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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 22

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (13:15): I continue my remarks from the last occasion on which we debated the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010. The coalition believes that preventative health should be on the national agenda. Treating people with chronic preventable diseases leads to substantial economic and social costs and is a significant burden on Australia's healthcare system, a system that is already under considerable pressure—the social costs of which are estimated to be $31.5 billion each year. Approximately 32 per cent of Austra­lia's burden of disease is attributable to modifiable risk factors, and tobacco smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable chronic disease amongst Australians. In 2004-05 this came at a tangible net cost of $12 billion to our economy. For every 1,000 smokers who quit at least 40 will be spared a diagnosis of chronic illness.

The Australian tobacco industry does not oppose this bill. There is a general consensus that it will remove the ambiguity which currently exists with regard to how the provisions of the act apply to the advertising of tobacco on the internet. The Australian tobacco industry is pleased to see that more effort is being made to ensure tax evasion is minimised. The internet sale of tobacco products is more prone to tax evasion. These companies also approve of measures that assist in combating counterfeit products.

The major manufacturers of tobacco products believe that they are already taking the necessary action in this space. Internet service providers are, however, of the view that the enforceability and practicability of this bill will be an issue. Health stakeholders are supportive of tighter regulations for tobacco. The coalition are supporting the passage of this legislation because we recognise that there is more to be done in the area of preventative health. The challenge will be to ensure that we still leave people with the choice and we do not become a nanny-state bureaucracy.

It is informative to look at key milestones in tobacco control and some statistics from the Cancer Council of Victoria for the period 1980 to 2007, when the federal bans on tobacco sponsorship of sport and arts was introduced. At that stage approximately 25 per cent of males smoked and 18 per cent of females smoked. These figures went down to 16.4 per cent and 13.9 per cent respectively.

Of course, the internet today plays a very important role, particularly for our young people. The Australian Bureau of Statistics 1989-90 and 2007-08 national health surveys found some interesting statistics. They found:

People in their teens may take up smoking as part of a social activity that is perceived to be well suited to their youth culture and allows them to better fit in with or rebel against friends or family.

People who started smoking daily at a younger age were less likely than others to have reduced their frequency of smoking or to have kicked the habit altogether at the time of interview.

They also state:

Of people who had ever smoked daily, 61% first took up the habit on a daily basis when aged 15-19 years. About one in five (18%) of those who had ever smoked daily had first started doing so under the age of 15 years.

Of people aged 25-54, those who first started smoking daily as a child aged under 15 years were more likely to have also been a daily smoker at the time of interview (55%) than those who first started at an older age (46%).

In terms of the internet, statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show:

In 2009, two in five children (42%) who used the internet at home reported that they spent two hours or less online at home per week, while 17% spent 3-4 hours online, 21% spent 5-9 hours online and 13% spent 10-19 hours online.

Therefore, this legislation is very important because it makes it an offence to advertise tobacco products on the internet and in other electronic media. The restriction on Austra­lian internet advertising of tobacco products goes some way to targeting smoking and its harmful effects. There is a lack of clarity over regulations governing advertising on the internet, and this legislation will align tobacco advertising in the electronic media with restrictions in other media and at other retail points of sale.

