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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3448


Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (12:17 PM) —I thank the Speaker and the opposition for their indulgence with so many separate pieces of legislation. The logistics have been a challenge for everybody. I thank those involved. I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill I am introducing today, known as the Excise Tariff Validation Bill 2009, will ensure that all duties of excise demanded or collected before 14 May 2009 because of Excise Tariff Proposal (No.1) 2008 are taken to have been lawfully imposed and lawfully demanded or collected.

This bill will ensure that revenue collected under the alcopops measure will not be returned as a windfall gain to alcopop producers. It will be retained by the government to assist in the implementation of our programs to address binge drinking.

A complementary bill, the Customs Tariff Validation Bill 2009, will also be introduced so that all excise equivalent customs duties demanded or collected under the Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 1) 2008 are also taken to be lawfully imposed and lawfully demanded or collected. It may help the chamber and the member opposite that I intend to speak to both of those in a cognate way and only speak in terms of the technical requirements for Customs Tariff Validation Bill 2009.

These two bills will ensure equivalent treatment for domestically manufactured and imported alcopops.

So let us be clear: these two bills stop the alcopops revenue collected thus far from going directly back to the coffers of the alcopops distillers.

In addition, the government will take two further actions.

Firstly—this has just been done in the House—the government will introduce further excise and customs tariff proposals, with effect from 14 May 2009, to ensure that revenue is collected for all spirits at the same rate whether they are consumed as alcopops or full-strength spirits, for the next 12 months.

In other words, we are making sure that this alcopops measure does not cease today, even if and when the validation bills pass this House and hopefully the other place.

Secondly, the government will in this session of parliament reintroduce those same bills rejected by the Senate earlier this year to legislate the higher rate for alcopops, and in doing so ensure the new rate continues into the future.

That is, it is our intention to lock in a higher excise for alcopops into the future.

For the benefit of the House, it is worth recapping how we arrived at this point.

Following Gazette notices on 26 April 2008, I tabled earlier tariff proposals on 13 May 2008 to increase the rate of duty applying to these products. These tariff proposals allowed the Australian Taxation Office and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to collect the higher rate of duty on alcopops from 27 April 2008.

However, on 18 March 2009, the Senate chose not to support the bills that would have locked in a higher rate of duty for alcopops.

Under the laws relating to tariff proposals, the Australian Taxation Office and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have continued to collect the higher rate of duty on alcopops that has applied since 27 April 2008. This statutory protection expires at midnight on Wednesday night this week.

Once the statutory protection expires, the additional revenue raised from the higher duty rate on alcopops would need to be refunded to alcopops producers or importers.

With the Senate voting down the government’s attempts to confirm in legislation the increase in the rate applying to alcopops, the introduction and passage of these validation bills is considered by the government to be a necessary measure to protect the collection of duties permitted by the tariff proposals.

Let me say it again in plain English for the benefit of members opposite: these bills are to stop the revenue collected so far from going directly back to the distillers.

Since the announcement of the original alcopops measure on 26 April 2008, the government has collected now nearly $424 million in revenue.

That would be a $424 million jackpot for the distillers if this bill is not passed today.

We are absolutely committed to ensuring that cannot happen and to pursuing this initiative into the future.

Our commitment to acting to tackle binge drinking has not wavered and has not diminished.

Soon after coming to office the Rudd government recognised that binge drinking was increasingly becoming a significant health and social issue. Unfortunately, barely a day goes by without horrible stories of the ill effects of binge drinking in Australia being in our media.

One only needs to visit a hospital emergency department on a Saturday night to see the direct, ugly reality of binge drinking.

Let’s not forget a few facts in this debate.

The industry itself admits that sales of alcopops grew 250 per cent since 2000 when the Liberal government opened an alcopops loophole by reducing the tariff so that it was lower than other spirits.

Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of young female drinkers aged 15 to 17—under-age drinkers—who consumed alcopops at their last drinking occasion increased from 14 per cent to a massive 62 per cent.

For females drinking at risky and high levels in 2004, 78 per cent drank alcopops on their last drinking occasion. That figure has increased threefold since the year 2000.

In any given week, approximately one in 10 12- to 17-year-olds are binge drinking or drinking at risky levels.

Almost 20,000 girls aged between 12 and 15 drink daily or weekly. These are pretty devastating figures.

In some jurisdictions the number of young women aged 18 to 24 being admitted to hospital because of alcohol has doubled in those eight years.

In a year, more than three-quarters of a million Australians are physically abused by the people under the influence of alcohol.

We know that the social cost of alcohol misuse in Australia was estimated to be about $15 billion in 2004-05.

