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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4800

Mr TUCKEY (6:33 PM) —This legislation, the Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010, has good purpose and the coalition obviously supports it. Let me say, nevertheless, that I am not exactly sure what this had to do with excise on tobacco products but I did hear the member for Makin make some reference to the government’s GP superclinics. My recollection was that there was an ironclad guarantee made at the last election that the government would deliver 36 of these clinics around Australia. Some of us thought they might even turn up where there is a shortage of doctors. The member for Makin tells me he has got one. He must be one of the three members who has. So the government has again failed to keep its promise. We are lectured daily by the Minister for Health and Ageing about how much money she is spending or how much of Australian taxpayers’ money is being given to the states. I refer to that as measuring excellence by expenditure. We also have excellence by promises that are not kept. Furthermore, the coalition has identified this scheme for what it is: (a) it has not happened; and (b) it simply replaces the services that were given by independent members of the medical profession, by general practitioners. It is another attempt to socialise the services of medicine by putting—as they typically do—these facilities in where there are plenty of doctors anyway.

As with the argument that has prevailed in this place when it comes to how you might fund the difficulties that people experience in getting dental services, the idea that you just send away the money and, hey presto, a lot of disadvantaged people get services, ignores completely the availability of dentists who will go and work for wages in the public sector when, as we well know if we are in the habit of visiting a dentist, they can make about 50 times as much in the private sector. There is no purpose. You create GPs superclinics—a fancy name—and put a lot of services under one roof, if you have got a roof. I think we have only got three roofs. And one might even ask why it is necessary to build before you get the people. You can rent premises. If you go into a Bunnings warehouse you will not find too many that are owned by Bunnings. They know that the economic benefit is in renting the premises and conducting their business therein. But this government has to build the structure—no doubt at similar cost to what we are seeing in the Building the Education Revolution—before it provides the service. But, again, if the service is not placed in areas of significant need through the absence of other medical practitioners, then it serves no beneficial purpose.

Another issue that arises out of all of this that I have experienced in my electorate, and more particularly in some of the nicer places to live, is of medical practitioners, maybe with family obligations, who are only working two or three days a week, yet when another practitioner tries to bring in a couple of full-time practitioners from South Africa, the UK or some of the more desirable spots they are told by the socialised Medicare system, ‘You have got enough provider numbers and you do not need any more practitioners.’ But the practitioners are not available. I just thought I would make those points, considering the remarks of the member for Makin.

What we are talking about is something that governments of all political persuasions choose to do—to tax us to save us from ourselves. I am not objecting to that and I note the second reading speech of the Minister for Health and Ageing in which she talked about increasing the charge per stick—in other words, per individual cigarette. That initiative came out of the GST tax reform. It was the Howard government that introduced it because previously the excise related to packets. It was being manipulated by people with larger packets of 30 cigarettes instead of 20. There were all sorts of practices going that the stick proposition, which is accepted by this government at this stage, overcame. It was a good measure. However, notwithstanding all the arguments relevant to the consumption of alcohol, it will not bite the bullet on volumetric taxes for alcohol. There was the farce that was the alcopops issue. Even the revenue that the government predicted from alcopops is now starting to decline. What did it do? It taught kids to buy full bottles of spirits at 40 per cent alcohol instead of the five per cent mixers that looked like a good profit for the government. We will tax you to save you. The kids are not that silly.

I am anxious that the increase in the cost of cigarettes will have the desired reduction which the minister refers to. I think it is something like three per cent or thereabouts. It has already been reported that some people have reduced their discretionary expenditure in other areas. They are addicted. They are buying cigarettes and paying the tax. The media producers will be interested to know that one of the losers has been magazines. That might balance out over a while, but for all the claims, which can only be applauded, the second reading speech tells us:

This action has had a dramatic effect.

That is the various warning labels and things of that nature. It continues:

The number of daily smokers aged 14 and over in Australia has been reduced from approximately 30.5 per cent of Australians in 1988 to 16.6 per cent in 2007.

That is good news. But in that period we are told that there has not been any adjustment in the excise other than by way of the CPI automatic adjustment. What caused that reduction? It was all the things that have been mentioned. It was an extensive advertising campaign—at times almost offensive but I will not complain about it. The second reading speech says:

That is why successive Commonwealth and state governments have taken action to reduce Australia’s smoking rates. This has included action at the Commonwealth level by increasing taxation—

no they did not; the increase has been very modest in that period—

conducting hard-hitting social marketing campaigns—

hooray for that—

banning tobacco advertising and introducing graphic warning labels.

But in my view the most successful initiative is:

States and territories have also acted by banning smoking inside licensed venues, running Quitline services and hiding cigarettes from view at point of sale.

I think that major cutback has resulted primarily from making the practice of smoking extremely inconvenient. There are so few places you can have a smoke. I am fortunate that I never bothered to take up the habit. My mother smoked from aged 13 to 73. She died at 83 and it was not from smoking. I do not promote that to encourage people to smoke. But there seems to be a lot of reasons to quit. A lot is said about passive smoking. I operated in the hotel industry for nearly 30 years and can well remember walking into some of the venues in my hotel and virtually could not see across the width of the room. I would have to replace the carpet very regularly for all the cigarette burns on it. I did not need anybody else’s help; I was just taking the smoke in and, to date, it has done me no harm. I am not saying that as an excuse. I am just pointing out the vagaries in all these situations. I think that this is a tax grab. It might work, but I do not think it is going to work as well as past campaigns that tried to convince people that it is not smart to smoke.

