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Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Page: 1759

Mrs D’ATH (11:32 AM) —I rise to support the two bills before the House. The Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 seeks to alter the rate of the excise duty in relation to other excisable beverages not exceeding 10 per cent alcohol by volume, commonly referred to as alcopops or ready-to-drink beverages. The bill will confirm, though legislation, the increase that occurred from 27 April 2008 for these types of alcoholic drinks. The rate of duty, as it appears in schedule 1 of the Excise Tariff Act 1921, will be increased from $39.36 to $66.67 per litre of alcohol content.

The second bill, the Customs Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009, will ensure that imports of such beverages as described will be taxed at the same rate, known as the excise equivalent customs duty rate. This also took effect from 27 April 2008, and this bill will legislate that increase. The Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have been collecting excise and excise equivalent customs duty at the higher rate since 27 April 2008.

We have heard that the federal government is apparently singling out one industry and one section of the industry in taxing these alcopops. What all of the speakers on the other side have avoided—I would say intentionally—is the fact that these particular types of alcoholic beverages have been targeted to close a loophole that was created by the Howard government with the introduction of the goods and services tax. This is a responsibility that fell on their shoulders almost a decade ago—that is, to make sure that this hole did not arise—and they failed. They failed our young people. They failed to do anything to ensure that these types of damaging alcoholic beverages did not become more easily accessible to our young people.

So why are these two bills so important? We have heard about the binge drinking problem. When we talk about binge drinking, we know it has effects in two main areas. There are the health consequences that flow from binge drinking, but there are also the social consequences. These statistics are quite horrific when you think about it: in any given week approximately one 12- to 17-year-old in 10 is binge drinking or drinking at risky levels. In addition, between 1999 and 2005 the proportion of teenage girls aged 12 to 17 who chose ready-to-drink beverages as their preferred drink rose from 23 per cent to 48 per cent. That is a significant increase that has not been acknowledged by any speaker on the other side of this House during this debate.

In fact, the member for Mayo said that binge drinking has not suddenly become a problem; it has been a problem for a long time, going right back to when he was a teenager. He was making that comment to somehow excuse us from any need to do anything about it now, but the statistics speak very differently. The statistics show that since 2000 there have been significant increases in the consumption by and attraction to young people, especially young teenage girls, of these particular types of beverages. You do not just have to take the federal government’s word for this, of course. There are many organisations, both from the health area and from the social services area, that agree with the government on this. For example, the police want action on binge drinking. On 27 May 2008 the New South Wales Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, stated:

 “Drinking habits have changed. What many young Australians are doing now is going out determined to get drunk, whatever the consequences.”

“There’s been a normalisation of binge drinking rather than an encouragement of sensible drinking and sadly it involves both men and women … Enough is enough and it’s time to change the culture.”

The Australian Drug Foundation, the Australian National Council on Drugs, former Liberal minister and former AMA president Dr John Herron, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia and the Public Health Association of Australia supported this initiative. The Public Health Association of Australia CEO, Michael Moore, came out in November in relation to the government’s anti-binge drinking ads and said:

I hope this campaign is not attacked by the industry using the same sort of tactics of distorting facts and statistics that have been used by some representatives of the distilled spirits industry to protect their own profits.

There are many organisations out there who support this initiative—and let us not forget an independent report commissioned by the Howard government. It was written by David Collins and Helen Lapsley and entitled The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004-05. That report found that there would appear to be strong justification for the April 2008 increase in the Australian tax on premixed alcopops by 70 per cent. Alcohol excise taxes are capable of being designed explicitly to target the types of alcohol known to be the subject of abuse—for example, high-strength beer and alcopops. Studies show that young people are more influenced by the price of alcohol, so that increasing the tax rate on alcoholic drinks which are specifically targeted at the youth market is likely to be effective. This is from the independent report commissioned by the Howard government, but I do not remember hearing any of the speakers on the other side referring to that report today in this debate.

You would think that the statistics of the increase in the use of these beverages and their attraction for young people would alone see the government and the opposition being as one on this issue. In fact, you would hope that that would be the case, but of course it is not. You would hope that the government and the Distilled Spirits Industry Council would be one on this issue, but of course they are not. You would have to say that this is a case where they protest too much. The industry itself has come out and said that the tax that has been in effect since April 2008 has had no effect at all. It is not addressing binge drinking. Let us just consider the argument that the distilled spirits industry is putting up. This tax has been in for a number of months, more than adequate time for there to be proper analysis of the effects coming out of the use or reduction in use of these beverages and the sales of these beverages. You would have to question that if you actually accept the industry’s argument that this tax has had no effect since its introduction. Why would an industry such as this pour so much time, so many resources and so much money into lobbying members and campaigning against this tax if it is having no effect? If it is not affecting their revenue in any way because young people are either still buying alcopops at the same rate as they were prior to April 2008 or, alternatively, have switched to full spirits or other forms of alcohol in place of that—and, if you believe the speakers on the other side, young people are actually drinking more now than previously—then why is this industry up in arms? Their bottom line is revenue, making money for their shareholders and making sure their products sell. So, if this tax is having no effect or if people are turning to other alcohol and the problem is still occurring and the increases are still occurring in the sales of this alcohol—as we have heard from speakers on the other side today—why is this industry so determined to see this tax scrapped?

