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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9187


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (12:30): I rise to speak on the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011. I follow on from the speech from the member for Greenway, which she just read out to the parliament. This is an issue which the Labor government and the Minister for Health and Ageing, 'nanny-state Nicola', have tried to make completely—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member will refer to the minister by her appropriate title. This is not a debate that should be so willing.

Mr BRIGGS: I thank you for your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I agree very much—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It is not my advice; it is my ruling. It is the standing orders and I would like you to follow them. Thank you.

Mr BRIGGS: I will follow your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr Dreyfus: Withdraw!

Mr BRIGGS: Coming from you, Minister? You complete hypocrite!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The parliamentary secretary at the table is not assisting.

Mr BRIGGS: This is a debate that we have seen the minister politicise, day in and day out for over three years, with promise after promise of legislation to be presented, and finally we see a bill. What a surprise that the Labor Party introduces a bill, the cognate bill, which we think is fundamentally flawed at law. That is why we will be opposing the bill. Who could trust this government to implement world-leading reform in the first place? This is an issue which I think the parliament should be very conscious of in considering both of these bills.

As the shadow parliamentary secretary for health has indicated, the coalition will support the first bill, and we do so with some reluctance, it must be said—or I do so with some reluctance. I think that what we are seeing here is politics being played out through health policy. We are seeing the politics of the nanny state take over effective consideration of what reasonable health policy should look like.

We just heard the member for Greenway, when reading her speech, moralising that we allegedly run scare campaigns in relation to this issue and then suggesting that those of us on this side should watch people die of cancer. I think that highlights just what the Labor Party are seeking to do in pursuing this legislation. The coalition's record in relation to health outcomes on tobacco is second to none. The Leader of the Opposition, while he was the Minister for Health and Ageing in the Howard government, with the member for Sturt introduced substantial legislation in relation to graphic health warnings on labels. They implemented this measure and it was part of a series of measures that contributed to a reduction in the smoking rate in our population. It was an important health reform that informed people about the dangers they face if they consume tobacco, which today is still a legal product.

What we are now seeing is a step into quite dangerous territory, where the state is beginning to remove the opportunity for people to make decisions about how they live their own lives. This is a step down a path which will lead to several outcomes which the health lobby and people who wish to see a greater role for government in people's lives will use as an example in their pursuit of their aims. Those include putting warning labels on alcohol products and removing people's right to choose what food they eat and how much time they spend watching television—how they live their lives in general. It is a difference between those who sit on this side of the parliament and those who sit on the other side. Those who sit on the other side of the parliament believe that the government has the right and the ability to tell people how to live their lives and how they should regulate their lives every minute of the day. They know better than the individual about how to go about living their lives!

The fact is that people know, and have every opportunity to know, that smoking causes health damage. It causes cancer. It is written on the packet. It says on the packet: 'Smoking kills'. I have never smoked and have never been inclined to smoke, but I defend the right of people to engage in what is a legal practice. With this legislation, we have moved towards an area which raises questions. If the government are willing to do this, think this issue is so serious and want to take this action, why don't they simply ban the activity? Some people suspect that the vast amount of revenue that they receive from the sale of tobacco is probably the reason that they do not just ban the consumption of tobacco.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is an issue which has been overtly politicised by those on the other side. Day after day, we have seen the minister for health come into this place and try and politicise political donations and make politics with this bill. Earlier this year and late last year, during question time on most days the minister for health would draw links and abuse the Leader of the Opposition for allegedly being in the back pocket of big tobacco. That went on until early June, when it was revealed that the minister for health herself had been keen on tobacco company donations. We know that because we have a copy of a letter from the now Minister for Health and Ageing, written when in opposition in 2005—and I understand there was a letter the year later, which was after the Labor Party had decided to no longer accept donations from tobacco companies—to Philip Morris, a tobacco company, seeking donations and seeking their company at a dinner to introduce them to none other than the member for Kingsford Smith. The now minister for health wrote:

Once in every electoral cycle, I approach local businesses, friends and supporters asking for their support so I can continue the work I do as the federal Labor member for Gellibrand and the shadow Attorney-General.

