and measures have been introduced. That’s all good and well, but, at the other end, we haven’t had the policing, the enforcement and the awareness around the illicit market, which has burgeoned, absolutely exploded, with the unaffordability of legal tobacco.

In my electorate alone, in Wide Bay, I’ve had two shops firebombed—firebombed, in Australia! It’s something we don’t often hear about. In Victoria last year, there were over 30 shops firebombed. As a former policeman, when I hear that it’s organised crime—very sophisticated syndicates, with resources—firebombing the shops, targeting people who aren’t earning the right amount of money for their commitment to this illegal trade, what I think is, ‘You can’t hide a firebomb, but how many people are being stood over and beaten up who are not going to go to the police because they’ve been threatened by an organised crime syndicate or gang?’ To use an old expression, they get their kneecaps broken, and they’re threatened: ‘If you go and tell the police, we’re going to get your family.’ Well, you’re never going to hear about those.

This is a failing of government, because we have turned what is a health issue into a major crime issue. We’ve got gangs and syndicates with international reach that are plying their trade. When you look at the numbers here—$4.2 billion of excise and millions of tonnes of tobacco being seized—this is a problem that we need to address. As I said as I started my speech, I want to work with the government to stop this. At the end of the day, there is something that people need to remember here. When you go in and buy these cigarettes, this illicit tobacco, you might think to yourself, ‘Stuff the tax man; he is taking money off me; I’ll get around that and buy these illicit products,’ but you’ve got to remember that these transactions are not victimless. With that transaction to buy that illicit tobacco, a bit of that money is going into the coffers of an organised crime syndicate who are dealing in human trafficking, prostitution of young and vulnerable women. All of these heinous offences are also contributed to by the same gangs that are giving you your cheap cigarettes.

As I said, I’ll do anything I can to work with the government and to talk to all levels of government to bring about change because this is a problem that has the potential to harm Australians. In both a smoking and a health way it’s been a failure, but now in a crime way it’s a failure.


In the spirit of Australia, I acknowledge all citizens who contribute to making our nation the greatest on earth.

I acknowledge our defence force personnel, past, present, and emerging, for their service to our nation, and particularly those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of Australia.

I also acknowledge the Australian taxpayers who, through their hard work, pay for the infrastructure, health, education, and emergency services that keep our proud nation healthy, safe, and prosperous.