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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2322


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (18:03): I second the member for Fenner's second reading amendment and support the Treasury Laws Amendment (Illicit Tobacco Offences) Bill 2018. I reaffirm my support and Labor's support for improving health outcomes for all Australians. The proposed amendments provide a comprehensive set of offences relating to domestic manufacture or production of illicit tobacco and the possession of equipment for the purpose of producing or manufacturing illicit tobacco. They set higher penalties to deter illegal activity and allow enforcement agencies to seize and forfeit illicit tobacco with no known origin of production or manufacture.

Labor will always strive towards eliminating smoking related illness and death. We have a proud record in government. We increased the rate of tax on tobacco by 25 per cent and we introduced the world's first and far-reaching plain packaging on cigarettes. The latter has been lauded by health agencies around the world. That is in contrast to those opposite, who continue to take donations from the tobacco lobbyists and industry. While the Prime Minister seems distracted by his National Party colleagues' dysfunction and disillusionment, he remains silent on the tens of thousands of dollars in donations the National Party receives from big tobacco annually. I represent a regional and rural electorate in South-East Queensland. I was discouraged as a local member to learn that the rate of smoking in regional and rural areas, particularly in remote parts of Blair, is almost double the rate of the urban part of my electorate in Ipswich. The National Party, particularly in my home state of Queensland, claim to represent people in regional and rural areas, but they fail regional Australia by taking donations from an industry which profits from a higher rate of tobacco related illness and death in regional and remote areas.

Smoking accounts for more than 15,000 premature deaths of Australians annually. These deaths are preventable. Labor in office have made significant advancements towards reducing that number. We continue to reject donations from the tobacco lobby, a position reflected in our policy and platform. Labor stood up to big tobacco in 2011 and introduced the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, making Australia the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging for tobacco products. It wasn't always popular locally in my electorate or around the country, but many countries have since followed our example, including France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland and Hungary. The impact of the changes Labor introduced is being noticed and will continue to be evident, I think, for generations to come.

There is a wealth of evidence available which shows that plain packaging discourages the take-up of smoking, particularly amongst young people. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's National Drug Strategy Household Survey of 2016, released mid last year, found that the proportion of Australians who have never smoked continues to rise from 60 per cent in 2013 to 62 per cent in 2016. I count that as one of the most important decisions I have personally made in my life. As a father, I'm thankful that my daughter's generation is less likely to suffer from the devastating effects of tobacco related illness and disease. I'm proud that a Labor government I was part of played a tremendous role in that outcome. The Turnbull government need to ensure they are taking every available measure to reduce the rate of smoking amongst older people. The survey referred to found that, since 2001, the rate of smoking amongst 18- to 24-year-olds has reduced by half. However, for 60- to 69-year-olds, the reduction in the number of smokers was less than 10 per cent.

The greatest opponents of our plain packaging legislation were the tobacco lobbyists and companies. We were criticised by Philip Morris International. We were criticised by British American Tobacco. We were criticised by Imperial Tobacco. But we were applauded and lauded by the World Health Organization and the Cancer Council of Australia and similarly by governments around the world who followed us and set about implementing similar laws. Meanwhile, those opposite continue to take donations from those people who profit from tobacco related illness and disease, particularly in rural and regional Australia. I think this is another example of Liberal Party and National Party members saying one thing back home and another here.

As the shadow minister for immigration and border protection, I'm delighted the government's adopted Labor's policy to increase excise and excise-equivalent customs duty on tobacco in the 2016-17 budget. Last year, Labor supported the Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco Duty Harmonisation) Bill 2017 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Tobacco Duty Harmonisation) Bill 2017. These amendments ensured that roll-your-own tobacco attracts the same rate of excise per kilogram of tobacco as cigarettes. Labor has consistently acknowledged a strong stance on the importation of tobacco related products discourages consumption at home and reduces people's exposure to tobacco products. This significantly improves the overall health of all Australians.

Our attention now needs to be turned to decreasing the rate of production and manufacture of illicit tobacco for domestic sale. The British American Tobacco company, in its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into illicit tobacco stated: 'The excise lost due to illicit tobacco is estimated at $1.49 billion annually.' They imply that, based on the current rate of illicit tobacco consumption of 2.4 million kilograms, an increase in excise could increase revenue from tobacco products to over $3 billion per annum by 2020. This amounts to almost one full per cent of total government revenue. Of course, the best health survey result is always for people to quit for good. The now Department of Home Affairs in evidence to the inquiry into illicit tobacco stated:

The strike team has … built stronger ties with key international law enforcement partners involved in combating tobacco smuggling at various points along the supply chain.

