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Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Page: 9240


Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (16:09): I rise today to speak on the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011. The coalition will move one amendment to the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill during the consideration in detail stage. It is an important amendment because it reflects a lot of the thinking on this side of the House on elements of that bill. We will be opposing the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill.

The government claims that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill will discourage the use of tobacco products, so aiding the government's bid to reduce smoking rates in Australia. This bill will not be a silver bullet in reducing smoking rates, and no single measure will work on its own. Instead, a comprehensive anti-tobacco strategy to control smoking must be put in place. I acknowledge that over many years a great deal has been done, but more needs to be done.

There is no doubt that increasing the size of graphic health warnings will help to reduce—and, I believe, has helped to reduce—the rate of smoking. When I see those graphic images on packets of cigarettes—I do not smoke, but I see them—I think, 'My goodness! How could anyone buy this product?' But there is no doubt that decreasing the size and locations of branding will have an impact. The coalition maintains that increasing the size of the graphic health warnings on the front of cigarette packets would be the most effective measure that any government could take. The impact of plain packaging will be quite marginal, and I believe that increasing the size of those graphic images needs to be done as well as some advertising. Putting those images on television, particularly when sporting events are on, is the best way to get the anti-smoking message out there.

It has been suggested by some that the measures proposed by the government will help reduce the incidence of new people taking up smoking and help those people who are thinking about quitting do so for good. If the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill is passed—whether in an amended form or in its present form—I look forward to seeing whether there is a measurable reduction in smoking. The government seems to be relying on the one tool that it seems to have in its toolbox in its attempts to reduce the rates of smoking in the community.

The coalition have a proven track record in the field of tobacco control, and we have significantly reduced the rates of smoking in Australia. Former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies first introduced a voluntary tobacco advertising code for television in 1966. In 1976, the Fraser coalition government first implemented a ban on the advertising of tobacco products on TV and radio. The Howard government, with Tony Abbott—now the Leader of the Opposition—as health minister, introduced the graphic health warnings on tobacco products in 2006. In 2009 the coalition first proposed increasing the tobacco excise, a measure which was later adopted by this Labor government. To say that the coalition is soft on tobacco companies is just plain wrong; the coalition has always supported and will continue to support sensible measures to reduce smoking rates, especially amongst our Indigenous population and amongst young people, particularly whilst they are in those formative years when they can be influenced by all sorts of images of people who smoke. We are absolutely committed to measures that reach not only the broad population but also young people and Indigenous Australians.

I had the great privilege of being the Minister for Veterans' Affairs for almost six years, and in 2000 I introduced laws under the Veterans' Entitlements Act which meant that, if someone in the Defence Force commenced smoking after the year 2000, they would no longer be able to claim at some time in the future that smoking had a detrimental effect on their health. We believed at the time, as well as for many years leading up to that time, that there was sufficient evidence, advertising and knowledge for people to be aware that smoking is injurious to their health and can lead to many cancers and other ailments. However, the reason that under the Veterans Entitlements' Act smoking was considered a causal link to many cancers prior to that change—although it was only prospective, not retrospective—was that the Army, Navy and Air Force used to put cigarettes in ration packs. So the government, by virtue of that fact, had a duty of care and a duty of responsibility to accept that they had put cigarettes in the ration packs and that, if someone started to smoke and subsequently, even many years on, developed cancer or other health ailment that could be linked to smoking because they became a chain-smoker or even just smoked, they should be entitled to benefits under the Veterans Entitlements' Act—and it was right that they should be compensated. Anyone in the defence forces who commenced to smoke after 2000 was not eligible for the entitlements that then existed and that remain for those who were in the Defence Force prior to that and smoked as a result of the service and were able to make a causal link to their health.

The coalition presided over the biggest decline in smoking rates whilst in government. It was under the coalition government that the prevalence of smoking declined from 21.8 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 in 1998 to 16.6 per cent by 2007. So, between 1998 and 2007, there was a decline for Australians over the age of 14 from 21.8 per cent to 16.6 per cent. This is one of the lowest rates of smoking in the world. The decline in smoking rates between 1989 and 2007, a fall of 40 per cent for men and 44 per cent for women, was amongst the biggest in the OECD. This is testament to the long and hard work that has been done—by other governments, I acknowledge, but also by the Howard government—dating right back to the Fraser government's initiatives. That fall in smoking for women was the biggest in the world. Even though these falls are significant and we have one of the lowest rates of smoking in the world, we cannot afford to be complacent.

