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Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Page: 1786

Mr TUCKEY (1:31 PM) —I believe I would hold the record in this place, full or empty, for the longest period of experience in the retailing of alcohol. And when it comes to youth, I might remind the member for Oxley to hang around for a minute so I can correct some of the statements he made. I purchased a half share in my first freehold hotel when I was six months younger than the then legal age to drink, 21 years of age. These two pieces of legislation, the Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009, are fraudulent if their stated intention is to reduce the consumption of alcohol amongst the young or the elderly and to have some beneficial health effects in the process. It does not work. It has never worked and we know the purpose of this particular issue. It is bad public policy. Governments have the right to impose taxes and it is not a bad idea that they do not promise during an election campaign not do it but then go ahead and do it, but they think they have found an excuse for the purpose.

The excuse on this occasion is we are going to tax you because it is good for you. That has progressively happened to cigarettes over the years. I remember when you used to get change out of a dollar for cigarettes. Today they are probably up around $10 for the same size pack. But that is not what reduced consumption. What reduced consumption was the bans that apply on just about every public area today even out on the footpath surrounding air terminals, et cetera. I do not object to that. Fortunately, I never took up the habit of smoking although most of the kids around me did. Might I add, my mother started at 13 and finished at 73 and would often say that she would not walk a yard to buy alcohol but she would walk a mile to buy a packet of cigarettes. That is the addiction that comes from that particular substance.

But if this government is fair dinkum about preventing or reducing the consumption of alcohol, it should take steps to reduce the consumption of alcohol. It is not my personal belief, but they might go back to the age of 21 as the approved drinking age. If you genuinely feel it in your heart, go out there and try that on all the 18-year-olds to whom Gough Whitlam gave the vote. Try that one. If you are genuinely interested in the cheapest alcohol available for alcoholics you would do something about the tax on cask wine and you might take note of the lives that that particular product kills. Those who are truly alcoholic do not bother about alcopops because they are five per cent alcohol. It takes an awful lot of them to get drunk. You have to consume a huge amount of moisture in the process and our body has some limits on that as it does on the over-consumption of alcohol typically with the young. They get violently sick because the body says, ‘You have had enough of that. You’d better get rid of it.’ The media and others take great pleasure in photographing some young person at some open-air function being sick in the nearest flowerpot as some evidence of binge drinking. Young people can get to that state of ill health or uncomfortable health. Their stomach will rebel after a very limited number of drinks. We become immune to that as we age and maybe overconsume.

For the information of the member for Oxley, who has departed as quickly as he could go, it is a myth that the previous government created a loophole. They did not. They set about to close the loophole. But, as the member for Oxley has admitted, as soon as you start to fiddle with the tax rates on alcohol and you do not have a standard rate—which I admit our government were never able to resolve—people just change the mix. The early alcopops, as they have come to be known, were all based on wine based spirits. Why was that? Because in my living memory in this parliament there was no tax and no excise on wine. There was originally a sales tax which was totally unrelated to the alcohol content. If there were anything other than a cash grab in this legislation, today we would be debating an ad valorem tax on alcohol—in other words, the more in the bottle the higher the tax. That is the test and that is what the kids discovered. You start to add an additional cost to a can of Coke with five per cent alcoholic content and they turn around and go and buy the 45 per cent stuff and then add their own mixer. I can tell you they are much more generous with the alcoholic drink than they are with the mixer.

So why would you do that? Why would you think that a single increase in tax on a single alcoholic product would alter the drinking patterns of the young, the middle-aged or the old? Of course, when it came particularly to rum and coke, it was very quickly established that it was youngish males, if you like—those in their late 20s—who were the main drinkers of that product. It was a convenience that they could also have achieved by buying a sixpack of coke and a bottle, or a half-bottle, of rum. But they chose it the other way, and the mix was known.

Most of the persons of reasonably mature age in this parliament would never have drunk anything but seven per cent beer, and nobody ever thought that was binge drinking. But then, in what I thought was a very weak attempt to try and justify a tax grab for every other possible reason, the member for Oxley referred to ‘violence’. The main reason I have entered this debate is to talk about violence, about why violence has now become a major issue associated with drinking establishments and about why this government does not even want to talk about it—I am talking about drugs and, more particularly, those that are sometimes labelled ‘recreational drugs’. They are so ‘recreational’ that we have a new demographic entering high-care aged persons homes. They are 50 years old, and they have fried their brains with cannabis or, of course, the new phenomenon of amphetamines that, apparently, can be made in a kitchen with very little effort.

Tragically, the other day, a young woman of 18 set off to the pub or to the club having taken an amphetamine before her mother drove her to the establishment. She had two more with her to keep her going during the night, and, very unfortunately in one regard, under the new regimes in Western Australia—our new government thinks drugs are bad—the police entered the premises to check who had drugs. They had some sniffer dogs with them—and I want to talk further about that—and, when they walked in and the girl saw them, she unfortunately swallowed the other two tablets in fright and died. She could have drunk alcopops all night and she might have been a sick little girl, but she would be living today.

I do not believe that alcohol has the same degree of addictiveness or that, for that matter, the body is able to keep absorbing amphetamines to the same degree as it is able to keep absorbing alcohol. But, as you force the cost of alcohol up, those amphetamines get relatively cheaper and cheaper. Why doesn’t this government have any genuine concern about these drugs in the same way that they do about alcohol? Because they cannot tax it, and because the police force throughout Australia really finds it all a bit too hard! There is no corruption known to me in the police force associated with alcohol, but there is sure plenty of it associated with so-called ‘recreational drugs’. I have spoken in this place about the outrage of the Australian Football League, the attitude they had to tolerating elite sportsmen’s use of these drugs and the tragedies that that has brought upon us.

