Time to butt out Victoria’s illegal tobacco trade

Media statement

August 19, 2021

Tania Maxwell MP wants the state government to crack down hard on Victoria’s widespread illegal retail tobacco trade by shifting compliance responsibility from local council environmental health officers to law enforcement.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said Victoria Police or a new agency should instead be given robust powers to disrupt and halt illicit production and under-the-counter retail sales estimated to cost Australia more than $820 million a year in unpaid tobacco tax.

“It’s a very shady trade that also costs our communities, the state and the nation in ways that go well beyond lost revenue,” Ms Maxwell said.

“Law enforcement has established strong links between the smuggling and sale of illicit tobacco and organised crime syndicates.

“Most concerning to me is how profits are funnelled to other serious criminal pursuits, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, drug, firearm and human trafficking, cyber-crime and violence.

“As Illicit Tobacco Taskforce commander Greg Lindsell told The Sydney Morning Herald just a few weeks ago: ‘Removing illicit tobacco from crop to shop creates a level playing field and helps to stop organised crime syndicates from funding other activities’.”

“It’s an insidious trade across our communities, too – ranging from the waterfront, where Australian Border Force every year intercepts millions of illegal cigarettes, to more than 400 shopfronts throughout Victoria selling contraband tobacco products.

“Just this year there have been seizures of illegal cigarettes, loose tobacco or crops in the ground in Euroa, Shepparton, Mooroopna, Yarrawonga and Beverford.

“In March, a joint taskforce of NSW and Victoria Police, the Tax Office and Border Force raided three properties either side of the border on the lower Murray and seized 45 hectares of illegally-grown tobacco worth up to $84 million in excise payable to the federal government had it been sold legally.

“But at a retail level it’s local councils that are currently responsible for checking that cigarettes and other tobacco products sold in local shops have been lawfully produced and manufactured.

“This means environmental health officers are usually those carrying out inspections.

“But they have no training in surveillance, search and seizure and do so at considerable personal risk because of the very nature of this black-market trade.

“Local government also tells me that there are no substantial infringements that would be of any real consequence to an offender, yet one council reported it spent 12 months and $50,000 to get a conviction.”

Ms Maxwell said Victoria and Queensland were the only Australian jurisdictions without a regulated licencing scheme for the sale of tobacco.

“Victoria regulates gaming and the sale of alcohol and firearms that enables the state to decide who are fit and proper people to conduct these activities, the conditions by which they must operate and the penalties for breaching these,” she said.

“But we stop short of doing the same for those who deal in tobacco products.

“This is completely at odds with the huge investment we’ve made in public health campaigns to limit and reduce smoking and the cost to the health system and people’s lives, estimated at $137 billion by the National Drug Research Institute.

“By strengthening enforcement and introducing a licencing scheme with robust powers, Victoria’s tobacco control system would better align with those in other states and at a national level, provide effective support for legitimate tobacco retailers, bolster public health messaging, minimise harm and rein in crime.

“I’ve had productive conversations about these proposals with Health Minister Martin Foley, Local Government Minister Shaun Leane and acting Police Minister Danny Pearson in recent weeks.”

CIGARETTE IMAGE: Australian Border Force

Justice Party MPs oppose Parliament shutdown


August 18, 2021

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party parliamentarians today opposed the Victorian government’s shutdown of the Legislative Council following yesterday’s announcement by the Premier that Melbourne’s COVID lockdown would be extended to September 2.

Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP and Member for Western Victoria Stuart Grimley MP said the communities they represent rightly expect them to be in Parliament:

We did not support the government’s adjournment motion.

Parliament is safe. We are socially-distanced. Except when speaking we wear masks, we keep to our offices, we avoid contact with others, we’re not allowed visitors, and we have minimum staff to help us with our work.

Yes, COVID presents very serious risks. But Parliament is an authorised provider and can open under restrictions. We have COVID-safe plans, a check-in system and extensive security. If there was an outbreak, we’d be in a very good place to trace contacts.

