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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9190


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (12:44): It is no surprise to anyone on this side of the House that the opposition is opposing the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill and Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill, because the one thing that the opposition in this parliament does, and does really well, is oppose absolutely everything. I was very interested to hear the previous member's comment when he said that individuals need to make decisions in their own interest and they are the best people to take that decision, so when it comes to consuming legal products that individual can make the decision as to what they should do and no-one should interfere in any way. I would assume, then, that the member opposite would be opposed to random breath testing. He would believe that people can consume as much alcohol as they like and drive cars. It seems to me as though the member that spoke previously—

Mr Briggs: I bet you wouldn't go up to the clubs and say this.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): The member for Shortland will be heard in silence.

Ms HALL: has a very skewed vision on this particular issue. I find it interesting that this legislation was referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing by the Selection Committee. I know it was not referred to the health and ageing committee by any of the government members. Those people that referred the bill should make sure that they refer it to the right committee. They referred it to the health and ageing committee to look at the trademarks amendment part of this legislation, and the bill was referred to the wrong committee. I think that those people that referred the legislation to that committee should take a little bit more care as to where they refer legislation. I will just share with the House the recommendations of the committee. It recommended that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill pass the House. This was a unanimous report of the committee. The chairman—and I know he is to speak in this debate—pointed out in his foreword that he would like a lot more care taken when referring legislation.

The bill that we have before us regulates the packaging and appearance of tobacco products to improve public health and give effect to certain obligations under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The bill makes it an offence to sell, supply or purchase packaging or manufactured tobacco products from retail other than products and packaging that comply with the plain-packaging requirements. These offences apply to manufacturers, packagers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers of tobacco packages in Australia who fail to comply with the plain-packaging requirement. The effect of the proposed requirements will be that branding, logos, symbols and other images of tobacco companies that can currently be used to advertise tobacco products will not be able to appear on the packaging, and the brand will be the only thing that can be put on the product. It will be of a standard colour, in a standard position, in a standard font size and in a standard size.

We do have to look at why these steps are being taken by government. It is not to deprive people of personal liberty; it is a health initiative, and it has been widely embraced by people that work within the health sector. The Cancer Council in particular has embraced this legislation. The Cancer Council wrote to all members of parliament and sent a letter to us signed by 260 health and medical professors, and this was to all federal members of parliament. The crux of this letter is that plain packaging will make an important contribution to reducing smoking, particularly among children and young people. So it is designed to remove the incentive for young people to take up smoking. I think that that is a really good outcome if this legislation can prevent young people from taking up smoking, because smoking is exceptionally addictive. I was a smoker, and one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do was give up smoking. That was after my father died as a direct result of smoking. He had his voice box removed. He had cancer throughout his body. Yet I tried to give up smoking and I failed. It was because I was so addicted to this product. There are many people that do not finally succeed and that end up dying as a result of this habit. It is not only cancer; it is heart disease, stroke or a variety of other illnesses that are associated with smoking.

In this letter that the professors from universities throughout Australia have signed, they point out that the cigarette pack is the last remaining vehicle through which tobacco companies can legally promote their products in Australia, and plain packaging will remove this legal avenue. I wonder whether I would have started smoking when I was younger if it had not been portrayed as such a glamorous thing to do—if there had not been the packets of cigarettes with bright pictures and sophisticated people on them. This legislation will remove that incentive for young people to be encouraged to smoke simply because of the packaging of those cigarettes. I am going to refer to a media release from the Cancer Council about the letter sent to all members of parliament from the 260 health professors calling for tobacco plain packaging. It points out that four former Australians of the Year, Professors Sir Gus Nossal, Ian Frazer, Fiona Stanley and Fiona Wood, are all signatories to that letter. They, along with other distinguished experts in health and medicine, support this initiative. We have the health professionals supporting the initiative; on the other side we have the tobacco companies and the opposition opposing it. So we have health professionals who have studied, who treat people suffering from the effects of smoking or who do research into the causes of the diseases I have spoken about who are supporting this legislation, while on the other hand we have an opposition who oppose everything and say that this legislation should not be supported, that we should leave it up to the individual to determine whether or not they smoke. This legislation does not impinge on that, but it does act as a disincentive for young people to take up smoking.

The media release from the Cancer Council emphasises that there is 'compelling evidence' that plain packaging would make 'an important contribution to reducing the appeal of smoking, particularly to young people and children', a fact I highlighted a moment ago. If we can stop young people and children from smoking that is a fantastic step forward. I mentioned this has the support of the four former Australians of the Year. With scientists of that calibre supporting a health policy initiative such as this one, I urge members on the other side of this parliament to think about it seriously because they have an opportunity to make a real difference to health outcomes in this country. They can stand up and say: 'I supported legislation when it was introduced that is groundbreaking, legislation that is unique, legislation that makes Australia a leader in this field.' I do urge those on the other side of the House to think very seriously about it.

Professor Ian Olver, a medical oncologist and CEO of the Cancer Council of Australia, said restrictions to tobacco advertising were 'a critical part of a comprehensive approach to reducing consumption'. He said plain packaging is:

… a restriction to the last main legal avenue for promoting tobacco products to young people in Australia.

Those words are very powerful and very convincing. I say to members on the other side of this House: listen to those words, because you have the opportunity to join with us here in the parliament, vote in favour of this and put out a united message to Australians on this issue.

A campaign has been conducted in which we have received postcards on this issue. But, to me, the most moving piece of correspondence I received was written by a woman who lived just outside my electorate. She was sitting beside the bed of her husband who had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He was recently retired, and when he retired they had had plans to go for a trip around Australia—they had actually bought the caravan. But he started to feel unwell, he visited the doctor and he was subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer. She said she sat beside his bed as he was dying and she said, 'I wish there had been plain-packaging legislation introduced when he was young.' She wished that he had not taken up smoking, because they would then have had their retirement years together and could have done all the things they had planned to do. I feel that says a lot in relation to this legislation.

I will conclude by urging members on the other side of the House to join with us. This is a world first and it sends a clear message that the glamour is gone. Cigarette packets will now only show the death and disease that come from smoking. The new packs have been designed to have the lowest appeal to smokers. I ask those on the other side of the House to ask themselves this one question: why are the tobacco companies opposing this legislation? They are opposing the legislation because they know fewer people will smoke. That will end up in better health for all Australians, so I urge all members to support this legislation.