That was the role that she was in at that point. The letter continues:

It is therefore my pleasure to invite you to support my re-election by attending an interesting evening in beautiful Williamstown. On this occasion I am pleased to introduce you to two distinctive members of the Labor frontbench team, Peter Garrett and Stephen Conroy.

Peter Garrett really needs no introduction. Elected last year, Peter is known for his time as Midnight Oil's lead singer and his passion as a committed environmentalist. Peter is currently Labor's spokesman on arts and reconciliation.

The letter then goes on to sing the virtues of having dinner with Stephen Conroy—virtues I do not see—and then says:

I hope that you will be able to attend this evening to gain a new perspective on Labor, the West and the Bay and I look forward to your continuing support.

That just bells the cat on the absolute and utter hypocrisy that we see from the Minister for Health and the Labor Party when it comes to this issue. The minister for health was also not averse to accepting corporate hospitality from tobacco companies, attending the tennis with Philip Morris—according to her own register of interest.

This highlights exactly what this bill is all about—trying to be political with health policy, trying to create a political wedge, trying to create an issue that the Labor Party can campaign on against our side of politics. It says everything about the Labor Party when one of the bills that they have drafted raises serious questions in relation to whether it is even possible to implement it—that is, the bill relating to the trademarks amendment—which is the very reason that we seek to oppose it.

This is not about standing up for so-called big tobacco; it is about standing up for the rights of people to live their lives the way they wish to. As I said, to ensure that this political campaign being run by the minister for health is no longer able to continue, we will reluctantly allow this bill to pass. We do not think it will make a difference to the health outcomes for people. We believe there are better and more efficient ways to ensure that people do not take up the habit of tobacco smoking. There are of course good health reasons not to take up the habit—and I certainly wish people would not. I have never seen the attraction in doing so, but I do see the attraction in ensuring that the spot the government sits in our society is not one where it takes responsibility away from people to the extent that this government seeks to.

I say again that this is the first stop on a bus which is designed to unduly restrict the way that people can live their lives. I think it is a dangerous direction that the country is taking. It is sending the wrong signal to people. It is sending a signal that the government will fix your problem and the government will always make the decision for you. It is taking away people's personal responsibility. It is taking away the right of small business to be able to run their business at what is, in any event, a difficult time.

This is the Labor Party writ large. It is about politics. It is about what their genuine view is about their role in people's lives. We take a different view. We take the view that people can be trusted to make decisions in their own best interest and that the government should not be there to tell them what to do and what not to do, except in the limited circumstances in which a state has a role in our society. This is, I think, a major step across that line. We raise issue with it. I am happy to raise issue with it. I am sure those on the other side will again link us to cancer, as the member for Greenway did—not that they ever run scare campaigns! Recently we saw the Minister for Human Services on the Q&Aprogram accuse us of running scare campaigns and then turn around and say that we would not have any food left in the country in 20 years time. Of course, they on the other side do not run scare campaigns!

Mr Morrison: And the Central Coast is going to flood.

Mr BRIGGS: That is right: the Central Coast is going to flood is another one. 'It is all factually based information driven by a good health policy,' we heard from the member for Greenway, 'and if you do not support it you support cancer'.

I do raise issues with this bill and I do raise issues with the direction that the government is taking in this respect. I am sure those on the other side will try to make cheapjack politics out of that. But it is the role of this place to question the direction of government policy, and I do question the direction that we are taking in this country where we tell society, 'The government knows better than you.' We do not and we should not. People should be left to make their decision on the consumption of legal products. This is a legal product. If the government are serious about the rhetoric of the member for Greenway, they will ban its use. That would be a more consistent position for the Labor Party to take.

To be lectured to by a minister who, quite frankly, is the biggest hypocrite in this debate—writing to cigarette companies and asking for donations at the same time as trying to get into this place, and abusing us and alleging that we are supporting big tobacco purely for donations—sums up exactly where the Labor Party are at. As I indicated, we will support the first bill, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011—with reluctance, I do—and we will be opposing the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011.