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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 9699


Ms ROXON (GellibrandAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (11:40): I would like to acknowledge the member for Capricornia and other speakers, the members for Hindmarsh and Makin, who talked about the Customs Amendment (Smuggled Tobacco) Bill 2012 in the context of the range of things the government is trying to do in tackling tobacco. I might note, before the member for Capricornia leaves, that I think the chair, the member for McEwen, might have been worrying in that discussion, as one of the few smokers in parliament. I know he has said at different times that he might think about whether he will try to give up what is a serious addiction and, of course, the chair and the member for Corangamite would know that they would have our support and encouragement.

We acknowledge and understand that this is an incredibly addictive habit. I was interested that the Minister for Health, in her contributions recently to this debate, had some figures I had not heard previously that 80 per cent of current smokers were addicted before they were 19 and something like 95 per cent were addicted before they were 26. This is an active strategy from tobacco companies—to have people addicted early and often for life. We acknowledge and understand why this sometimes is an uncomfortable area for people who are smokers, but I have to say that the member for McEwen—and we have talked often about this—has been a big advocate of the measures we have been taking. I still have not met a smoker that wants their child to smoke, so we know that this is something on which we can make a difference over generations.

The Customs Amendment (Smuggled Tobacco) Bill 2012 is part of that. Obviously we want to make clear that the health risks are the same whether you smoke legal tobacco or illegal tobacco. We do not accept the tobacco industry's view that in Australia we have a large problem with illicit tobacco, but we do accept that measures should be taken to make sure that that does not grow over time. This is one of the odd occasions where the tobacco industry and the government agree that introducing these new penalties and offences is actually an important part of making sure we have a comprehensive response to tobacco related issues generally. The proposed amendments to the bill that are being debated here are about strengthening the offences, introducing for the first time a penalty with imprisonment attached to it for tobacco smuggling, more accurately reflecting the seriousness of the offence and providing a stronger deterrent to criminals, not to make them think this is an easy or a safer way to make money. It is, as members on this side of the chamber have mentioned, part of a much more comprehensive approach that the government is taking to tobacco generally. I would not like to miss the opportunity to say how pleased the government has been that the High Court last week upheld the decision that the government has taken to introduce plain packaging. It, our social marketing campaigns, our increase in excise and our targeting of the Indigenous community, where smoking rates are still very high, are all part of one package to make sure we do everything we can to reduce each and every year the number of people who lose a loved one to a tobacco related illness.

It is another sign that the government is prepared to do what needs to be done, whether it is taking on tobacco and winning, whether it is pricing carbon, whether it is the National Broadband Network, whether it is the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the education reforms by my colleague the minister for education, who is in the chamber. All these reforms show the government's preparedness to get on with work that is important and I am proud that we are doing that.

We have, as I have said, made quite clear that we agree that any type of tobacco is dangerous and, if we can do anything to reduce the smoking of tobacco, we will obviously do that. As a number of speakers have pointed out, this bill aims to deliver the very strong message that serious jail time will ensue if people are involved in illegal tobacco smuggling into this country. And it makes sure that the offences are now not just general smuggling offences or serious fraud offences against the Commonwealth but are in line with those. They are drafted specifically for that purpose. The need for the bill was recognised by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that considered the bill and recommended that it be passed. I thank the senators for consideration of the bill.

I would like to briefly address some issues raised by the members for Stirling and Wannon, referring to the reduction in duty-free concession from 1 September this year and the impact this will have on Customs. The government have committed over $11 million over the next two years to assist the Customs and Border Protection Service to implement this change. In their speeches, the members for Stirling, Wannon and Leichhardt were critical of the government for 'cutting funding to Customs'. The facts are that we have invested $4 billion in Customs over the past four years and we will invest another $4 billion over the next four years. We spend more than $1 billion every year on Customs and it is getting results. Briefly, and to not stray too far from the topic of this bill, last year we seized more heroin, cocaine and amphetamines than ever before.

If people want to look at the different results: in 2007, the last year of the Howard government when untargeted and mass-screening systems were used, Customs detected 870 parcels containing drugs or other prohibited items; last financial year, using criminal intelligence and targeted screening, Customs detected over 1,800. So we have gotten smarter in the way that we do this Customs work. The member for Stirling asked why the government are not doing more to educate the public as to the dangers of illicit tobacco. It is a little rich to suggest that our government have not been doing enough to talk to people about the dangers of tobacco. It was a cheeky suggestion, I think, from someone who has been less than enthusiastic about the other steps we have taken in this tobacco control area.

The Customs Amendment (Smuggled Tobacco) Bill 2012 ensures that we have the right laws in place to continue the fight against illegal tobacco and is part of our ongoing commitment to combat smoking in all its forms. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.