When we start a campaign on so-called recreational drugs, we will see a decline in the level of violence in entertainment areas and drinking places these days which the police forces in most states, certainly in Western Australia, still want to blame on alcohol. Alcohol should be taken in moderation, and the fact is that it is not when people are drunk that there are those scenes of violence that we are seeing so regularly. In fact, they find some difficulty in fighting at all. There is a period of time after which their belief in their own ability no longer meets that ability. Alcohol tends to generate a bit of courage for a certain amount of time, but of course it is not much good for your reflexes. But it is different with people who take these so-called recreational drugs.

We had a case in Perth the other day where an elite footballer got caught down an alley sniffing cocaine. The standing joke throughout Western Australia was that this bloke was a bit unlucky that the police caught him; if he had been caught by an AFL inspector, nobody would know about it. And, if he had been 17 years old or thereabouts, a recently drafted rookie, and he had a positive test under the AFL regime, not even his parents would be told about it. I said on radio while that was getting publicity—and I will repeat it in this place—that it almost warrants a law being passed in this House that prevents TV and other media broadcasts of elite sports that do not have a zero tolerance and an open and transparent drug policy. The AFL policy is driven by the industrial relations associated with the players association. It is a blight on our TV companies that they have not done something about it. There would be no elite football and there would be no footballers buying Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as some do, if in fact the TV stations did not pay the AFL very substantial amounts of money. I think the last contract was $700 million for about three years. It is up to the TV managers and owners to insist. I think Rugby League has a much more aggressive policy. I cannot comment on union, but they probably have as well.

But the AFL stands out as an elite sporting operation that believes that their players can go to various venues and be seen taking drugs—and it is those drugs that start the fights, I can tell you. I have seen too much of it. In particular, it is those drugs that make a person believe that kicking a man who is on the ground in the head is okay. If that had occurred in any of the establishments I had, the person who did that would have been lucky to get out of the bar alive, because everybody else in the bar would take to them. It is just unacceptable. It is now considered par for the course. Of course, if you have got a flick-knife in your back pocket, you might stick it in someone. Who would have done that in years gone by?

So we have got a problem. We have a government that has a simple solution to any perceived problem: put the taxes up. As the member for Makin mentioned, that might cause considerable hardship to some people. All of these tax increases on alcohol or cigarettes make recreational drugs a cheaper option, and that in itself, I think, is a problem. There is no taxable solution to these drugs, and it is the responsibility of the parliament to do more about it. I was encouraged to read in recent days about some so-called big drug busts.

Let me come back to that footballer. Nobody has asked him where he got the drugs. These people are charged and there is no legal requirement for them to say where they got them from. Okay, it might be from some shifty character down that alley, but in many cases they are going regularly to the same place. As one politician in Western Australia said—I wish I had thought of it myself—on one occasion: if a 14-year-old kid knows where to get drugs, how come the police forces of Australia don’t? Is it a fact that if you are a small dealer it does not matter? To the credit of the Western Australian state government, they have now brought in legislation—and some people very much object to it—that says they can search you on demand, with no reason given. They will mostly do that in entertainment venues. My view is that, if you have got some amphetamine or some ice in your pocket, in the first instance, hopefully, the police will put you in a paddy wagon, take you in, lock you up and call your parents to say, ‘You had better come and get them.’ The reality is that possession is not always for the purpose of sale, but it is illegal.

We do not make cigarettes illegal, and some people say that might be the right thing to do. But there is that tobacco you can buy under the counter. I have forgotten what it is called but it has a name. It is smuggled into the country in large quantities, and apparently a lot of people know where to get that sort of tobacco, which of course does not carry any excise charge whatsoever. But again, obviously, governments usually get a lot more upset about people that smuggle goods that contribute to government revenue. I do not know why, when they should just be concerned with their detrimental effects on people’s health and more particularly, in this day and age, young people’s health.

So the government have put up the price. They say they are going to spend the money on campaigns. I might add, and it is worthy of some note, that I am just not sure how this plain packaging will work or how it will comply with consumer law. Consumer law today just about covers a tin of baked beans with information—in the first instance, information that this is bad for you, in the case of cigarettes. But are people going to know other aspects of it? Are they going to be told all the things that are listed here that could be in the cigarettes, and are they entitled to know whether some brands are safer than others, if they can be? I think there are a few consumer law issues that one might want to address in that part of the legislation.

Anyway, it is typical of this government: if you can tax it you should, and don’t worry where the money goes thereafter. Of course, in this case, as with alcopops, they tell us they are doing it purely to save us from ourselves. I think the evidence is that in a period of reasonably low increases in taxation there was the dramatic reduction of smoking mentioned and that the campaigns are of more value than the tax is a burden. (Time expired)