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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5018

Tobacco Products

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (14:39): My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister outline the steps the government has taken with regard to tobacco plain packaging legislation? How have these steps been received? What is the government's response?

Ms ROXON (GellibrandMinister for Health and Ageing) (14:40): I thank the member for Wills for his question. As he might be aware, but it appears that the Leader of the Opposition has not been, the government actually released draft legislation for plain packaging nearly two months ago, on 7 April. This legislation will restrict industry logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text and increase warning labels on the front of packs from 30 per cent to 75 per cent. This is the exposure draft in all its 86 pages of detail. Australians still have another week to comment on this exposure draft legislation, and we have to date received many submissions. Unfortunately, even with all of this information available, the Leader of the Opposition says he cannot possibly make up his mind whether he will support plain packaging legislation or not. In fact, he said on the Today show, 'I haven't seen the legislation. Show us the legislation. When I see the legislation I will make up my mind.' It made me wonder, when Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, has been so determined on many other issues. Did he wait to see the legislation when it came to climate change action? Did he wait to see the legislation on private health insurance reforms? Did he wait to see the legislation on mining tax? The truth is: the Leader of the Opposition could make up his mind right now, right here, if he was not so close to big tobacco that it was blurring his judgment.

It is time for Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, to explain what his position is on plain tobacco packaging. I think the Leader of the Opposition also should give the public another explanation as well, because he has been out in the media protesting that no-one has been tougher than him when it comes to introducing health warnings—

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I simply ask: which part of the question gave the minister licence for these needless and negative attacks on the Leader of the Opposition?

The SPEAKER: I do not wish to get into marking homework, but this question did have the door opener, 'how has this position been received and what is the government's response?' I have indicated that if the standing orders were written differently and did not allow debate we would get over a lot of these hurdles, but the standing order allows debate in answers. The Minister for Health and Ageing has the call and she is aware of her responsibility to directly relate her material to the question.

Ms ROXON: It does directly relate to plain packaging, because one of the key purposes of plain packaging is to ensure that health warnings are the first and only thing that the public see when they buy a packet of cigarettes. The Leader of the Opposition has been out in the media saying that no-one was tougher than him in introducing graphic warnings on tobacco. But the Sydney Morning Herald published another story. It reported that when Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, was the health minister, he challenged whether these steps needed to be taken. I quote:

'Do we really have to be doing this?' he asked. He argued that smoking was a matter of 'personal responsibility' and people had 'freedom to choose.'

It is no wonder that those opposite are starting to divide on this issue. It is no wonder that people are questioning whether he is a tobacco denier as well as a climate change denier. Australia could lead the world on tobacco control, but the Leader of the Opposition needs to lead his party.