Illegal tobacco growers in Tax Office sights

There has been no legal tobacco-growing in Australia since October 2006. Despite that, the Tax Office is still finding plenty to do, as are the four other regulatory and law enforcement bodies combating the illegal tobacco trade.

Tax Commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo said seizures of illegal crops have steadily declined from around 18 tonnes in 2006 to amounts of less than a tonne in subsequent years.

However, he said a seizure just two months ago in the NSW Southern Highlands underlined the need for ongoing vigilance.

'We seized and destroyed four tonnes of tobacco leaf, nine tonnes of stripped tobacco plants and a highly sophisticated hothouse and kiln far away from traditional tobacco growing areas,' Mr D'Ascenzo said.

'The value of the excise evaded by this crop alone was $1.2 million and highlights the organised tactics of those involved in the racket.'

Mr D'Ascenzo has a message for those who believe they can outfox the system - the Tax Office and its partner agencies are out there watching.

'We have investigators who identify new crops, and monitor known growing areas using various methods including aerial surveillance and ground verification for evidence of tobacco growing and cultivation.

'We also receive information and intelligence from other agencies and the public,' he said.

It seems the risks of growing tobacco illegally in Australia are forcing those involved to change tactics.

Shortly after the Southern Highlands bust, Australian Customs seized 4.8 tonnes of tobacco being smuggled from Lebanon and arrested four men.

Combined forces combating illegal tobacco

Australian Taxation Office

Australian Crime Commission

Australian Federal Police

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

    Last modified: 28 Jan 2010QC 28247