It’s very frustrating to be told that by doing our job and coming to Parliament we would be breaching health advice.

What health advice are they talking about? We don’t know. We’ve not seen it. Instead, we received late yesterday a three-paragraph letter from the Chief Health Officer’s delegate telling us “all parliamentary business… should not be conducted in person”.

On this day, last year, we had a seven-day average of 257 active COVID cases. Yet we sat in Parliament. We sat on August 4, too. On that day, last year, Victoria recorded 700 new cases. So why can’t we do our jobs now?

The health advice in relation to ‘authorised workers’ currently states: “If you can work from home, you must”. But the reality is that we cannot.

We’re here because we’re elected law-makers.

Our constituents expect us to be here, as do the people of Victoria. They expect their elected representatives to be in Parliament, speaking for them, representing their views, debating issues, and passing laws.

They also expect us to be here to hold this government to account. There has never been a more important time for us to do this.

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party fights for stalking reforms

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has proposed 43 reforms to Victoria’s stalking laws, policing framework and victim support in a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s stalking inquiry.

The DHJP believes flaws in current legislation and its interpretation undermine the seriousness of stalking.

It asks the VLRC to consider proactive reforms modelled on The Netherlands’ move in 2015 to strengthen police awareness of stalking risks and set up a data-driven system to trigger offender alerts.

The Dutch policing framework includes:

  • Continued education and training for all police officers in stalking behaviours, ‘red flags’ and actions.
  • An algorithm-based checking system designed to ensure no stalking cases are missed or misidentified. This digital trawl of all police information management systems flags cases logged in the previous 24 hours for certain words and phrases. The cross-referenced data is then checked by an officer who assesses whether any cases are stalking-related but may not have been marked as such when logged.
  • A Screening Assessment for Stalking and Harassment (SASH) tool refined by Australian, British and Swedish clinicians and researchers that weighs victim and stalker risks of persistent, escalating and violent stalking.
  • An enhanced communication and co-operation case management system where a single police officer case-manages an allegation to completion, and is responsible for notifying agencies that should be involved, such as child protection services.

The DHJP also recommends the immediate expansion of Victoria’s fledgling Victims’ Legal Service that was funded in the 2021-22 State Budget as a result of its MPs’ advocacy.

The party says an expanded service should provide information, advice and support for victim-survivors of stalking throughout the criminal trial process.

Other recommendations in the submission include:

  • Separating personal safety intervention orders (PSIOs) into different streams, including one specifically for stalking cases.
  • Increasing the maximum penalty for stalking offenders.
  • Allowing stalkers’ previous behaviours to be admissible in court, particularly pre-sentence reports.
  • If adopted, naming these changes ‘Celeste’s Law’ in memory of Celeste Manno, a young Victorian who was brutally murdered, allegedly by an ex-work colleague, in November 2020.

The full submission will be available online. Submissions to the inquiry close on August 17.

Tania Maxwell MP:

Stalking crimes often affect their victims in unimaginable ways.

An offender will watch their victim’s every move, and victims have to change their lifestyle and make countless sacrifices to stay safe, including installing cameras or moving house. Stalking can change the lives of victim-survivors forever.

Having worked with many victim-survivors of stalking crimes, it’s obvious that our current system isn’t working and that the reporting and judicial processes can often be as traumatising as the crimes themselves.

I thank the VLRC for its work and hope it considers implementing our party’s recommendations.

Stuart Grimley MP:

We are extremely proud of this submission, which goes some way in honouring the victim-survivors of stalking we have worked with and those who aren’t here to contribute.

We’re grateful our Victims Legal Service was partially funded, though it is very limited in the services it can currently provide. Supports and legal advice for stalking victim-survivors should be part of the future expansion of the service.

We hope that the VLRC will look closely at these recommendations to ensure our system responds adequately – and proactively – to stalking crime in the future.

