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Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Page: 1774


Ms COLLINS (12:41 PM) —I stand in this House to show my continued support for the protection, health and wellbeing of our young Australians by supporting the Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009, because I know that many mums and dads around the country and in my own electorate of Franklin are concerned about the growing consumption of alcohol, particularly the ready-to-drinks, by young people in their local communities. What I hear from my constituents is how easy it is for young people to fall into the trap of binge drinking—how easy it is for them to go to a party and have the ready-to-drink beverages that to them are easy and fun to drink. But, sadly, you really only have to open a newspaper or turn on the TV to see the dire consequences associated with this alcohol consumption among young people.

It is with these views in mind that I support these amendments. They validate in legislation the increased rate of taxation for the ready-to-drinks—or alcopops, as they are commonly known—to correspond with that for spirits. This will increase the current taxation per litre of alcohol content, bringing the tax on the ready-to-drink beverages back to a rate equivalent to that on spirits. This is the fair thing to do. I was a bit curious that the member for Groom, who spoke earlier, seemed to imply that wine and beer are also alcohol and that therefore all alcohol should have the same tax. Why then do we tax spirits at a different level? He is actually shooting his own argument in the foot with his comments. It is really the logical approach that spirits—bottled or premixed—be taxed at the same rate. I do not understand how those opposite continue to argue that spirits should be taxed at the same rate as wine and beer, which is effectively what they are trying to argue. They created this loophole. The Rudd government cares about the health of our young people, and these amendments will close the Liberals’ loophole.

Why are those opposite so concerned, one might ask? I think it is because they do not seem really clear on this issue. We have heard from members opposite that they think binge drinking is a problem. If they were serious, they would not have sided with the alcohol distillers. In my view, they have really turned their back on young Australians. They do not really care about the health of our young people and they do not care that, since the year 2000, after their changes, RTD sales grew by 250 per cent. Instead, they became the public supporter of the alcohol distillers. You only have to listen to the speeches they have made in here today to see where they are getting a lot of their material from. They have consistently been obstructive on a range of measures. They continually put cheap political point-scoring ahead of looking after our young people. There does need to be a pragmatic, common-sense approach to dealing with binge drinking, and it requires more than one measure. We cannot turn our backs on these issues.

They seem to think that this growing problem in our society can be given little credence. Why don’t they support it? Perhaps it is because there are some people on that side of the House who seem a bit doubtful about it. Malcolm Turnbull, addressing the National Press Club on 22 September last year—2008—said, ‘One should never underestimate the enterprising ingenuity of the Australian drinker.’ This implies that you can do nothing about binge drinking—so why do anything? It is interesting to see the member for Warringah here in the chamber because, on 17 June last year, he said:

Trying to say that binge-drinking is happening nearly all the time, in ways which are a deadly threat to the youth and even to the adults of this country, is a beat-up, not to put too fine a point on it.

It is interesting that the member for Warringah thinks that, because there are many people on this side of the House that do not think that. It is not a beat-up. On 30 March, the member for North Sydney said: ‘I don’t think you should overplay it. Let’s not go over the top.’ Do they really seriously think this is not a problem? If they do think it is a problem, why will they not support this measure to do something about it?

I am a parent of a teenage daughter. I know what goes on. I know that these drinks are marketed to young children. There is no doubt about that. You just have to see how out of touch those opposite are. They are out of touch on a whole range of issues. They are out of touch that this is a serious issue and that it is affecting our young children. There is no doubt these bills will go a long way to assist in curbing the teenage drinking problem. They will help protect our children.

Figures released in 2008 by the National Coroners Information System revealed that at least 100 young people die each year with a blood alcohol level at or above 0.05. These figures are distressing. If you look at the figures between 2003 and 2006, there were 400 deaths—that is excluding Queensland and South Australia, because of the reporting systems—of teenagers and young Australians who died with alcohol in their systems. This is a very real problem. In my state of Tasmania, 32 people in the age group of 13 to 25 died—they had blood alcohol levels too high, and alcohol was a significant factor in their deaths. That is 32 Tasmanian families who lost a child. One death is too many; 402 young Australians is too many indeed. The report also identified that weekends were the peak time for deaths of such young people. Most fatal incidents occurred between 6 pm and 6 am on the Friday-Saturday and Saturday-Sunday evenings. This comes as no surprise, because it is about binge drinking. The most common cause of death, sadly, is road traffic injuries with the combination of alcohol and drugs. This is something that we on this side of the House really take seriously. I urge those on the other side to take it seriously too. It is a common problem amongst younger people in our society. It is real.

Closing the RTDs loophole is supported by community leaders, police and health experts alike. In any given week, one in 10 12- to 17-year-olds are binge drinking or drinking at risky levels. Almost 20,000 girls aged 12 to 15 drink daily or weekly. The number of young women aged 18 to 24 being admitted to hospital because of alcohol has doubled in eight years. In a year, more than three-quarters of a million Australians are physically abused by persons under the influence of alcohol. The annual societal cost of alcohol is estimated in Australia to be over $15 billion.

We know that RTDs are a problem. We know they are clearly targeted at and marketed for young people. We all know that wine and beer—particularly cheap wine—taste like alcohol. These RTDs do not—deliberately. They are sweet. They often taste like lolly water not alcohol. The alcohol taste is commonly disguised, and a lot can be consumed very quickly because of the sweet, light taste. Young people—inexperienced drinkers—can have a lot of alcohol in their systems very quickly. I know; I have seen it. They do not realise how much they have taken in. That is because the alcopop makers make these drinks in bright colours and give them groovy, hip names. They are deliberately marketing to young children and attracting young children to these alcoholic beverages. I know it works—as I said, I am a parent of a 15-year-old. I have seen it. I know young girls are consuming these RTDs in large numbers.

Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of young female drinkers aged 15 to 17 who had consumed RTDs at their last drinking occasion increased from 14 per cent to a massive 62 per cent. These are 15- to 17-year-olds! That those opposite would think that that is not a problem and that we should not do anything about it just astounds me. For females drinking at very risky or high-risk levels in 2004, 78 per cent drank RTDs on their last drinking occasion. That figure has increased threefold since 2000. That is what we have really got before us: real happenings and real statistics about what alcohol is doing to our vulnerable young people. What those opposite should have done in the past was to side with these families who have kids, families who are deeply concerned about how easily Australian teenagers can purchase ready-to-drink beverages. If we are truly serious about looking after the health of our society, the health of young Australians, all of us should support these bills.

I mentioned earlier that a lot of health experts support these measures. The Australian Drug Foundation CEO, John Rogerson, said:

This tax fixes a problem started with the introduction of the GST and shows that the Government is serious about tackling alcohol problems in our community.

We have heard the minister quote former Liberal minister Dr John Herron, from the National Council on Drugs:

Utilising the taxation system is one of the most effective measures we have for reducing alcohol-related harm and problems for both individuals and communities.

The Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia CEO said:

… this initiative clearly recognised the problems created by the excessive consumption of RTDs which were attractive to the youth market.

The Public Health Association president, Mike Daube, said:

There is now dramatic evidence showing that young women are out-drinking their male counterparts - and unfortunately many of them drink to get drunk …

We know that price is the most effective single measure in reducing alcohol consumption, especially by young people. This increase will make a real dent in one of our biggest current social problems.

These are not my words; these are experts’ words. These are health experts working in the drug and alcohol industry who believe this measure works. They are the experts; we are not. These views are in contrast to those of the RTD industry—and we all know their motivation—and clearly in contrast to the views of those opposite, who do not see a need to act and to support these measures.

We have recent Australian taxation figures drawn from the first nine months of this measure that show that the measure is working, because RTD sales have dropped by 35 per cent compared to the previous year. This outcome is a significant drop in sales, and it is well beyond what we predicted. When this measure was first introduced, the modelling predicted that it would slow the astronomical growth of RTDs—and that in itself would obviously have been great—but, in fact, RTD sales have slumped, and they have brought overall spirit sales with them. Despite a smaller increase in full-strength spirit sales, overall spirit sales have actually fallen across the board by almost eight per cent.

The industry have tried time and time again to confuse the issue. We saw this today with yet another report by the alcohol industry trying to justify their position, but I want to read a small quote from the Age today. It says:

… the report also warns against any definite conclusions on the effectiveness of the tax being drawn … because of limited data.

There is limited data in the Access Economics report, so it is saying, ‘Don’t rely on its conclusions.’

Why do we need to close this loophole? This is just one measure—there are other measures; we have heard members in this place talking about local programs—but this measure is part of a strategy. It is part of the National Binge Drinking Strategy, which this government announced in March 2008. The strategy includes $53.5 million to address binge drinking among young people. There is $14.4 million to invest in local community initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking, particularly in sporting organisations. Six major sporting codes have signed up to a code of conduct. We heard the previous speaker, the member for Groom, talking about NRL teams and things. Surely these people are leading by example, and being involved in these programs is a good thing. There is $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young people, to ensure that they assume personal responsibility for their binge drinking. There is $20 million to fund advertising that confronts young people with the costs and consequences of binge drinking. We have all seen the ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’ campaign. It confronts young people with the dangers and the consequences of binge drinking. It is in your face. It is gritty. It is hard hitting. And the government are pleased that it is gritty and hard hitting because it needs to be, because these young people think they are bulletproof, and we need to shock them. We need to do something about this.

At COAG last year the Rudd government announced the single largest investment ever made by any Australian government in preventative health, to support a range of programs and interventions to reduce the impact of chronic illness on the community: $872 million. All of this is new money and supported by revenue from closing the RTDs loophole. It is a massive investment, but this story does not end. The national Preventative Health Taskforce is currently well down the track in developing a National Preventative Health Strategy, and alcohol is one of its highest priorities. We have heard from the other side that they want to see what measures we are undertaking. I am going through them—there are many. Emerging from that strategy will be further significant initiatives to tackle alcohol. The RTDs measure will raise $1.6 billion, somewhat less than the original estimate of around $3 billion at the last budget. But, put quite simply, this means that the measure has been working.

What these amendment bills do is to align the tax on ready-to-drink beverages back to the equivalent rate of spirits. This is part of the government’s overall National Binge Drinking Strategy—it is not just one measure; it is part of a whole strategy—to discourage binge drinking, particularly amongst our young people. These amendment bills support the government’s stance on caring for the health and wellbeing of young Australians. These amendment bills reverse the Liberal Party’s decision nine years ago, in 2000, to give the RTDs a tax break. This loophole needs to be closed.

It is clear that either those opposite think binge drinking is too big an issue to tackle or they do not think it is a problem at all amongst our young Australians. Binge drinking is not okay, and we need to do something about it. I am proud to be part of this Rudd Labor government, which has an overall strategy. We are getting on with the job of dealing with this problem. We must protect the health and wellbeing of our young people. We can do this by admitting there is a problem, we can do it by closing this loophole, and we can do it by listening to what the experts are saying. I call on those opposite to support this measure, and I commend these amendment bills to the House.