I will refer to some comments that were made by then Minister Roxon in reply when this matter was dealt with in the other place. At the time, while she welcomed the com­ments made by the relevant shadow minister, the member for Boothby, Dr Southcott, in relation to our support for this legislation, she just could not help herself in having a go at the Liberal Party in relation to her allegation of 'breaking our expensive habit with big tobacco' and then she went on to list the donations that the Liberal Party had received from 'big tobacco', as she put it. She said that there was a big chunk of money which was going to the Liberal Party 'and we are concerned this may have an impact.' What hypocrisy! One of the lasting memories that we will have of Minister Roxon will be the sheer hypocrisy with which she dealt with this tobacco issue. When we dealt with tobacco legislation last year, I canvassed this issue. I take the Senate back to 15 June 2011, when tobacco legislation was before the House of Representatives. Minister Roxon did not even front up. Why didn't she front up? She was very embarrassed. There she was, at every opportunity having a go at the Liberal Party for their supposedly cosy deals with big tobacco, when she was in there herself—she herself was seeking donations from big tobacco. On 15 June last year, when this legislation was up for debate in the lower House, she did not even front the Main Committee in order to allow the coalition to ask her questions or herself come clean about her cosy relationship with big tobacco. She was running and hiding. That would have been an opportune time for then Minister Roxon to put on the record her relationship with big tobacco, but she was embarrassed. She had obviously and continually misled the Australian public by publicly saying one thing while privately taking another course of action entirely: she was seeking donations from tobacco companies. On the one hand—the hypocrisy of it all!—she was having a go at the coalition because we were supposedly taking donations from big tobacco, while on the other hand she was privately writing to tobacco company executives seeking their financial support. It was really irresponsible of Minister Roxon at the time not to turn up in the House, but then we have seen this irresponsibility time and time again.

What is Minister Roxon's legacy? For the answer, one only has to look at comments made by former Labor member of the House of Representatives Barry Cohen on 5 December last year, the headline of which was 'ALP must rediscover the core value of healthcare'. Why wouldn't you be critical of Labor's record on health? On 22 November 2011, Nicola Roxon fronted up to the National Press Club with a speech, the title of which was 'Why policy and politics matter to patients'. But her record as health minister was merely a litany of failed policy and petty politics, with patients as little more than the props for Labor's so-called health reform saga.

I take you back to early 2010, when Kevin Rudd himself was standing before the National Press Club detailing what was then described as Labor's 'radical, historic' health reform plan—the much lauded National Health and Hospitals Network. But time has definitely shown that the Rudd-Roxon policy proposals have absolutely turned to dust. Like most things that this government does, they were about spin and not substance; politics, not the patients.

Minister Roxon left a legacy of many unanswered questions. It is little wonder that Prime Minister Gillard has now moved her on to another portfolio, because she did more damage than good, and I am sure that patients will not remember her very fondly. She has left so many questions unanswered. She made exaggerated and unfounded claims about the Gillard government's now so-called historic reforms in health. I take the Senate back to 2007. Remember Kevin Rudd? Yes, you are all remembering him now. In 2007, there was the promise to fix hospitals and end the blame game. During her time as health minister, the question that former Minister Roxon should have been asking was, 'What is the difference between today and 2007?' The answer is that there is very little—very little has changed.

The agreement that Prime Minister Gillard signed with the states in August last year says:

This Agreement

…   …   …

recognises that:

… the States are the system managers of the public hospital system …

Where does that leave the promise that Kevin Rudd made in 2007 by which the Commonwealth was to be the majority funder of hospitals and to fix them or, if they were not fixed, to take them over? How fixed are our public hospitals? It turns out that this was another broken promise—a combined broken promise not just by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd but also by now Prime Minister Gillard. Where exactly are:

… the most significant—


of Australia's health and hospital system since the introduction of Medicare almost three decades ago—

which Kevin Rudd promised at the National Press Club in March 2010? Minister Roxon prattled on at the National Press Club about the new bureaucracies that Labor was creating in the interests of real reform, but how much from those new bureaucracies with their layers of additional reporting is going to translate into new beds for state public hospital systems? Very little—as we have seen in New South Wales, there has been very little change.

Other aspects of health have also been a debacle. The government is trying to shut down the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. With its ill-considered rebate systems, this government is hell-bent on inflicting damage on the private health insur­ance system. In my own shadow portfolio of mental health, the mental health plans announced last year actually take money out of mental health treatment, and we have seen the impact that that has had on patients. It is yet another instance of backflipping. Minister Roxon was backflipping then by making a decision to cut Medicare rebates for occupational therapists and social workers dealing with vulnerable mental health patients. Of course, now the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mr Butler, has had to go down the same route and undertake a backflip. Why? Because what­ever this government has touched in health has turned to custard. If it had not spent and wasted so much money on pink bats and the Julia Gillard memorial halls, it would have the money. It would not have had to go down this route to close Medicare access points, to cut better access and to make a whole lot of other cuts in health.