Help improve our criminal justice system

July 7, 2021

The criminal justice system inquiry now underway in Victoria is the broadest in 30 years.

The inquiry has come about after horrific murders in Wangaratta in 2015 and 2016. A rapist on parole committed one of these crimes. The other was committed by a previously convicted violent offender who had just been released from prison for breaching parole.

These awful events spurred a community campaign called ENOUGHISENOUGH that led to my election as a parliamentarian. They’re also the reason why the inquiry’s first hearing opened in Wangaratta on June 30, this year.

The Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee – of which I’m a member with six other MPs – is conducting the inquiry.

The committee is chaired by Fiona Patten who, in this video with me and deputy chair Tien Kieu, talks about the inquiry’s terms of reference. These include:

  • Factors influencing Victoria’s growing remand and prison populations
  • Ways to reduce rates of repeat offending – known as recidivism
  • How to ensure judges and magistrates have appropriate knowledge and expertise when sentencing and dealing with offenders, including an understanding of recidivism and the causes of crime; and
  • Appointment processes for judges in other jurisdictions, especially reviewing skill-sets required for judges and magistrates overseeing specialist courts.

The inquiry provides a clear opportunity for people throughout the state and especially in rural and regional communities to influence change. Voices that have long been lost in what can be daunting, complex system can now be heard. The committee wants to hear them. It also wants to host more hearings in regional communities.

So I really encourage people who’ve had both difficult and positive experiences in the criminal justice system to make a submission. This video sets out how the inquiry works, what it’s examining, and how you can participate.

Find out how to make a submission. Or if you need advice about the process you can call the committee staff on 03 8682 2869. My statement about the inquiry also provides more details.

Please have your say.

Speech- Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020

As I said in my inaugural speech nearly two years ago, the one thing above all that drove me into politics was the need for better parliamentary representation of victims of crime.  This was on the basis, especially, of my experience with the #ENOUGHISENOUGH campaign, which I co-founded in 2015 after two particularly horrifying cases in Wangaratta of sexual assault and murder.

Notice of Motion- Early Intervention for family welfare

Tania Maxwell MP, Member for Northern Victoria, hopes the upcoming State Budget will include substantial funding for early intervention in child and family welfare.

Statement- Regional Victoria’s coronavirus road map

Our regional economy is further decimated each day that these lockdowns continue. Jobs are lost, businesses will collapse, mental health problems escalate, schoolchildren face setbacks, family violence incidents increase, and people lose more hope.

I call on the Government to urgently reconsider the alternatives that can manage the health risks and provide some economic flexibility and an immediate reopening for businesses in areas where there are no active cases.  Otherwise, we risk this road map being a road to ruin.

Members Statement- Cross border restrictions

Restrictions across the borders into New South Wales and South Australia continue to impact the lives of tens of thousands of people across Northern Victoria.

Over the last eight weeks, we’ve seen instances where changes to permits were imposed without 24 hours notice, valid permits were cancelled overnight and health clinicians, students, teachers, farmers, businesses and the general public were left flummoxed and uncertain about their eligibility.

Speech- Extension to State of Emergency

There are many things to say about this Bill. I’ll start simply by pointing out that it will undoubtedly be one of the most important pieces of legislation on which we will be required to vote during this term of Parliament.  Both practically and symbolically.
I make that observation because this is a debate that relates not just to a serious public health problem – but also to the very essence of how government should be allowed to function and operate in a democracy.
More to the point, it’s a debate that requires us to address questions about the extent to which it is appropriate for governments and public officials to seek to impose their own will over the rights, freedoms and liberties of citizens.

Notice of motion- Failure to attend court

I give notice that, on the next day of meeting, I will move that this House recognises that many Victorians fail to appear when due to attend court; and I note that despite the fact that some of these people who fail to attend are already in custody in prison or on remand, they are still not successfully transported to court. I call on the Government to strengthen its policies and procedures so it is difficult for offenders to refuse to attend court.