Health experts and police from across Australia agree that action needs to be taken. They know that achieving cultural change does not happen overnight and that interventions need to take many forms and be on many fronts.

This is a long-term issue and it will require sustained long-term action.

Experts agree that to effectively tackle binge drinking we need to have a multipronged and prolonged strategy, and so the government has decided to act—something the previous government never took much interest in.

In the first steps, in March 2008 the Prime Minister and I announced the National Binge Drinking Strategy. This involved investing $53.5 million to address binge drinking amongst young people. Elements of the package include investing $14.4 million in community level initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking, particularly in sporting organisations. Six major sporting codes have now signed up to a code of conduct. We committed $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young people and to ensure that they assume personal responsibility for their binge drinking. We provided $20 million for advertising that confronts young people with the costs and consequences of binge drinking via the gritty and hard-hitting ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’ campaign.

By tackling the issues on many fronts, we aim to make inroads into behaviour, particularly amongst young Australians. This strategy remains in place and has been made stronger by additional government intervention.

We believe that the Liberal Party’s alcopops tax break has played a special role in drinking culture, especially amongst young women.

Alcopops are brazenly targeted at young people and under-age drinkers. By using bright colours and sweet flavours, alcopops can very effectively fool young people about how much they are drinking and disguise the taste of alcohol.

Effectively, alcopops are alcohol-laced lolly water targeted at young people and at young women in particular who might otherwise not drink as much, or at all, if the taste of alcohol were more obvious as it would be unpleasant to their palates.

They are basically designed to undermine any notion of responsible drinking and increasingly, unfortunately, their advertising campaigns are making this clear.

I have heard of alcopops being referred to as cocktails on training wheels.

So, following on from the Binge Drinking Strategy, the government introduced a measure to close this alcopops loophole by again equalising the alcopops tariff with other spirits.

And it worked. The amount of alcopops being drunk has plummeted.

The measure has seen a 35 per cent fall in excise and equivalent customs duty clearances of alcopops between May last year and March this year when compared to the same period over the previous year.

Now the distillers and the Liberal Party argue that the decline in consumption of alcopops has been offset by substitution to full-strength spirits.

It has not. While there has been some substitution to full-strength spirits—partly driven by the marketing strategies of the alcopops sellers—overall, there has been a fall in the total spirits excise and equivalent customs duty clearances of around eight per cent. That is a big drop in consumption.

The Liberals’ and the distillers’ arguments simply do not stand up to the facts.

The measure has worked. There has been an eight per cent decline in total spirits, excise and equivalent customs duty clearances.

The distillers and the Liberal Party opposite simply cannot argue otherwise.

The distillers are driven purely by making a buck from selling a drink, not by some new-found concern for our children’s health.

Their bottom line, quite literally, is to sell more product. Only someone who came down in the last shower or who has ulterior motives would argue otherwise.

The reality is that on average young people, who are very sensitive to price, are consuming less alcopops and less spirits, which while resulting in a social good is simply bad for their profits.

There have been a range of other self-serving reports and surveys commissioned in desperation by the distillers, but the fact of the matter is this: fewer alcopops in particular and spirits in general are being consumed as a result of this measure, and the distillers will go to any lengths to stop this. We do not want the Liberal Party to assist them in this work.

I referred earlier to the need for a comprehensive package of measures. More action is in the pipeline and I would like to briefly outline some of these now.

At COAG last year the Rudd government announced the single largest investment ever made by an 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 worth. Part of this will be directed towards reducing the ill effects of alcohol abuse along with the harm caused by tobacco, obesity and other chronic illnesses.

All of this is new money and it is partly supported by revenue from closing the alcopops loophole.

Importantly, the government has established the Preventative Health Task Force being chaired by Professor Rob Moodie. This task force’s priority areas are alcohol, tobacco and obesity, and its report is due in the coming months. I know that the task force’s report will have strong recommendations based on evidence on further action to reduce the effects of binge drinking, and I look forward very much to receiving those recommendations.

So the point I have demonstrated is that this is not a stand-alone answer to binge drinking, we have never pretended it was and it was never intended to be, as the Liberals have so disingenuously claimed. The alcopops measure is just one part—an important part—of the government’s comprehensive approach to tackling binge drinking.

It is not the first initiative we have taken, and it will not be the last.

We will continue to engage in a conversation with the Australian community on how best to address the scourge of binge drinking.

Now is the time to act.

Now is also the time for the Liberal Party to show their hand—and to choose a side.

Full details of the Excise Tariff Validation Bill 2009 are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

I hope that the Liberal Party, true to its word, will support this validation bill. It will ensure that over $400 million does not go directly back to the pockets of the distillers. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Dutton) adjourned.

Leave granted for second reading debate to be resumed at a later hour this day.