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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4796

Mr ZAPPIA (6:16 PM) —I rise to speak on the Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010 and the related bill, which increase the rate of excise on cigarettes and tobacco by 25 per cent. Just before I get on to my remarks, I want to respond to some of the comments made by the member for Dickson just a moment ago. I begin by saying that he may well wish that he could rewrite history in respect of the track record of the Leader of the Opposition when he was the Minister for Health and Ageing. But the cold, hard reality is that he cannot. The opposition leader, during his time as minister for health, slashed a billion dollars from the health budget of this nation. People well remember that it was during his time that hospital waiting lists increased and there was a shortage of doctors and nurses. The health system was in absolute crisis—so much so that I can recall that in the lead-up to the 2007 election his own Prime Minister, in a mercy dash to Tasmania, said that they would take over the Mersey hospital as part of their attempt to restore their credibility on the management of the health system of Australia. For all their protestations and all the attempts by the member for Dickson to try and change that record, the fact of the matter is that the Australian people well recall what it was like trying to get a doctor and trying to get into hospitals during the term of the last government.

Getting back to the essence of these bills, in money terms the raising of the excise on tobacco cigarettes by 25 per cent means that on each cigarette there will be a price rise from 26.22c to 32.775c. For a kilogram of tobacco, the price will increase from $327.77 to $409.71. The measures raise the percentage of tax in the retail price of a packet of 25 cigarettes from around 62 per cent to around 67 per cent, which is still considerably lower than in France, where the tax percentage on a packet of cigarettes is around 80 per cent, and in the UK, where the percentage is around 77 per cent.

As the minister has made clear, all the additional revenue raised will be invested in the National Health and Hospitals Network fund. This is the fund that the Prime Minister and the health minister have announced and which has been agreed to by seven states and territories. It is intended to reform Australia’s health and hospital system. It is a reform that is absolutely necessary following the administration of hospitals and the health system in this country by the previous government. This reform will ensure that the federal government will take responsibility for 60 per cent of the funding of all public hospitals.

The Commonwealth government will also take full responsibility for GP and related services provided outside hospitals. It will replace separate health systems with a National Health and Hospitals Network. It will dedicate one-third of GST revenue to health and hospitals and will put local hospital networks in charge of hospitals. Furthermore, local hospital networks will be funded for each service that they deliver. Importantly, national health standards will be set, cost shifting will be avoided and funding will be better targeted. The reforms start from 1 July 2010. We will then begin to deliver 1,300 new hospital beds, more than 6,000 new doctors and an additional 2,500 age care beds through the Commonwealth takeover of primary and age care.

In addition to that, in the recent budget it was announced that a further $2.2 billion will be committed to building a modern health system for all Australians. That $2.2 billion will be used to provide an additional 23 GP superclinics around the country at a cost of $355 million, $417 million to enhance after-hours services, $523 million to train more nurses and $467 million for individual electronic health records.

I want to spend a moment on that further $2.2 billion of expenditure, because most of it will be cut by the opposition if they win government. We heard a moment ago the member for Dickson criticising the government’s investment in GP superclinics around the country. There is a GP superclinic already under construction in my electorate of Makin, and I welcome that investment. It was a total investment of $25 million, jointly funded by the federal government and the state Labor government. It is an investment that will see a GP superclinic provided, with all the ancillary services that go with it. I know that will ensure that better health services are provided to the people I represent. Yet I see the opposition saying that they would cut that funding and that they would not proceed with the GP superclinics that this government has committed to.

In one of the other cuts they have mentioned, they would not proceed with the individual electronic health records commitment of $467 million. I have spoken in this place on another occasion in support of an electronic health system for this country and the importance of it. The ability of doctors in hospitals to have at their fingertips accurate information about the patients they are treating will undoubtedly ensure that we have a much more efficient health system and a much more accurate health system, which can only be good for those people who are being treated. I know that is a policy supported by the medical fraternity generally. I am surprised to see that the opposition is now suggesting that they would cut it, given that when they were in government they had said they would support an electronic health system for Australia. They have clearly now done a backflip, again highlighting that in reality they are not committed to a better health system for Australia and that if elected they will go back to their old stance of making cuts to the health system, as they did when the current Leader of the Opposition was the health minister.

It is expected that this measure will result in a reduction of tobacco consumption of about six per cent and a reduction of two to three per cent in the number of daily smokers in Australia—around 87,000 Australians will probably give up the habit of smoking. In introducing these measures the minister for health outlined the serious health effects and costs to the Australian community of tobacco related illness, and I want to reiterate some of the facts. Each year around 15,000 Australians die of tobacco related illness and 750,000 hospital bed days are taken up by patients with tobacco related illness. The total financial costs to Australia associated with tobacco use are in the order of $31.5 billion each year. Through a range of strategies—including health warnings, tax rises, banning smoking in workplaces and other venues, advertising bans and other measures—smoking rates in Australia over the last two decades have been almost halved, from 30.5 per cent in 1988 to 16.6 per cent in 2007.