They are certainly resorting to some interesting tactics, may I say. They have had their mobile billboards, they have written many letters to members of parliament and they have sent media articles—there are lots of articles in the paper about whether or not this is working—but I have to make mention of a particular stunt that this industry pulled at the end of last year. This is an industry that is about responsible drinking and genuine debate, if you believe the member for Mitchell. Their idea of working with the federal members of parliament, particularly with me, on this issue and wanting to enter into genuine dialogue was to, without contacting me or my office, come into my office in parliament on a daily basis in the last sitting week of 2008, not seeking to talk to me or any staff, and to drop a bottle of alcohol at my front desk each day. That resulted in four bottles of alcohol being left in my office—which is over two litres of alcohol, none of which I asked for, nor was I asked whether I would like to keep it—all to make a point about binge drinking not being a problem and about how we should enter into genuine debate. On the first sitting day of this year—their staff were obviously busy dropping bottles around the place, so I could not get hold of them the week they dropped these around—one of my staff contacted the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia and said: ‘We have four bottles of alcohol here that we don’t want. Ms D’Ath has specifically asked that they be returned to the industry council.’ The immediate response was, ‘Well, if the member doesn’t want them, tell her to pour them down the sink.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want these; come and get them.’ They then said that it was not a priority for them but that they would organise it. Here we are in the third sitting week, almost four weeks since that phone call was made, and unfortunately the four bottles of alcohol are still sitting in my office. They are not too intent on coming back and entering into any dialogue with me, obviously.

We are being accused of attacking this industry, but we are not doing so without some reason, I would argue. When you look at what this industry has done since this tax was introduced you will see it has gone out of its way to try to find alternatives to get around the tax—‘malternatives’, as they have been called. It is absolutely shameful that this industry has done that. If the stunt of dropping these bottles around to me and saying, ‘Here is all this mixed alcohol that is not taxed,’ is to try to get me to see that a particular tax on alcopops is not having the effect that it should, I say to the industry as a personal perspective from me: if that is the case, I am more than happy to support fixing any loopholes the industry might find and, if there are these ‘malternatives’ that they say will be just as attractive to young people, I would certainly support fixing that problem.

The opposition have come in here today, unfortunately although not surprisingly, making comments about how the alcohol industry is a major employer and so we should not be forcing a tax on it that may affect its revenue. Again, if they are running the industry’s argument, they should be consistent. If the industry is saying, ‘This tax is having no effect,’ then it is not going to have an effect on revenue and it is not going to have an effect on jobs. So what are they crowing about? The fact is that they know that this tax has caused a reduction in alcopop use, and that is what it is intended to do.

Mr Baldwin —But there has been an increase in spirit usage.

Mrs D’ATH —I have an interjection that it has increased full spirit usage.

Mr Baldwin interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—Order! The shadow minister will cease interjecting.

Mrs D’ATH —There has been an increase in the use of full spirits, but not to the same level as the decrease in the use of alcopops. So, overall, we have seen a reduction—and the other side does not want to acknowledge this—in the use of spirits.

We are being told by the member for Mayo that we should not have a wowser approach. I did not realise trying to address binge drinking was having a wowser approach. We have heard from the member for Mitchell about 75,000 young people on Facebook who are not concerned about the use or abuse of alcohol; they are concerned about paying more for alcohol. That gives me some heart because, if young people are concerned that their favourite drink is going to cost them more, they might be a little bit more hesitant to buy that drink now.

My local youth group has recently launched a ‘Be aware’ campaign. These young people developed their own materials to take out to educate young people, which included graphic footage of young people at parties involved in drug use and alcohol abuse. If young people themselves are developing programs to educate others about the abuse of alcohol, surely we have a responsibility to be doing the same. We have heard from the member for Mitchell that, when it comes to the ads, young people in his electorate say they just turn down the volume. What is their solution? We have heard that they do not support a tax and they do not support ads. They believe that the revenue should be spent on better initiatives and given to groups who deal with this problem. I do not disagree with ensuring that there is adequate funding going to groups who have to deal with the outcomes of binge drinking, and the government is doing that, but there was not one mention from the opposition of spending revenue towards any preventative programs—not one mention of it at all.

This government is tackling this issue with a holistic approach. We are not just introducing a tax on alcopops. We are committing $14.4 million for community-level initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking in partnership with sporting and community organisations; we are spending $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young people and ensure that they assume personal responsibility; we are putting $20 million towards the advertising campaign ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’, confronting youths with the consequences of binge drinking; and we have $872 million in funding for preventative health, announced at COAG in November 2008, which will include new initiatives to tackle binge drinking. That is what this government is doing to tackle this issue, as opposed to what we are once again hearing from the other side.

The opposition are all in denial. If it is not climate change or the global economic crisis, it is binge drinking. These things are not happening, according to them, but are being overplayed and blown out of proportion. The opposition have a simple approach to just about everything: ‘Let’s sit back and wait and see if everything fixes itself, whether it is the economy, the climate or binge drinking.’ This government is not going to sit back. This government is committed to addressing this problem and to looking after our young people and doing everything we can to educate them and discourage them from being attracted to the types of beverages that are most damaging to young people. I call on those on the other side to support these bills.