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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 1057

Senator WORTLEY (10:46 AM) —I rise to offer some remarks on the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcasting Amendment) Bill 2010. It is undoubtedly the case that obesity in general is having an increasingly adverse effect not only on the physical and social health of our community but also on our economy and the future productivity of our nation. Childhood obesity is a matter of particular concern to this government. In fact, I have visited schools in my home state of South Australia and have had discussions with many of the teachers in those schools. They also have concerns regarding obesity and the importance of eating healthily and also exercising for our young people.

The government understands that obesity is an issue which, if left unaddressed, could have the capacity to burden our health system, with an explosion of preventable diseases. Disturbingly, Bureau of Statistics survey figures indicate that well over 50 per cent of the adult population is now classified as overweight or obese. Even more alarmingly, one in four Australian children is now considered to be overweight or obese. What does the future hold for these children, these present and potential contributors to our society?

The World Health Organisation reports that obesity is a global epidemic. Certainly, obesity has reached serious epidemic proportions in Australia. According to an Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study report, ‘Physical inactivity and television-viewing time have been shown to be the strongest correlates with measures of obesity.’ I think it would be fair to say that many parents have concerns about the number of hours that young people are actually spending on computer games and other times where they are actually just sitting rather than being involved in activities. So what is the government doing to help alleviate childhood obesity and encourage increased physical activity and healthy eating? The government is continuing its preventative health investment through COAG—a massive investment of more than $872 million over six years.

Other programs include our Healthy Children initiative, with funding of up to $325.5 million, which aims to encourage and increase physical activity and to foster healthy diet in early childhood centres and schools. And of course the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program has been a resounding success, where many schools are benefiting through the program that has been implemented. It encourages children to experience the pleasure of growing their own fresh fruits and vegetables and preparing and eating them. More than $12 million has been allocated to the rollout of this particular program in Australian schools. I have visited many schools which have that program in place and the children are enthusiastic towards growing their own vegetables and, in many cases, developing their own recipes and then cooking them. It would have been great if we had had that program when we were younger.

The government are also acting in tandem with our food and beverage producers and manufacturers, by engaging in the Food and Health Dialogue, increasing the availability of healthy foods and educating consumers about the connection between the choice of food and future health outcomes. The government have taken intelligent, considered steps to reduce the appeal of junk food to children. We have listened to the 2009 Children’s Television Standards review and we have strengthened junk food advertising restrictions by limiting the use of popular characters during children’s programs on TV. We have also toughened the law on misleading or incorrect information on the nutritional value of these foods, so parents can make an informed choice when purchasing these products for their children. I am always pleased when I come across parents who are looking at the contents of the food that they are buying—breakfast cereals, in particular, come to mind—and I do that with respect to my child.

In May last year, the government took heed of the National Preventative Health Taskforce and took real steps to help reduce exposure of children and others to the marketing, promotion and sponsorship of junk food. We have done this by working with industry under the existing framework that governs Australian media content and, as a result, change is now being achieved through a combination of government regulation and industry self-regulation. I am pleased to report that the commercial television industry code of practice now requires that advertisements should not encourage unhealthy eating or drinking habits. The importance of that cannot be underestimated when we are talking about them appealing to children.

Among industry initiatives, seven of the biggest fast-food chains have come up with a voluntary code of conduct and have agreed that marketing must encourage a healthy lifestyle and physical activity and that advertising targeted at children must meet industry sugar, fat and salt limits. In another positive move, the Australian food and beverage industry have developed the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative—a voluntary code aimed at giving children healthier options. This code requires that advertisements targeted at children help promote healthier lifestyle and dietary choices. The government will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these industry initiatives. We will watch to see if the codes and standards meet the objectives and whether they can adequately address community concern without a need for further government regulation.

Tackling obesity and childhood health in Australia will, of course, require more than just industry self-regulation. It really does need industry to work with the broader community, including families and individuals. It needs a collaborative effort to create a healthier mindset and to try and encourage children to enjoy these foods in moderation and with a healthy physical lifestyle. That is why the Gillard government launched the Australian National Preventive Health Agency on 1 January this year. The agency is designed to consider any and all initiatives to help monitor the effectiveness of current regulations and initiatives and to also bring together some of the best expertise in Australia to gather and analyse evidence.

I need not remind senators of the disinterest of the previous government in tackling childhood obesity. Former Minister for Health and Ageing Tony Abbott consistently dismissed the idea of any decisive role for the Commonwealth in this area. It is fair to say that the Gillard Labor government have not done that. We are very much interested and concerned and we are addressing the issues that we are facing with our young people today. By contrast to the masterful inactivity of the previous government, Labor are demonstrating our commitment to action, elevating this very serious matter to the front line of our National Preventative Health Strategy. So, while we cannot support the bill at this stage, we can express our appreciation of those who join us in putting childhood obesity front and centre.

It is equally the case that we know that it is individual choice that is the essential element in making responsible decisions when it comes to diet and lifestyle. On the issue of choice, this government feels that parents need to make those decisions for their children, and healthy decisions are the way we really should be going. The government commend the Greens’ commitment to targeting obesity in children. We do support the issue. We think it absolutely is important. We understand the significance of it, but the government do not support this bill. We know that food marketing is just one element of a very complex challenge in addressing obesity in our children. As I have already said, the government will continue its investment through COAG to tackle this critical health challenge. So far we have made the largest ever investment in health prevention through $872.1 million over six years through COAG. This includes up to $325.5 million for the healthy children initiative— (Time expired)