Down Under Highlights

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Introducing “Australia in the News,” your go-to column for all the latest happenings Down Under. We’ve gathered the highlights from media releases spanning May 15 till the end of the week. Stay informed with our concise five-paragraph summaries, updated regularly throughout the week.

Massive Illicit Tobacco Bust

Sydney, May 16: The Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF), in a joint operation involving the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Australian Border Force (ABF), and New South Wales Police, has seized and destroyed over 26,670kgs of illicit tobacco at a property in Braidwood, NSW. The operation, named Junglevine2, targeted individuals engaged in the production of illicit tobacco in rural New South Wales. This significant seizure follows recent busts in Murga and Binnaway, where over 240,000kgs of illicit tobacco were confiscated.
The seized tobacco, with an estimated excise forgone value exceeding $4.4 million, was accompanied by the discovery and seizure of a tobacco shredding machine. Assistant Commissioner Jade Hawkins of the ATO warned potential participants in the illicit tobacco trade, highlighting the collaborative efforts of law enforcement agencies at all levels of government.
Under Operation Junglevine2, the destruction of illicit tobacco crops has already surpassed a potential excise value of $44 million, significantly impacting the profits of organized criminals who employ these funds for nefarious activities. By targeting and disrupting criminal syndicates involved in illicit tobacco, the joint agency team Operation Phobetor, consisting of NSW Police, AFP, and ACIC, aims to eradicate a source of revenue for organized crime networks.
ABF Commander Penelope Spies emphasized the commitment of the ITTF to combatting illegal tobacco, commending the efforts of officers equipped with specialized technology. The ITTF, an ABF-led multi-agency task force, collaborates with agencies such as the ATO, Department of Home Affairs, ACIC, AUSTRAC, and CDPP, as well as state and territory law enforcement agencies, to investigate, prosecute, and dismantle organized crime groups involved in illicit tobacco trade.
Growing tobacco has been illegal in Australia for over a decade, carrying a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment. Suspected instances of illegal tobacco growth can be confidentially reported online at or by calling 1800 060 062.

Red Rooster Brought to Book

Sydney, May 16: The Wage Inspectorate in Victoria, the state’s regulatory body responsible for monitoring child employment, has lodged a total of 355 charges against Wodonga Food Pty Ltd, trading as Red Rooster Wodonga, for alleged violations of the Child Employment Act 2003.
The charges cover a number of violations, including hiring 10 children under the age of 15 without a permit on 168 occasions, failing to make sure that children were being watched over by people who had a Working with Children Clearance, hiring children for longer than permitted hours, and hiring children after 9 p.m.
The matter is slated to be mentioned in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today.
In an unrelated case, the Wage Inspectorate has brought about 124 charges against G & K Pearse Pty Ltd, doing business as Cold Rock Shepparton for the employment of six minors.
According to the charges, the ice creamery employed the kids past 9 o’clock, for longer than was legal, and failed to give them the legally required 30-minute rest break after every three hours of work.
On June 1 this year, the case will be brought up before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for further deliberation.
A maximum penalty of 100 penalty units, or AU$18,174 for offenses committed in the fiscal years 2021–2022 and 2022–2023, respectively, is imposed for each violation.
These accusations follow the filing of 360 criminal complaints against Muffin Break (Southland) for suspected violations of laws governing underage employment.
Robert Hortle, Commissioner of Wage Inspectorate Victoria, expressed disappointment at the claims of child labour law violations against these well-known companies.
Hortle emphasized the value of making young people’s workplaces safe, especially in places where many young people land their first employment.
The purpose of child employment legislation is to protect the welfare of young employees while ensuring that employers are aware of the hazards and take appropriate action.
Employers of children under 15 are required under Victoria’s child employment legislation to first get a permit from the Wage Inspectorate before starting any work.
This procedure enables the Wage Inspectorate to conduct in-depth checks to ensure issues like safety, working conditions, break times, and supervision are properly taken into account before employment begins.
Unless specifically exempted, anyone supervising children under 15 must have a current Victorian Working with Children Clearance.
Businesses that hire children must abide by a number of rules, including a daily work limit of three hours and a weekly maximum of 12 hours during the school year, and a daily work limit of six hours and a weekly maximum of 30 hours during the summer.
In addition, kids are only allowed to work from 6am to 9pm.
Every three hours of labor requires a 30-minute break for rest.
To date the Wage Inspectorate has started ten legal cases involving underage work in the last 18 months.

