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Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Page: 35

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:14 PM) —The Greens also support this legislation, although we feel that Australian consumers have a long way to go in order to catch up with the use of broadband overseas. I concur with the arguments by previous speakers in favour of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2005 [2006]. Senator Eggleston said that the debate had been delayed for a year due to Labor and the Greens not allowing it non-controversial status. Just to clear up that matter, its non-controversial status would mean that no amendment were possible. The Greens have an important amendment to this piece of legislation because there is no provision for such an amendment elsewhere. However, that does not delay legislation.

The government has total control of the agenda. It has had control for the last year and could have brought this piece of legislation on at any time. The problem is that the Senate is sitting less than at any time for many years, and government control of the Senate means that we are not being as diligent about legislation as was the case in the past. It is entirely the government’s fault that this legislation was not dealt with a year ago, that sitting times have not been made available or that the government’s priorities have been otherwise. For example, the legislation was consequent to a long debate on Monday in this place which led to a vote about the government effectively taking over the committee system in the parliament. The government thought that was more important than the broadcasting legislation amendment, as has been the case with many other debates that we have had in this place. It has only itself to blame for the delay.

I flag a consequent amendment to the Children’s Television Standards 2005 which would put a prohibition on the advertising of food or beverages unless the minister for health has authorised—by determination in writing, with such a determination to be tabled in both houses of parliament, together with a statement of reasons—that such an advertisement is beneficial to the health of children. In Australia, as in all wealthy countries around the world, we are faced with the enormous and distressing problem of obesity. The figures available—although a survey has not been done for 10 years in this country—show that 25 per cent of our children are overweight or obese and that the number will increase to 50 per cent by 2020.

There are consequent problems for people involved in health. We know about those problems and I will not expand on them at the moment. This calls for very deliberative action, and we have not had that from the government. In fact, what we have had is the assertion from both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health and Ageing that parents should look after their children in a way that would prohibit obesity from occurring. All the studies show that that is just not adequate. For example, 70 per cent of mothers who have overweight children do not see that as a problem for their children—they do not see their children as being overweight. The approach in dealing with the increasing epidemic of overweight and obese children has to be one that governments as well as individuals use to tackle the problem. It has to be a multifaceted approach and it absolutely has to involve government intervention to prevent junk food from being pushed at kids. That includes television advertising.

It is abundantly evident, from studies here and overseas, that it is the increased intake of calories—eating more—by kids and indeed adults that is a major problem. In fact, one study in New South Wales—by the University of Sydney, I believe—showed that there has been an increase in physical activity by children in New South Wales over the last 10 years, while obesity has almost doubled. The problem is the increased intake of calories—that is, food, and in particular junk food. When you look at advertising, 80 per cent is for food and, of the advertising in children’s television hours, 99 per cent is for junk food. That is a terrible situation in light of the statistics in front of us. We should be following the course of Quebec and Sweden, for example, which prohibit junk food advertising specifically aimed at children.

Some of the best psychologists in the business are appointed by junk food advertisers to look at the minds of kids and work out how to best subvert their minds to get them to buy the products that are being shoved at them during children’s television hours. Mind you, this goes to all hours on television. The Greens amendment simply goes to children’s television viewing hours, but we should be looking more widely than that—at all television advertising which pushes junk food at the community in light of the awesomely bad predictions coming down the line about the epidemic of obesity. The problem is already with us, but it is getting much worse as the current crop of youngsters become the next generation of adults in our community.

The Greens amendments would simply prohibit junk food ads in children’s television viewing time. It allows for the minister for health—of course, expert advice would be attendant on this—to permit food advertising to children if it is healthy food. It would be a disallowable instrument to give such permission, but surely this is a commonsense approach, as far as TV advertising in kids’ special viewing time is concerned, that we only allow healthy foods to be promoted at that time. The minister says, ‘We should leave this to self-regulation,’ but, as with cigarette advertising, you simply cannot do that when there is such a broadscale impact on the health of our nation and, in this case, the health of our nation’s children.

The food corporations are interested in the bottom line. They put enormous amounts of money into targeting advertising, as I said, using highly trained psychologists to work out how to get kids to buy the products on television during their viewing hours. For example, they have put enormous amounts of money into the pester factor: how to get kids to pester their parents so that when they are at the supermarket, or even when they are not there—at any time—they will say, ‘Hey, Mum or Dad, I want that,’ because it has been seen on television to be a good thing for them. The advertisers are far too clever to simply say, ‘You should buy such and such.’ They subvert that simple message, which might be more easily dealt with, by saying: ‘You’ll be much better than; you’ll catch up with your peer group if; your fellow children will think you are great if; or somebody that you look up to will think you are good if you buy this particular product.’ As legislators we have got to intervene in this.

I am speaking not just for the Greens, because a great number of community experts in the field in Australia have been calling for a prohibition of such things as highly sugared soft drinks, burgers, chips, snacks and chocolate bars which are thrust at kids. We know, from the statistics, that those kids who watch the most television buy more of the products. Kids who are exposed to these ads longer think chocolate bars are better. It is as simple as that. It works, and advertisers would not be spending $420 million plus a year advertising during this particular time for kids if they were not getting a much bigger return from doing so.

Amongst organisations in this country which the parliament—the government and the minister—should be listening to, calling for a ban on junk food advertisements during children’s prime viewing hours, are the Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity; the Australian Confederation of Paediatric and Child Health Nurses; the Australian Consumers Association; the Australian Dental Association; the Australian Medical Association; Nutrition Australia; the Public Health Association of Australia; the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, paediatric branch; the Cancer Council Australia; the University of Adelaide, Discipline of Public Health; the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide; and Young Media Australia. These calls have been mirrored overseas by similar organisations—in fact, right around the world—including the British Medical Association, who have called for an outright ban on junk food advertising and expressed concern that imposing a voluntary period is not a strong enough action. It is not. It simply cannot work that way.

I put it to the Senate that we should get support for these amendments today. I put it to the Senate that it is incredibly important that we catch up, that far greater and more direct action be taken and that we as legislators have a responsibility—of course, we cannot be sitting at the dinner table in every house in Australia, nor would we want to. Parents have a responsibility, and so do schools and community organisations. Many kids watch four hours of television a day in this country and see five hours of advertising a week. But when it comes to making sure that somebody intervenes to stop hundreds of millions of dollars of ads contributing to those children becoming fatter, we are the ones responsible. Nobody else is going to do it. Madam Acting Deputy President, it is you, me and every other senator and member of the House of Representatives. We are where the buck stops.

I appeal to other senators to take these amendments very seriously because, if we do not pass these amendments, the Senate becomes responsible for passing up the option and the responsibility to stop this abhorrent practice of large corporations pushing junk food at kids in an era where obesity is rampant. It is going to get worse with all the consequent health problems—problems of self-image, self-esteem and confidence—for the kids who are involved. You cannot shake that off and say, ‘It’s not our responsibility.’ It is.

So whilst we are here legislating to improve and to make more modern the access to broadband services, which I agree with, the Greens have taken this opportunity to say, ‘Let’s look at our responsibility on advertising.’ The government brought in children’s standards two years ago but did not legislate in this area. The Greens feel very strongly about the amendments we will bring forward. I will talk about them again in committee. I hope that, as we will have time to consider them before the committee stage is over, members will take very seriously indeed these important amendments. After all, they affect the wellbeing of the youngsters of this country.