Tobacco smugglers are 'patriots': senator

Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm has defended tobacco smugglers in a speech in the Senate.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm has defended tobacco smugglers in a speech in the Senate.

A crossbench senator has lavished praise on illegal tobacco smugglers, calling the criminals "patriots" and rejecting a crackdown on chop chop dealers.

The federal government's tough new penalties for tobacco smugglers includes jail terms of up to 10 years for the most serious offences.

Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm said people dealing the tobacco, known as chop chop, were simply avoiding unreasonable taxes.

He believes the government is only getting away with the new measures because of little public sympathy for smokers, labelling tobacco excise levels as "highway robbery".

"Smokers are sneered at by the elites of society," Senator Leyonhjelm told parliament.

"The Liberal Democrats don't sneer at smokers and we think tobacco smugglers are patriots."

Legislation establishing the new penalties and other measures cracking down on illegal tobacco cleared parliament with bipartisan support on Thursday.

Under the changes, the origin of illicit tobacco no longer needs to be proven. There will also be a criminal offence based on "recklessness" of avoiding tax, rather than intent.

Australian Associated Press