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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4816

Ms SAFFIN (7:48 PM) —I rise in strong support of the Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010 and a cognate bill, and I want to thank the Minister for Health and Ageing for having the policy will to introduce such a measure because, yes, while we are talking about excise and customs bills, we are also talking about health. Health is the issue. And the health issue—the good health of all—has to prevail over all other considerations in this debate. I am pleased to see that people are accepting that.

When this legislation was first announced at the end of April there was a straw poll done in my local area. I came out in strong support of it immediately because of my long concern for the health impacts of smoking, and there was broad support in the community. Some people say that it can impact on those who are the poorest most severely, and I will turn to that in a minute, but just on the health issue: in the minister for health’s second reading speech she focused on a number of issues, and there is one that I just want to quickly reiterate—that is, smoking results in approximately 15,000 Australian deaths a year. That is just unbelievable. We talk about road accidents, we talk about other areas where one death is too many, but 15,000! And we still tolerate that people smoke. We understand it is an addiction and we understand that it has to be dealt with as such, but it is a health issue.

When we were doing the straw poll in my electorate of Page, I was asked if I believed in banning it. I said banning rarely works; we just have to make it so unpalatable and so difficult that people cannot do it. We know that prohibition did not work with alcohol and it does not seem to work with other drugs either. The minister also put some other figures on the record. I have had a background in health over the years, locally in particular, but also broadly—I was on the New South Wales Cancer Council—and I want to mention here Professor Simon Chapman and Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, two people who are very proactive in trying to get smoking stopped in Australia. I just wanted to mention and commend their efforts. I have thought quite a deal about something else the minister said—that smoking is responsible for approximately 750,000 bed days in hospital every year. That is a lot of bed days; that is a lot of bed numbers. We are having a debate right across Australia about health reform. People want changes; they want things to be different. Can you imagine: if we had no-one smoking in Australia, there would be 750,000 bed days available for other people with other illnesses. We can imagine what that would do for our health and we can imagine what that would do for the budget.

I understand the total cost to the Australian society of tobacco is estimated at $31.5 billion each year. That is unbelievable. I know it is not just the 25 per cent excise that is being struck in this; there are a whole range of other measures that go, for example, to plain packaging and to internet advertising, and there is money being injected into hard-hitting anti-smoking campaigns—$27.8 million, as I understand it. On 31 May it was World No Tobacco Day, and that is the day on which the minister announced the $5 million that would go into Quitline. A lot of people in my electorate do want to quit, and they need help. My office manager quit two years ago—she knew I was going to say this, so it is all right!—and good on her. She smoked for a long time, and she smoked a lot. A lot of people here have talked about smoking. When I grew up it was normal—we did not know it was bad for us; we did not have that information. My mother smoked; everybody smoked—we all did; it was seen as normal. We now know the problems it causes, and with that knowledge we have to make changes.

The point I made at the beginning of my contribution is the point I want to finish on. It is frequently said, and I am often asked about this by journalists, that these measures will impact most on the poor. Like a lot of decisions, things can impact on the poor and we all have to be mindful of that. But this is a situation that we do have to change. We do not strike the excises and tariffs in a differential way—that is not how we do excise in Australia. What I can say is that people on low incomes and beneficiaries on government pensions and benefits have been helped in other ways, particularly over the past three years. The Australian government has reduced the tax burden on working Australians, and someone who gets $20,000 a year will have received a tax cut of $750 per year over the three years 2007-08 to 2010-11. If we go up the scale, someone on $30,000 will have received a cut of $750; $40,000, $1,800; $50,000, $1,750; $60,000, $1,350; and $80,000, $1,550. It is to the lower end of that earning scale that I am addressing these remarks.

A raft of other measures have been introduced, such as the Paid Parental Leave scheme that is coming, the education tax refund and changes to the pension. The pension has been increase by $100 a fortnight for singles and $76 for couples, and there is also the abolition of Work Choices and other measures. The government has introduced a range of measures over the last three years that have put more money into the pockets of people, and particularly those people at the lower end of the earning scale. I thought it was important to inject that into the discussion tonight.

In summing up, I strongly support these two bills being debated cognately. I support the health initiative of the 25 per cent increase in excise, and all the other measures that go with it. I support the fact that we are directing a lot of it to our young as well, and particularly to young girls so that it can be totally not cool to smoke. At the moment it can be seen as cool to smoke, and we have to make it uncool. Some of those hard-hitting ads certainly make it uncool. There is enormous pressure to smoke. With those comments I commend these bills to the House, and I also thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, for taking the chair and enabling me to contribute to this debate.