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Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Page: 2916

Mr DUTTON (6:13 PM) —What we have heard tonight from the Minister for Health and Ageing is a demonstration that this whole proposal by the government has been a sham. It was always about a tax grab. It was never about a health measure. It was never about a government that was genuinely concerned about helping young people to manage drinking alcohol responsibly. It was never about trying to curb binge drinking. In effect, what the government has done has resulted in people—in particular, young people—being driven from one alcoholic product to another alcoholic product. There is no case that has been made by the government, no evidence that has been provided to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs inquiry into the bill—no evidence whatsoever provided by the government—that would indicate that this is a measure which has successfully curbed binge drinking. On the government’s own advice, there has been a reduction in consumption for one category of product but an increase in the consumption of other products.

I say to Australian families, to the mums and dads of Australia whose teenaged children will be going to drink this Friday night: are they drinking less alcohol as a result of this measure, or have they taken up something else to drink? Are they drinking less at pubs or parties because the price of alcopops has gone up? Or is it the case now that they are mixing their own alcohol? In some cases, that means—particularly for young girls and young women—having their drinks mixed at parties by people not known to them, whereas before they were able, at least in their own mind, to provide some level of satisfaction that there was no potential for their drinks to be spiked because they had a premixed drink.

This government has been on a tax binge. It has not been on a binge of addressing the very real problem of alcohol abuse as it exists in some segments in this country. We have, from day one, said that we are serious about the issue of binge drinking. Regardless of all of the hype and rhetoric that the minister carried on with again in question time today, obviously frustrated by the fact that no deal has been negotiated with the Independent senators, and despite the complete overreaction by this minister and her fabrication of some of the positions that she claims have been taken by the Liberal Party, by me or by the Leader of the Opposition, the government’s position is completely hollow. In fact, this is a humiliating day for the health minister. This is a real problem for the health minister, because in 12 months she has not been able to negotiate a position. We are at the eleventh hour. This government has had 12 months to resolve this particular situation, and if it does not pass it by this Thursday then it suffers a great humiliation. That is a shame for the government and a shame, of course, for the minister personally, but that does not negate the fact that they have not been able to provide the evidence to the Independent senators that this would be a health measure and not a tax binge.

It is, in particular, relevant to note as part of this debate that of the projected $1.6 billion of revenue to be gained out of this measure, the government propose to spend $50 million—$50 million of $1.6 billion—on addressing issues that have been negotiated with the Greens and with Senator Xenophon. It is $50 million of $1.6 billion, and yet they still argue with a straight face that this is not about a tax grab. If they were serious about addressing the issue of binge drinking in this country, they would support the very responsible position taken by the coalition, and that is the position which was supported by the Senate last night. The Senate decided that they would support the coalition’s move to have all of the money that has been collected over the last 12 months—$290 million—allocated to proper education and to proper alcohol programs that will have a real impact on binge drinking. Do not put forward a proposal which says, ‘We will jack up the price of one product,’ and then not expect substitution of another. That shows how hollow the argument has been from the government, and this is why the coalition remain resolute in our opposition to what is a tax grab and not a health measure. That is why we have taken this very responsible stance, why we were supported in the Senate last night and why, while we remain in this parliament, we will be opposed to this tax grab measure in its current form.

Question put:

That the motion (Ms Roxon’s) be agreed to.