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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9174


Mr DUTTON (Dickson) (11:36): I want to firstly commend the contribution by shadow parliamentary secretary Dr Southcott, who I think gave a very wise contribution to this debate. I want to address some of the issues which have been raised by others in this debate. Before I do that, I want—and I think it is important to do so in this process—to inform the public of how we got to this point. There has, for generations, been bipartisan support to address the issue of tobacco usage and uptake, in particular in Indigenous communities and among young Australians. That has matured over a period of time to a sensible point now where all stakeholders in this debate want to see a reduction wherever possible in smoking. We do not want to see increasing numbers of young people in particular take up smoking. They know cigarettes are a scourge and the health outcomes of smoking in a much better and a more informed way than did their parents or grandparents.

One of the remarkable aspects of this debate has been how the government has, in its desperation, in its flapping about from one issue to the next, tried to politicise this issue. I agree with much of what the health minister has said about the aspirations of this government to reduce smoking rates. It was the aspiration of her predecessor, the current Leader of the Opposition, and health ministers back as far as any of us can recall. But what has been different in this debate has been the way in which the current health minister has sought to denigrate the position of others in this debate, both in this chamber and outside, and the way in which the health minister has sought to discount views which might differ even slightly from her own.

It has been quite unhelpful because the opposition, when we were in government and as far back as the Fraser government, introduced measures and reforms in this area which we can be rightly proud of. The fact that smoking rates have declined over that period make us stand out in the western world in how low our smoking rates are. I have said in this place and to the media before that it is unfortunate that this government would seek to try and distract from other deficiencies—and there are many—that they have on their books at the moment. This is a government that by anybody's account has been the most incompetent, the most unable to implement change since the Whitlam government.

Ms Plibersek: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order: I am wondering whether the shadow minister intends to talk about the legislation at any stage.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ) (11:39): Everybody at the table should understand that I get to determine if the member is being relevant. There has been some wide-ranging debate allowed on this bill but as he is the shadow minister with coverage of it, I hope he will get to the bill before the chair.

Mr DUTTON: The point is that the government has strayed away from the bipartisan position and it is sensitive about it, as the minister demonstrated at the dispatch box here.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Dickson should not impugn the minister. He is treading into other dangerous territory there. I ask you return to the bill.

Mr DUTTON: Her actions speak loudly because this is the government that has taken an issue where there was bipartisan support, where there remains bipartisan support, and has sought to turn it into a political issue. I think that is unfortunate. It reflects poorly on the government. To try to use the issue of tobacco control or reducing smoking rates—as I say, an admirable cause—to distract from other political issues is without precedence and it is unfortunate.

It is worth bearing in mind some of the outcomes in this area over the course of recent years. We do know that by 2010 the proportion of daily smokers in this country of 14 years and older had declined to 15.1 per cent. It was a downward trend that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says began in 1995. From 1989 to 2007 smoking rates in Australia declined by 40 per cent for men and 44 per cent for women. They were among the biggest declines in the OECD. For women, it was the biggest decline in the OECD. It was under a coalition government that the biggest decline in smoking rates occurred. In 1995, 23.8 per cent of Australians were smokers. By 2007 that had declined to 16.6 per cent. In the early 1990s smoking rates were declining by seven per cent annually. That rose to 10 per cent from 1997 onwards.

The biggest decline in cigarette sales in Australia, we now know, came in the years between 1998 and 2002. In that three-year period, total sales declined by 18 per cent and on a per capita basis by about 20 per cent. Many people rightly ask why did these significant outcomes come about? We know that in June 1997 the then Liberal health minister, Michael Wooldridge, began the biggest ever advertising campaign against smoking. In 1999 the Howard government reformed cigarette taxation from a weight basis to a per stick basis. This ended the unique situation where in our country tobacco companies could offer bonus cigarettes at discounted prices in packs of 25, 30, 40 or even 50. In 2006 then Liberal health minister, Tony Abbott, introduced the graphic health warnings on cigarette packets. In 2009 the coalition proposed a further increase in tobacco excise, perhaps the most effective means of lowering smoking rates. It took the Rudd government a further year to actually act.

It is also important to recognise in this debate that the first ban on advertising of tobacco products on TV and radio was introduced by the Fraser coalition government in 1976. We know that only now in America are they moving to institute the type of graphic health warnings on packets of cigarettes that the Liberal government introduced in 2006.

