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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6745

Mr NEUMANN (6:09 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 [No. 2] and the Customs Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 [No. 2]. Alcohol related harm is dreadful. It is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in this country. According to the figures in the mid-2000s, social related problems cost the Australian economy an average $15.3 billion per annum. Approximately 3,000 people die every year from alcohol related harm, illness or injury. Sixty-five thousand people are hospitalised annually in this country because of alcohol related harm. It is a dreadful affliction for our young people as well as our middle-aged and older people. It is a tragedy that on average four Australians aged under 25 die each week due to alcohol related injuries. On average, one in four hospitalisations of people aged 15 to 24 happens because of alcohol. An average of 70 Australians under 25 years of age are hospitalised due to alcohol related assault each week.

That is why it is so tragic that the opposition has played politics with respect to our health system. Since the Howard government opened up the alcopops loophole, we have seen a 250 per cent increase in the sales of alcopops. Alcopops are brazenly targeted to young people, particularly young women. They are sweet, lolly flavoured drinks with great colours. They are cool, they think, to drink, but the taste of the alcohol is disguised. The sad thing about this is that the member for Dickson has come in here and told us all that the reason for the opposition’s road to Damascus conversion experience with respect to this legislation is that they are concerned that we are not managing the economy properly. The reality is that they are concerned about a constitutional trigger for a double dissolution election. That is the reality—it is about politics yet again—and the member for Dickson is not being completely genuine about the situation.

Australian Taxation Office data shows that alcopops clearances fell by 35 per cent in the 11 months after the measure was introduced. In fact, total spirits clearances decreased by around eight per cent over the same period. The budget papers, released a couple of months ago, show that, on average, weekly beer and spirit clearances dropped by 0.5 per cent. As the Minister for Health and Ageing said, that is equivalent to 720,000 fewer standard drinks being consumed each week on average. It really is a tragedy that those opposite have outsourced their policy on alcopops to the distillers. It is an absolute disgrace. The truth is that our measure was effective. In fact, we had to bring in validation legislation to protect $424 million in revenue collected between 27 April 2008 and 13 May 2009. That legislation should have had bipartisan support.

This measure closes a loophole whereby alcopops are taxed at a lower rate than other spirits. Alcopops will now be taxed at the same rate as other spirits, not more or less but the same. It is a question of equity. The truth is that the alcopops measure never represented a whole policy; the alcopops measure was part of the matrix of a national binge-drinking strategy that we undertook. This is a $53.5 million strategy to address binge drinking amongst young people. There is $14.4 million in community level initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking. My electorate of Blair received $40,000 for Bremer State High School and Ipswich State High School for their post-formal mystery tour for drug- and alcohol-free alternatives for young people to celebrate the end of their senior year. I spoke to many of those young people and to Tanya McKenna, who initiated this program. The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Jan McLucas, came to Ipswich State High School to see this program in action. She viewed the DVD and talked to the young people, teachers and parents.

So the truth is that this initiative was part of a whole. The funding of $20 million for advertising to confront people with the risks, costs and consequences of binge drinking was important; the commitment of $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young people to ensure they assume personal responsibility for their binge drinking is also an important measure. It is all part of a matrix—a framework—that we are undertaking. We are acting in a comprehensive way; it is not an isolated policy. It is not simply part of a policy that is all about raising revenue; there is a health component to this, and the figures clearly show it.

The truth is that the coalition for a long time in this policy area simply listened to one section of the community—the distillers. They were too close to them, and that is the hallmark of their position. They should have agreed to this legislation a long time ago. The young people in my electorate should be cherished, encouraged, educated and nurtured to achieve everything they want in life. Their skills, their talents, their productivity and their ability should be encouraged. Excessive consumption of alcohol diminishes that capacity and skill and impinges on a responsible lifestyle.

This legislation is part of a multipronged prolonged strategy that the Rudd government is undertaking. There is really no valid argument against this legislation, but for months and months those opposite have argued that somehow this was solely about raising tax. The truth is that this was about ensuring our revenue position was better but also about ensuring that there was responsible consumption of alcohol and a degree of equity and consistency in our tax system. We are closing a tax loophole that was perpetrated and perpetuated by the Howard government to assist distillers. It had the consequences of harming our young people. In the circumstances, this legislation should be supported.

As a son of an alcoholic I am always concerned about responsible consumption of alcohol. What we can do in this society and our community to ensure responsible drinking should be applauded and supported. Those opposite should realise the consequences for young people of addiction, of lifestyle and of habit—that is what happens when young people take up drinking and become alcoholics. Approximately one in 10 people really acknowledge they are alcoholics. Approximately three in 10 people in our society are alcoholics but they simply do not acknowledge it. The capacity of these young people to work and enjoy their entertainment, family life and friendship is harmed by excessive consumption of alcopops. This legislation is important not just for finance but for families, individuals and communities.

It is a great shame that those opposite have opposed this legislation for so long. I am pleased that somehow, as I said before, on the road to Damascus they have seen the light. It is about time they took up the challenge and joined with us in supporting what we believe is important—that is, adopting a national strategy to attack binge drinking to ensure that our young people can achieve everything they want in life and to make sure that families are supported. Senator Fielding has for a long time claimed that he supports families first, but he should have a good hard look at the votes he has cast in this regard to see whether he has in fact put families first.

It is important that we support the AMA. It is important that we support the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. It is important we support all forms of community ventures like those in the schools in my electorate that I mentioned. It is important we support the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia. It is important we do everything we possibly can to reduce the consumption of alcohol amongst our young people.

I support the legislation. I commend the minister for her announcements today, which I think are good in terms of the three states and territories that have signed up to ensure that there is prevention and early intervention with young people to ensure they are not prone to addiction and to ensure they can deal with the challenges and responsibly drink alcohol and enjoy the lifestyle we all hope they will. I commend the legislation to the House.