My electorate offices in Roma and Dalby received over 700 items of correspondence—postcards, letters, emails and more—from people across the electorate. They were voicing their opposition to this government's proposed changes. I want to describe why they were concerned. I have a responsibility to be the voice of the people of Maranoa. Even if I might not always agree with what they are protesting about, I have a responsibility to bring it to the attention of the government and the parliament. One of their main concerns was that they may not be able to determine the strength of cigarettes. I think that is a very legitimate concern. My office was contacted by a lady who was concerned that her husband may become even more addicted if he accidentally purchased and smoked stronger cigarettes—a legitimate concern. Many others have told me that they are adults and have the right to make up their own minds when it comes to smoking. They believe the Labor government is now interfering with their choice and their lifestyle. They were the sorts of comments we had from the constituency of Maranoa.

Among the hundreds of people to contact my office were many local businesses, not only employers but also some employees. They represent businesses from around the Maranoa electorate, in smaller communities like Inglewood, Kumbia—outside Kingaroy, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper—and Nanango, through larger centres such as Roma, Warwick, Dalby and Kingaroy. These small businesses may be located in different areas of the electorate of Maranoa, but their concerns are the same. They are not happy with the government's lack of consultation, which we have come to expect, with small businesses and retailers over this issue. Small retailers are concerned at the way this proposal will impact, for instance, on their stock management, and there may be difficulties in differentiating between different packets that will look almost identical. They believe the new reforms will hurt their businesses through increased price based competition, which will drive customers to large retail chains and, potentially, the illegal black market for tobacco products.

Another concern raised by the people of the Maranoa electorate was the potential for an increase in counterfeit tobacco when plain packaging is introduced. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service annual report shows that, over the last three years, it has seized some 743 tonnes of tobacco and 217 million cigarettes. Most recently, at the end of July, an estimated 20 tonnes of tobacco was seized after a series of raids on greenhouses in Sydney's west. Unfortunately, the government appears to have completely ignored the counterfeit tobacco issue and has made no effort to address it through this legislation. The World Health Organisation recommends implementing a track-and-trace regime for tobacco products and strengthening the legislation against the illicit trade in tobacco products. However, the government has instead let the tobacco companies manage their own tracking of tobacco products. I think the WHO's recommendations are sensible and should be looked at.

In order to address the concerns raised by small businesses during consultation with industry, the coalition will be moving an amendment to the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011. This amendment seeks to address the concerns of small businesses, which have fallen on the deaf ears of this government. Our amendment seeks to allow the use of a tobacco company's trademark on one of the two smallest outer surfaces of the cigarette carton. We hope this will aid in the stock management concerns of retailers, which I have outlined and expressed on behalf of my constituency, without undermining the public intent and the good intent of the plain packaging proposal. The coalition has also decided to oppose the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill) 2011. We first saw this bill when it was introduced into the House on 6 July this year. It was not flagged or issued as part of the government's exposure draft or consultation paper of April this year. This bill will give extensive powers to the minister—regulations made by the minister under an act of parliament could override the act itself. We do not believe this bill is necessary for the government to continue to implement their plain-packaging agenda.

This bill is about improving the health of the nation—I accept that. I accept that smoking, like drinking, is legal in our society, despite its often damaging health effects. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs. The majority of Australians who smoke become addicted to nicotine at a young age, many in their teens, and most wish that they could quit, but struggle with their addiction. Sadly, smoking remains by far the major cause of preventable cancer and cardiovascular disease deaths in Australia.

As a representative of the electorate of Maranoa, I want to do everything in my power to reduce the prevalence of smoking in Australia. Tobacco products should be just one part of a number of measures aimed at reducing smoking rates. Most importantly, we must ensure that the message is getting through to those young people who are just contemplating smoking. We have a good record of reducing smoking rates in our country and I hope that we can continue to reduce those rates. I hope the government has listened, as part of my contribution, to the concerns of many in my electorate from small businesses, particularly in those smaller communities, and some of those people who feel that there was not enough consultation with small business people. But I guess that is one of the things we have come to expect from this government—a lack of consultation on so many issues, including the carbon tax issue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Before calling the next speaker, I recognise the honourable member for Lyons.