Australia does rank as a world leader. There are few nations who have lowered smoking rates further than our country has. We are considered a world leader and rightly so. Most of that action, as I say, was taken over the period of the previous coalition government. The point I come back to is that it was made in a bipartisan way and it was not used as some sort of a political axe to bang over the head of the then opposition, which is now in government. There has been a respectful debate up until this point. It is a very important point to make because there will be further actions that will be required both by this government and the incoming government, whoever that might be at the next election, to further reduce smoking rates. Like other health groups, interested stakeholders, people who have written to me and people who have expressed public support for the government's actions, we stand as one to make sure that we can reduce smoking rates and better inform consumers about the perils of taking up smoking. And we will continue to do that. I pledge in this debate that, if the coalition win at the next election, as health minister I will not use this as a political tool to assault the Labor Party. I accept that the Labor Party has, as does the Liberal and National parties, a bipartisan view that we should reduce smoking rates. I was the shadow health minister when we first recommended to the government, before they acted, to increase the excise on tobacco. We did that because there was clear evidence that increasing the price was a deterrent, particularly for younger people, to continuing or to taking up smoking. We will continue those good endeavours to make sure wherever possible we can reduce smoking in this country. I think that is evident in the speech also, as I mentioned before, of Dr Southcott.

We have amendments to this bill that we think will strengthen the situation. The government want people to believe that they were the first to introduce measures to try to reduce smoking rates. I hope that today as part of this debate I have dispelled that myth. If you repeat a lie often enough, sometimes people will fall for it, but the fact is that the Liberal coalition government had a proud record which led to significant declines in smoking rates. We will continue to support measures which do that. It is important that this government recognise that the Australian people have called their number. The Australian people understand that this is not a competent government in the area of health. This is not a government, regardless which area of health you talk about—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Dickson has been given a great deal of latitude and now he is testing my patience. I draw him back to the bill before us in this debate.

Mr DUTTON: The point we make in this debate is that they do not have a good track record of implementing health policy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member is now defying—

Mr DUTTON: This is a health policy, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes, and I would really like you to address the bill.

Mr DUTTON: Can they effectively introduce these changes? How can that possibly be out of order? Can they introduce these changes? I am asking the question: how is that out of order?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You are not being relevant to the bill.

Mr DUTTON: Asking whether they can implement this bill is not relevant to this bill?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Dickson has actually not at any stage addressed the bill. I have allowed him 10 minutes of ignoring the bill to make his point.

Mr DUTTON: Plain packaging tobacco is the bill we are discussing, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: That is exactly right and you went through not the actual bill, the legislation before us, but the history of the Liberal Party. I thought that was reasonable. I have allowed that for 10 minutes. I think in the last remaining three minutes you could actually refer to the bill and the position in your amendments. I ask the member to return to the bill.

Mr DUTTON: Madam Deputy Speaker, I am happy to forward you a copy of the Hansard post this to aid the process, but the point is, in relation to this bill: can the government get it right? Has the government got the right mix in the black letter law that it provides in this bill? Can the government implement policy in this area that is going to be effective? That is the question in relation to this bill that is before this House.

This government has taken a particular course of action. I have outlined the history in this area of public policy. I do think it is incredibly important for the House to consider whether they believe this government can introduce the changes they have before the House. When we examine clause by clause every aspect of this bill, the questions need to be: is the government opening the taxpayers up to liability and will we see the reduction in smoking that we all want? These are the questions that need to be asked. It is rightly put in terms of the historical context because these are the very issues that the minister herself raised in relation to this bill. Why are we at a point in history where we do have low smoking rates? What has contributed to low smoking rates? These are issues which the minister has publicly discussed and which we have debated in this chamber and in the public eye otherwise. These are issues which are rightly addressed as part of this debate.

Can the government get it right in terms of plain packaging? Is this the start of plain packaging, as the government might like us to believe? No, it is not. As I said before, when the graphic health warnings were introduced in 2006 by a Liberal government that was in effect taking away from the bling of packaging that young people saw when they purchased packets of cigarettes. This is a reasonable question to ask as part of this debate: do the Australian public believe that the Gillard government has the ability to introduce these changes, however well intentioned they may be? We want to assist in every way possible the government to reduce smoking rates.

I think it is for the public to judge whether there is a case for the political way in which the government have conducted themselves in this debate. I think it has been a shameful exercise. We want to make sure when we get into government that we do not use the issue of reducing smoking rates, particularly for young people and in Indigenous communities, as some sort of a blunt political axe. I think all of that will be for the people to judge at the upcoming election. I ask people to judge this government by their performance so far.