The Australian Border Force has been working to strengthen offences to allow officers to address offenders within the full spectrum of the illicit tobacco trade. I have spoken to ABF people on the front line and across a whole range of areas and been constantly impressed by their competence, diligence and commitment to duty. I welcome the moves for the ABF to be more investigative and more disrupting of illicit tobacco trade, providing a greater deterrence. While they're at the front line doing the work, that clearly provides a deterrence for those people involved in criminal activities in the space.

This issue really isn't about loss of revenue or public health; it's more than that. The Australian Border Force has strong evidence providing links between the illicit tobacco trade and serious organised criminal groups. The illicit tobacco trade undermines the Australian government's strategies in terms of prevention and control of tobacco products. At Monday's Senate estimates hearings into the now Department of Home Affairs, the Acting Commissioner of Australian Border Force, Michael Outram, revealed that the tobacco strike team had seized in excess of 104 tonnes of smuggled tobacco and 233 million smuggled cigarettes since it was established. It is the equivalent of $232 million in revenue and immeasurable savings, can I put it that way, to the public health of Australians. This is clearly a vital measure in cracking down on the scourge of illicit tobacco in Australia. I thank them for the work they're doing.

Those opposite claim they're committed to cracking down on illicit tobacco but evidence at the Senate estimates revealed otherwise. The Acting Commissioner of the ABF revealed the tobacco strike team is 'a lapsing measure that lapses at the end of this financial year'. Rather than continuing what the Acting Commissioner described as an incredibly successful program, the Turnbull government has not funded the tobacco strike team beyond July 2018. I would urge them to have a rethink in this space and to fund the tobacco strike team of the ABF, which have clearly been successful in the work they do. I urge the government to have a rethink in this space. They need to act. They need to start acting in the Australian people's best interests. If they want to see immeasurable improvements in public health, illicit tobacco must be stopped at our borders. They must fund this strike team. In the same budget which handed tax cuts to big business and multinational companies, the Turnbull government has failed to commit to fund a program which is aimed at stamping out illicit tobacco imports and preventing tobacco-related illness and disease.

The health of all Australians depends on a common-sense policy when it comes to the sale and excise of tobacco products. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 found that 25 per cent of smokers would be motivated to give up smoking if the cost of tobacco products were to rise—the law of supply and demand. If the price rises, people have a disincentive to take up smoking. Fifty-two per cent of smokers who attempted to quit or change their smoking behaviour identified the cost of tobacco products as the predominant motivating factor.

Leading the world in introducing plain packaging for cigarettes was only the beginning of Labor's achievements in targeting tobacco related illness and disease. In government, Labor previously introduced other key measures. I'm going to go on the record because I think it's very important to note. We increased the excise rate applying to tobacco products by 25 per cent as early as the 2010-11 budget. We introduced legislation restricting internet advertising on tobacco products, consistent with advertising restrictions in other media—another important reform. We put $61 million towards the national tobacco campaign 'Every cigarette brings cancer closer'—a successful campaign. We provided $27.8 million, over four years, for social marketing campaigns targeted at high-risk and hard-to-reach groups. We provided $14.5 million, over the three years from 2008, and a further $10.7 million from 2010, towards the Indigenous Tobacco Control Initiative, which funded 18 pilot projects in Indigenous communities around Australia. Tragically, the rate of tobacco consumption remains frustratingly high, but it is certainly on a downward trajectory with respect to Indigenous groups across the country. We put $100.6 million towards the COAG National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes 'Tackling Indigenous Smoking' measures. There was 'Break the chain', the first ever Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific national anti-smoking television campaign, $5 million in one-off funding for Quitline in 2009-10, and $102.4 million to support nicotine replacement therapies and other quit smoking supports through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

We have consistently shown our commitment to policies which reduce the incidence of tobacco related illness and disease in this country. I'm pleased to see that our excise increases when we were in government have been adopted by the Abbott and Turnbull governments when they came to power. However, this is also a government that has sadly and tragically discarded the 'Every cigarette is doing you damage' campaign, which has existed in this country since 1997 and has received global praise for its effectiveness. That's a very bad decision by this government. In the first three years of the Turnbull government, the AIHW survey found that smoking levels had dropped only marginally compared with the significant differences recorded in the preceding two decades—under both sides of government.

Those opposite are simply not doing enough to reduce the devastating impact of tobacco related illnesses and disease in Australia, particularly among lower socio-economic and regional Australians. We remain committed to ensure the current government is held accountable for any underhanded and underdone treatment of tobacco companies. We're supporting the passage of this bill through the House. We believe it will deliver a high standard of health outcomes to Australians. But it's not enough. Much more needs to be done. This government must give greater emphasis to preventive health. Reducing tobacco consumption in this country for older and younger Australians and for regional and rural Australians in my electorate and elsewhere is an important goal.