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Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Page: 1751

Ms HALL (10:51 AM) —It is with great pleasure and total commitment that I rise today to speak to the Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009, which we have before us in this parliament. In doing so, I would like to emphasise—and I mean emphasise—the importance of this piece of legislation from a health perspective. So often, members on the other side of this House distort research information that relates to health measures, particularly so when it comes to drugs and alcohol. I will deal in some detail with the distortion that we have heard from previous speakers. This legislation will alter the taxation definition of beer in the Excise Tariff Amendment Act 1991 and the Customs Tariff Act 1995 and wine in A New Tax System (Wine Equalisation Tax) Act 1999 to ensure that beer and wine based products that attempt to mimic alcopops in relation to their taste are taxed as a spirits product.

I heard the previous speaker, as well as other speakers in this debate from the other side, quote figures, talk about the effectiveness of this legislation and say that it was about tax—that it was not a health matter. It showed just how out of touch they are and what little knowledge they actually have about health related matters. It also showed how selective they are when they are researching information for a speech. When the opposition sat on the government benches of this parliament, their approach to dealing with the epidemic in our society of binge drinking—the misuse of alcohol by young people—was to ignore it. It was seen as not being a problem. They were prepared to conduct inquiries into illicit drug use. They were prepared to conduct inquiries into numerous other issues. But they never looked at the effect—the harmful effect, I might add—of alcohol. It is very important to note at this point that alcohol is one of the major causes of chronic illness in our society. When the opposition were in government they did absolutely nothing to address this chronic issue. They argued that any problems with drugs in Australia related to illicit drugs.

The fact is that the figures do not hold up when you are looking at the use of alcohol and drugs. The data that I have here is from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey. This information indicated that along with smoking, the misuse of alcohol was a major health problem within our society. Over 80 per cent of the population consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months, with 11 per cent of males and six per cent of females drinking daily. In terms of risky behaviour in the long term, 10 per cent of males and nine per cent of females drank alcohol in a way that set up a risky pattern. In addition, 24 per cent of males and 17 per cent of females drank at least once a month in a manner that was high risk in the short term. In other words, that means that we have young people engaged in risky alcohol drinking behaviour—binge drinking. Those young people have their introduction to alcohol through alcopops. It is just a transition between a sweet soft drink and a sugary alcopop, and research supports that.

Alcohol use is also a major cause of drug or alcohol related deaths in Australia. There were 2,000 deaths in 1998—and I am sure that is now higher—among people under 64 years of age. It accounted for 28 per cent of all drug or alcohol deaths in this age group. Tobacco use is probably the highest cause of drug related deaths, followed by alcohol. All this can be compared with the around 1,000 deaths per year in Australia that are caused by illicit drugs. When the opposition sat on the government side of this parliament, they concentrated on illicit drugs. They did not concentrate on the biggest killer of people in Australia—an epidemic that is consuming our society.

Tax office figures for the first nine months of this year show that alcopops sales have dropped by 35 per cent compared to the previous year. That was far beyond the predictions that were made when this legislation was introduced. The legislation predicted a slower fall-off in use. However, alcopops sales have slumped, bringing overall spirits sales with them. Despite a small—and I emphasise small—increase in full-strength spirits sales, overall spirits sales have fallen by eight per cent. To listen to members on the other side of this House making their contribution to this debate, one could be excused for believing that sales of alcopops have declined marginally and that, instead of those, people are now buying large quantities of full-strength spirits. That is not true; the figures do not support that. This only goes to show that you can never believe what those on the other side of this House say.

The previous speaker, the member for Wannon, asked why this has been sponsored as a health measure. I have the answer for the member for Wannon. The Australian General Practice Network are a very authoritative body when it comes to health matters. In a letter to the Treasury in October last year they talked about the impact of tobacco and alcohol on the burden of disease on our society. They went into some detail, saying that harmful alcohol consumption was associated with 3.2 per cent of the total disease burden in 2003. It accounted for 9.7 per cent of the burden of mental illness in Australia. In 2004-05, $3.5 billion in lost productivity was related to alcohol use. In 2007 about one-third of persons aged 14 years or older put themselves at risk or high risk of alcohol related harm in the short term on at least one drinking occasion. What have the members on the other side of this parliament advocated? That we do absolutely nothing.