Aussie Greyhounds Join Forces with US Enforcement

Left to right: GRNSW CEO Rob Macaulay, FOP President Patrick Yoes, PANSW President Kevin Morton, GA Chairman Rob Vellar at the US Capitol. Photo: Lynn Cronquist.

Sydney, May 16: Australian greyhounds have forged an unprecedented partnership with a United States law enforcement body, the US Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), in a historic agreement signed in Washington DC. The Pacific Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed during National Police Week, solidifying a pet partnership between Greyhounds Australasia, Greyhound Racing NSW, and the FOP. The agreement establishes a supply channel for retired Australian greyhounds to serve as companion animals and assist US law enforcement as PTSD dogs and pets. The program draws inspiration from successful initiatives with the Australian Federal Police Association and Police Association of NSW. The signing of the MoU was hailed as a landmark moment in the collaboration between two great allies, prioritizing both human welfare and animal welfare.
Greyhounds Australasia Chairman, Rob Vellar, emphasized the immediate and beneficial impact that the partnership would have on frontline law enforcement officers in the US. Having worked as a police officer in Australia, Vellar recognized the high stress and exposure to traumatic events faced by first responders, leading to lifelong effects. He highlighted the affectionate and loyal nature of greyhounds, emphasizing the comfort they can provide to individuals suffering from anxiety disorders. FOP National President Patrick Yoes expressed enthusiasm for the partnership, citing the harrowing incidents and traumatic scenes regularly encountered by law enforcement personnel in the US. He emphasized the importance of supporting the mental health of FOP members and acknowledged the positive impact therapy animals have in such situations.
GRNSW CEO Rob Macaulay explained that the partnership with the FOP combines two GRNSW initiatives, including their earlier collaboration with Greyhound Pets of America to address the shortage of greyhounds in the US. Macaulay emphasized the desire to extend support to American police officers and underscored the need to assist them with any issues resulting from their work. The new initiative combines the best aspects of existing programs, enabling US law enforcement officers to benefit from retired Australian greyhounds, just as frontline responders have in Australia. The partnership has garnered widespread support within the Australian greyhound industry, recognizing its significance in finding loving forever homes for retired greyhounds and promoting the exceptional qualities of these animals.

Sydney City Budget Puts Community First

View from rooftop of Century Tower. Photo by Katherine Griffiths.

Sydney, May 16: The City of Sydney has unveiled its draft budget for the next financial year, with plans to invest over $750 million in initiatives aimed at revitalizing the city after the pandemic. A significant portion of the $550 million operating expenditure will be directed towards supporting local businesses, implementing capital works projects, maintaining community facilities, parks, open spaces, road maintenance, and waste collection services. The budget has been unanimously endorsed for public exhibition and feedback. Additionally, a 10-year capital works program of over $2.1 billion has been proposed, including $35 million allocated to the upgrade of Sydney Square.
Around $200 million will be dedicated to capital works projects in the coming year. This includes funding for bike paths and cycling infrastructure, community and recreational centers, public domain work such as George Street pedestrianization and Crown Street upgrade, street tree and in-road planting programs, as well as new parks and upgrades. Lord Mayor Clover Moore highlighted the progress made in the city’s recovery from the pandemic and expressed excitement at seeing people returning to Sydney. The budget aims to sustain this momentum by providing exceptional services, amenities, street upgrades, greening initiatives, grants, and activations to support residents, businesses, and visitors.
The budget also addresses the return of international visitors and students with a $1 million allocation for visitor services, including roaming ambassadors. It emphasizes waste management, funding a commercial waste compliance team, community waste education programs, and infrastructure renewal. Encouraging active transport remains a priority, with a significant investment of $22.5 million in Sydney’s bicycle network. The budget also includes financing for multi-year community and cultural projects, such as the upgrade to Pyrmont Community Centre, the George Street innovation hub, and improvements to Dixon Street in Chinatown. Additionally, it demonstrates the City of Sydney’s commitment to reconciliation with funding allocated for projects celebrating the cultures and heritage of First Nations people.
The budget showcases the city’s dedication to post-pandemic recovery, promoting economic growth, sustainability, and cultural diversity. It aims to create a vibrant and thriving environment for residents, businesses, and visitors, while providing essential support and services for the community.

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