Across the world, around 5.4 million people die each year from smoking related illness. More concerning to smokers should be the fact that tobacco kills up to half of all users. That is quite a frightening statistic: tobacco kills almost half of all users. Yesterday was World Tobacco Day. Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, I note that you—as a former smoker who, I understand, gave up some years ago—made a speech in respect of World Tobacco Day, in support of the campaign to reduce the number of people who smoke throughout the world. It is a day which focuses attention on the global disastrous effects of tobacco consumption, and it is one of the international strategies aimed at curbing cigarette smoking. Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope other people follow your lead.

Not surprisingly, the increase of the excise on cigarettes has not been received well by smokers. In my own electorate I have been contacted by several of them. Some might say that if smokers do not want to pay the tax they can simply give up or cut back on smoking. For someone who is addicted to smoking, it is simply not that easy. I am sure that most smokers would want to give up if they could. I note that a high proportion of smokers are in the lower socioeconomic status categories of society. In fact, those who can least afford the cigarettes are spending the most on them, and they will therefore contribute most to the increased revenue raised. People who are poorly educated, unemployed, unable to work or on low incomes and Indigenous Australians are more than twice as likely to smoke as other Australians, with smoking rates amongst the unemployed and Indigenous Australians at more than one in three. For example, smoking levels amongst the unemployed are at about 38 per cent, whilst for the most advantaged sector of society smoking rates in Australia are around 14 per cent.

What I would like to see and what I urge the minister to consider is the provision of increased support to smokers for the purchase of nicotine patches or similar aids to help them quit smoking. Increasing the range of items which attract a PBS rebate when prescribed by a GP should be considered, as I know some of the products available can be costly. Of course the costs of tobacco smoking are not borne only by the smokers. The effects of passive smoking on children, other family members, work mates and people in social venues is well documented. It is estimated that around one in 10 tobacco related deaths is due to second-hand smoking. I repeat: one in 10 tobacco related deaths is attributed to second-hand smoking—in other words, people who do not smoke but are in the company of others who do. Over the years we have seen action taken by all three levels of government in Australia to curb the effects of passive smoking on others in the community—for example, bans on smoking in workplaces, in public venues and in vehicles which children are in are now commonplace.

One cost to the community which is difficult to quantify but which is undoubtedly significant is the cost to communities and the environment through damage caused by discarded cigarette butts. Each year about 24 billion cigarettes are sold in Australia. It is estimated that around seven billion of these end up as litter in our streets and waterways. In fact, I have seen a figure that suggests it is higher than 24 billion cigarettes—perhaps up to 32 billion cigarettes. Whichever it is, it is a huge amount of cigarettes that are sold. If a third of those butts end up in our streets and our waterways, they not only create a litter problem but also create additional environmental and health problems. Given that cigarettes contain about 4,000 chemicals, one can only guess the damage they cause to the environment, particularly waterways, once they are discarded. Cigarette butts can take up to 12 months to break down in freshwater and up to five years to break down in seawater.

There is also the cost and risk of fires caused by carelessly discarded cigarette butts. Many house fires and large bushland fires have been attributed to cigarette smoking. Again, the actual costs are impossible to measure—and, of course, you cannot put a price on human life. As recently as six weeks ago a wheelchair-bound resident in my electorate died as a result of a fire which authorities believe was caused by a cigarette.

I said earlier that there has been significant progress over the last two decades in reducing the number of smokers in Australia. Clearly, a sustained campaign of education, advertising restrictions and increasing public places where smoking is prohibited are measures that are working. I therefore welcome the announcement by the government that, as from 1 July 2012, all cigarettes will be sold in plain packaging. In view of the initial reaction to this measure by the tobacco companies, I expect it will be another positive step in reducing the number of smokers in Australia. I wait with interest to see what level of resistance tobacco companies put up to the plain-packaging proposal.

This measure, in conjunction with legislation restricting internet advertising of tobacco products, updating and expanding the graphic health warnings on packets and increasing anti-smoking advertising revenue by $27.8 million over four years to take it to more than $85 million over that period, should make a difference in reducing the level of tobacco use throughout the country.

I welcome the announcement by Minister Snowdon—the Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Services Delivery—made yesterday as part of World Tobacco Day, that a new workforce to tackle Indigenous smoking rates and promote healthy lifestyles would be established in 20 regions across Australia. He said that 82 positions, to start in July, would be created. Almost half of Indigenous Australians smoke, and one in five deaths amongst Indigenous Australians is caused by smoking. Through the employment of regional tobacco coordinators, tobacco action workers and healthy lifestyle workers, and the Quit Smoking and Healthy Lifestyle programs they will be responsible for, it is hoped that smoking rates amongst Indigenous Australians will be reduced. It is only through these kinds of targeted programs that I believe we can make some real inroads in reducing tobacco consumption amongst Indigenous people.

I heard the shadow minister for health speaking on this legislation a few moments ago and I understand the opposition will be supporting these measures. I certainly welcome their support. Unlike what the Leader of the Opposition had proposed, however, the money raised from these measures will go into our health and hospital system. He proposed earlier that it would go into clamping down on people who are welfare recipients.

I believe these measures go a long way towards not only improving the health of our nation but assisting people, through the accompanying health reforms, to quit the smoking habit. While I accept the legislation is not welcome right throughout the community—certainly three million smokers throughout the nation would not be pleased about it—it nevertheless has the support of the medical community, the Cancer Council of Australia and other authorities who have studied the effects of smoking on health across our nation. I commend the bills to the House.