In the same period, 10.3 per cent of persons aged 14 years or over consumed alcohol in a way considered risky or a high risk to their health in the long term. The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey reported that both daily and weekly smoking patterns were undesirable and that alcohol was a similar problem.

Australian evidence has shown that the excise taxes on products such as tobacco and alcohol curb consumption behaviours and can therefore be an effective public health intervention. Members on the other side of the House say this is a tax bill. The Australian General Practice Network say that excise taxes on products such as tobacco and alcohol curb consumption behaviours and can therefore be an effective public health intervention. That comes from one of the leading medical organisations in Australia. I think it really debunks what the member for Wannon said.

We know that members on the other side of this parliament are slaves to big business. We know that they get their marching orders on the position they should take on any piece of legislation from their friends in high places. They do not make decisions on legislation based on what is best for Australians. I find it very disturbing that speaker after speaker on the other side of the parliament has risen to state their opposition to this legislation and presented very flawed arguments based on partial evidence while ignoring evidence from public health workers, the Australian General Practice Network and information that can be obtained from looking at medical data. Those on the other side of the parliament need to decide why they are here. Are they here to serve big business or are they here to get good quality health outcomes for Australian people?

The National Preventative Health Taskforce, in a discussion paper, has proposed targets for Australia to become the healthiest country by 2020. The third target on its list is ‘reduce the prevalence of harmful drinking of alcohol for all Australians by 30 per cent’. That is what this legislation is about—reducing the prevalence of harmful consumption of alcohol. The paper deals in some detail with alcohol. It emphasises that alcohol is an intrinsic part of Australia’s culture, that 83 per cent of Australians are drinkers and that 1.4 million consume alcohol on a daily basis. I quoted 80 per cent earlier. This data is a little bit newer and shows that consumption of alcohol is increasing.

Consumption of alcohol accounts for 3.2 per cent of the total burden of disease and injury in our country, at an estimated health cost of $11 billion annually. What is the response of members on the other side of this House? Do nothing. Argue the case for the distillers. Do not do anything for the Australian people, do not put in place any strategy to address the problem and ignore advice from the Australian General Practice Network. They are ignoring the advice and evidence from overseas, where it has been found that the introduction of excise taxes is a very effective way to deal with reducing the consumption of alcohol. I might add that the National Preventative Health Taskforce discussion paper highlights a review of the taxation system to stimulate production and consumption of low-alcohol products and a removal of tax deductibility for advertising. Once again it is linking tax to the consumption of alcohol.

I come from Lake Macquarie in the Hunter. The front-page article in today’s Newcastle Herald is headlined ‘We’re punch drunk’, with the subheading ‘REVEALED: The appalling stats that confirm our city can’t hold its liquor’. The article details at some length the problems that are associated with binge drinking—problems that, to a large extent, are related to young people.

I am a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing. This morning in that committee we had a briefing from Dr Gillian McIlwain and Professor Ross Homel, Foundation Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Director of the Strategic Research Program in the Social and Behavioural Sciences at Griffith University. They came to talk to the committee about alcohol related violence in licensed places. This morning, prior to coming to this chamber, I was confronted with information on two fronts about the abuse of alcohol and the abuse of alcohol by young people. As a parliament, we can sit back and do nothing. We can ignore the advice of health experts and do nothing about addressing this issue. Or we can say we really want to address it; we really take it seriously.

In relation to the abuse of substances of any kind, we know that, after smoking, alcohol causes the second highest rate of health problems in our community. It is a big issue. We need to address the problem at the level at which people are being introduced to alcohol. People are introduced to alcohol through the subtle move from drinking soft drinks—sweet, sugary, non-alcoholic drinks—to drinking sweet, sugary drinks that are alcoholic. It is not an argument to say that people can monitor what they are drinking when they are drinking alcopops as opposed to spirits. Alcohol is abused by young people and cost is an important factor in that. I encourage members of this House to support this legislation, to move away from their friends in big business and to start thinking about the health of our young people and the Australian population. I encourage them to vote in favour of this legislation.