I know about violence from 30 years managing and owning big hotels as well as smaller ones, with all sorts of customer bases, and from having to deal with people who were drunk. Towards the end of that period, and prior to coming to this place, I began suddenly to deal with a new group of people—people who were violent and who not only would not leave when they were asked to but would try to kill you. The evidence of the deaths arising from this form of violence is a matter of record. It took me a while to understand that they had a horrible mix in their body. They had come to the place having taken, or had taken during the time they were present, a so-called ‘recreational drug’ and had consumed alcohol. There was an article published some years ago in, I think, one of the major dailies in Sydney, and I read it on a plane. It featured a woman who had just come out of jail. The cause of her internment was that she had attacked an old lady in an airport toilet in order to get at the old lady’s handbag to get the money to buy more drugs—she was addicted to that point. Of course, she was giving this interview, so she must have had some celebrity status, and she said to the journalist, ‘I could not believe I would do to that lady what I did.’ That is the point I am making: when drugs are involved, all of the normal human constraints are lost. As I said, the deleterious effect is that you can end up in a nursing home at 50 by the consumption of those drugs. I can take you where some of those people are in my electorate.

So this is what we are talking about. We have a government defending their ‘smart’ move to get a bit more revenue by focusing on an issue promoted particularly by the police forces of Australia when they should be focusing on drugs. I mentioned earlier one of the ‘big nights out’ or whatever it was. In Western Australia—we have a television junkie over there as police commissioner—we had fully televised coverage of the police at a train station where young people were getting off a train for the purpose of going to this function. The sniffer dogs were taking their part, and, of those they apprehended, there were about 10 per cent in possession of drugs. No doubt some had them for their own consumption and others had them to sell at the function. I thought, ‘You beauty!’ Then I understand that before the bigger event, which was on the other day, they did not do it. And why was that so? Because they have not got any sniffer dogs! The dogs in the TV show were borrowed from Customs, who, I would think, would be very concerned about lending dogs out to anyone—if only for the reason that, over time, people would know when they were not available to Customs. That is just an invitation to import drugs and do these other sorts of things.

There is an issue regarding this amount of money, and putting advertisements on television telling kids not to drink is great for the television company but of very little use in reducing the amount of consumption. In fact, I could give you a couple of examples of where advertising has sometimes drawn attention to the product rather than discouraging its use. Usually every parent tells their young people not to drink too much. I did not take any notice, and I bet most others do not. The reality is that the money has now been collected under the bill—a bill which I do not agree with and hope is lost—to the full extent of the 12 months available under the customs legislation for the government to raise the tax without getting the permission of this parliament. Why could the government not have tested the parliament a month or so into its effect? Then, if the bill were to be lost, they would not have to work out what they will do with this money.

If the government were to come back into this House with a very specific bill to the effect that they would use the money to finance a special task force of police units around Australia—with their sniffer dogs and other methods, including drug testing, in the same way that we test for alcohol through random breath testing et cetera—to go into nightclubs for the purpose of arresting people in possession of these drugs, be they AFL footballers or otherwise, then, whatever the view of my party, I would vote for it. After 30 years of experience in retailing alcohol in hotels, I know that drugs are the big problem. I also know that, when you have a variety of taxes and excises imposed on alcohol, the industry will always find a way to market a product using alcohol produced by the least taxed form. An example is low-alcohol beer. The Swan brewery was selling one per cent alcohol beer and made that product by boiling the alcohol off. That alcohol, which is then a raw product, can be inserted into an alcopop which can then be claimed to be a product of low-alcohol beer and taxed accordingly.

In the wine industry we have this hang-up about the fact that their business is built around cask wine, which they frequently import from Chile. They fight against an ad valorem tax on alcohol when they produce high-quality wine, which is what they should be producing. However, of course, the tax does not apply to exports. If they had a flat tax, the incentive would be to produce higher quality wine and not rubbish for alcoholics, particularly those in the Indigenous population. That is the cheap form of alcohol. If the government has a genuine concern for the health of people, why did it not increase the tax on that? Oh no, that is a bit difficult. This one looked easy, and they thought they were going to grab a lot of revenue. But even the revenue has not come up to expectations. History says that a tax of a more specially applied nature will not reduce the consumption of alcohol. In fact, there is every chance that it has increased consumption, because the young have gone and purchased large bottles of 45 per cent alcohol and they are making their own mixes, and that is stupid—and stupidity is the greatest insult that I can deliver in this place.

It was bad public policy, it has not achieved its intended outcomes and it broke an election promise. The real challenge amongst the young is amphetamines and associated recreational drugs, and I never hear a word about them. I never hear the Minister for Health and Ageing, in her rantings on this subject, say one thing about drugs. They are where the violence comes from, and we should be prepared to confront it—and confront it in the places where people consume it. We will never stop some, but if you went into a major nightclub, locked the doors and said, ‘Okay, all line up,’—or, for that matter, had a policeman with a sniffer dog standing outside the door as they sought entry—and you got every kid who had one tablet, put them in the paddy wagon to the police station and rang their parents and said, ‘Come and get them,’ then that would be a positive measure. For those who were clearly proved to be retailing or selling these drugs, I do not think 10 years is too long a penalty, and I would build a special jail for them out in the Simpson Desert. It is a dreadful attack on young people, and I have not seen a scrap of evidence since this government has been in office that it has any interest in it whatsoever. I put that down to the simple fact that you cannot tax it.