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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4818

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (7:56 PM) —in reply—I thank the member for Page and other members who have contributed to this debate on theExcise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010 and the cognate bill. One thing is for sure—there is very broad support within this House as well as in the community for our taking this step and doing all we can to reduce smoking in the community. It is interesting, when you consider the last two contributions, to note the changing world and the success we have had in Australia in being able to discourage people from smoking. People tell their stories about how all of their friends smoked when they were young, and those of us of different generations, some of us even younger than me, have had an entirely different experience. That is a tribute to the work that has gone before us, but in a way it strengthens our argument that we need to take these next steps to ensure that we can reduce tobacco consumption even further.

As I have already outlined in the House, on 30 April 2010 the excise on tobacco was increased by 25 per cent as part of our government’s anti-smoking reform package. Since that time, the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have been collecting excise and excise-equivalent customs duties at the higher rate, and the legislation we have been debating today will formally confirm that higher rate. Of course, that needs to be passed by the Senate. While the opposition have indicated that they will support this legislation, they have suggested that it represents a tax grab and is not a public health measure. They say this despite the fact that this was a key recommendation of the Preventative Health Taskforce, and they say it despite the fact that this has been endorsed by bodies such as the Cancer Council Australia, the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Nursing Federation, the Heart Foundation and the International Union Against Cancer. And they say it despite the fact that every year in Australia over 15,000 Australians die from smoking related illnesses, and smoking is estimated to cause one in five of all cancer deaths.

I am pleased that, despite this criticism, we do now have the opposition on the record as being willing to ‘not oppose’ this legislation and to allow this important measure to proceed. Given how enthusiastically the legislation has been received in the broader community and the very clear public health outcomes, it is a shame that the opposition has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this outcome. I think it is a shame that perhaps some of the members of the opposition were not carefully listening when these announcements were made, because I have seen, from some contributions including the shadow minister’s, that they have been calling for this money to be dedicated to health. We have already agreed to, and committed to, this money being dedicated to health. In fact, we have gone way beyond that. The Prime Minister, in his announcement, made clear that not only the increase in excise on tobacco but the entire amount of excise which is collected from tobacco is dedicated to health through the National Health and Hospitals Network Fund. The sad truth is we spend a lot more than that already on health because of the high demands on our system and because of the growing and ageing population. So I can make clear that those commitments have already been made. We do believe in making sure that you have the public health benefit of dissuading thousands of Australians from taking up this habit or of encouraging many to give up this habit. Also we can actually ensure that the sufferers of tobacco related diseases, who do require approximately 750,000 bed days of treatment in our hospitals every year, can get treatment. All this helps the sustainability of the health system.

I also want to add very briefly for the House’s benefit that when I introduced this bill into the House it preceded World No Tobacco Day, something that the member for Page, who is now in the chair, mentioned. That was yesterday and I used the occasion yesterday to announce another anti-tobacco measure, that the government will provide $5 million to help support Quitline services around Australia. Since the increase in the tobacco excise, there has been an increased demand for Quitline services. I think that has been proving our case that an increase in price does encourage people to give up. That is a good sign. We have had some reports that in some instances Quitline calls have doubled for a period of time. Whilst that is a very good sign about the number of people using this as an opportunity to kick what is a lethal habit, it has put some pressure on Quitline services. This extra funding will assist Quitline to provide their invaluable service, being there for people when they want to quite smoking. Of course, this was one of the other recommendations from the National Preventative Health Taskforce. It means that we have a comprehensive response to the problem of tobacco smoking in Australia. I urge members to consider this as an opportunity to pass that message on even more broadly.

I think some of those remaining few of my colleagues who smoke might be getting a little bit sick of me reminding them of this fact. But, as one of the other speakers in the House mentioned, smoking is a risk factor. Today we launched a report from the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare about the risks of cardiovascular disease to women, a disease previously known very much in the community as a disease of men, perhaps older men in particular. This report shows that it is a very large killer of women as well. One of the biggest risk factors is still smoking. We know we can decrease the burden of many illnesses in this country if we can persuade people not to take up this dangerous and lethal habit, and we hope that our package of measures will help encourage people to do that. I thank members for their valuable contributions to the debate. I thank the opposition for supporting these measures and I urge the House to support this bill and the cognate bill to deliver major preventative health reform in Australia. I hope that I can have the opposition’s support for all this to be treated expeditiously in the Senate. I commend this bill and the other one to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.