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Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Page: 1835

Mr TURNOUR (5:09 PM) —I rise today to support the Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009. I must admit that I was a bit confused while listening to the contributions from members opposite. The member for Gippsland made some useful contributions to the debate today, but he was having a bit of a bob each way, being a good backbencher.

Mr Hockey —Does that mean that you are a bad backbencher?

Mr TURNOUR —One minute he was saying that the government is just about alcopops tax and that this is just about raiding taxes and the next he was talking about the National Binge Drinking Strategy. That is something that has been introduced by the Rudd government. We have got an overall strategy to tackle binge drinking and this legislation is just a little part of that strategy, but it is a very important part of that strategy.

The member for North Sydney, the shadow Treasurer was interjecting before. The position the opposition are taking is synonymous with positions they are taking on a whole range of different issues. The position the opposition are taking demonstrates how out of touch they are. They are out of touch with the mums and dads, grandparents and young people out there who are really concerned about binge drinking. They want a government to take action. They want a government that has a national strategy to combat binge drinking, a government that will take measures that may be unpopular to special interests in the community but which are the right things to do, and that is what this legislation is about. It is the right thing to do. But the opposition are so out of touch with mums and dads, community leaders, local police and health professionals that they are opposing this legislation in the same way that they opposed the stimulus package and in the same way they will, in the end, oppose our climate change policy. They are out of touch with the general community. They are a rabble over there. This legislation is just another example of their response to us. We are taking proper measures to tackle this very serious issue.

These amendments are very important amendments that will change the way that alcopops are taxed. They will effectively enable alcopops to be taxed at the same rate as spirits. Why should alcopops get a tax break? Why should a drink that is targeted at young people get a tax break? That is what this debate is about. The member for North Sydney, the member for Gippsland and the shadow health spokesman want to give a tax break to alcopops that are targeted at young people. That is why they are out of touch and that is why they are not supported by the mums and dads of this country.

This legislation is only part of an overall measure, as I have said. We have committed—and the Prime Minister did that in March last year—to a National Binge Drinking Strategy that will invest in community level initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking, particularly in sporting organisations. The member for Gippsland rightly nominated sporting organisations. We need to do more work there. That is what the Prime Minister did and that is what the Minister for Sport did last year in terms of the national strategy—they engaged with sporting codes and leaders in those codes.

This legislation also has measures to assist young people, to ensure that they assume personal responsibility and face up to binge drinking and the impacts that it has in their local communities. Importantly, if we are going to change the culture in this country, we need to get out there and run advertising campaigns. That is what we are doing as part of this National Binge Drinking Strategy. When I was a young bloke—and that is a few years ago now—a lot of people used to drink and drive. Drinking and driving was culturally acceptable, but it is not today. There were fantastic advertising campaigns and fantastic educational campaigns that changed the culture of drinking and driving. We are committed to changing the culture of binge drinking in this country. These measures are just part of an overall strategy, but they are a very important part.

There really is a serious problem. In any given week, approximately one in ten 12- to 17-year-olds is binge drinking or drinking at a risky level. Almost 20,000 girls aged 12 to 15 drink daily or weekly. That is a very, very sad statistic. The number of young women aged 18 to 24 being admitted to hospital because of alcohol has doubled in the last eight years. It is eight years since the Liberal Party changed this excise exemption and gave alcopops a tax break.

Every year, more than three-quarters of a million Australians are physically abused by a person under the influence of alcohol. This is a real problem all across the nation, but it is particularly a problem in my own electorate of Leichhardt, in my own town of Cairns. There are regular newspaper articles about people having their jaws broken or being abused in the street. That reflects the disappointing culture that we have in this nation of binge drinking. That culture starts with young people—and that starts with the influence young people get from older people. But it starts with young people taking that culture on and responding inappropriately when they drink alcohol.

What this tax exemption and the lack of an overall strategy to combat this culture have done is to allow that culture to continue, and we are not prepared to allow that. This legislation makes the drinks that young people—young men, and young women in particular—drink, and which they drink because they are designed to be attractive to them, more expensive.

We know that there are social and economic costs to this drinking culture. The annual social cost in Australia is estimated to be $15 billion. But there are greater economic costs to it as well. People do not go to work. People are injured. The impact on the tourism industry in my local community of inappropriate behaviour is something that is being readily discussed now, because there is real concern about the misuse of alcohol and associated violence in the community tarnishing the name of Cairns as a tourism destination internationally. That is an issue that we are talking about in our local community; it is a real issue, and alcohol plays a part in it. To tackle that, we need to make sure that we are tackling it with our young people and changing the culture nationally.

As I have said, alcopops are targeted at young people and particularly young women. We are not prepared to put up with that. The evidence shows that industry sales have grown by 250 per cent since 2000. Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of female drinkers aged 15 to 17 who had consumed alcopops on their last drinking occasion increased from 14 to 62 per cent. I repeat: since the changes, the number of young women drinking alcopops on their last occasion of drinking increased from 14 to 62 per cent—and those opposite say that there is not a problem here! For females drinking at risky and high-risk levels in 2004, 78 per cent drank alcopops on their last drinking occasion. That figure had increased threefold since 2000. Those opposite should hang their heads in shame for opposing these measures.

Independent expert advice—commissioned by the former government, the Howard government, which did nothing about this—by Collins and Lapsley has also backed the government’s approach to this. Their report says:

… 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) …

…            …            …

For example, 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.

They go on to say that, as a result:

There would appear to be strong justification for the April 2008 increase in the Australian tax on pre-mixed drinks—


by 70 per cent.

ATO figures similarly support our arguments. ATO figures drawn from the first nine months of the measure’s introduction show that sales have dropped by 35 per cent compared to the previous year. This goes beyond the government’s predictions when the measure was introduced that growth would merely slow. In fact, alcopop sales have slumped, bringing overall spirit sales with them. Despite a small increase in full-strength spirit sales, overall spirit sales have fallen by almost eight per cent. So you have to take this evidence—that of the Australian Taxation Office showing that overall alcohol sales have dropped by eight per cent and that of a study by independent experts commissioned by the former Howard government—and weigh it up against what we keep hearing from the opposition, which is about an Access Economics report commissioned by the alcohol industry. That is their evidence: a report commissioned by the alcohol industry. Our evidence is from independent experts and from the Australian Taxation Office.

They should also listen to a range of other experts. We have been backed by the Australian Drug Foundation CEO, John Rogerson. We have been backed by the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia CEO, David Templeman. We have been backed by the Public Health Association of Australia President, Mike Daube. You would think that the opposition would listen to these experts. But we have also been backed by some of them. For instance, the Australian National Council on Drugs Chairman, Dr John Herron—someone well known to many on the other side of the chamber, I am sure; a former minister and AMA president—wrote to the Prime Minister in support of these measures and said that they were worth while.

The fact is that the government are very much in touch on this issue. We are in touch with the mums and dads, with the police and with community leaders all across this country, because they want action on binge drinking. They want a government with a national strategy, but they also want a government that is prepared to make alcopops more expensive to dissuade young people, particularly young women, from taking them up. And that is why we will support this legislation and that is why we are driving it through.

Finally, my other real concern—and we have heard the weasel words from the opposition on this issue—is that if we do not get this legislation through, there will be hundreds of millions of dollars going back to the alcohol industry. That money will not be able to be diverted to the national binge-drinking campaign, as the member for Gippsland might have suggested. Those opposite will be giving this money back to the alcohol industry, and that is a shame. So I support this legislation. The community supports it. It is supported by the police and supported by health workers. I beg you, please, to support this legislation.