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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3194


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (12:33 PM) —I rise today to speak on the Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010 and Customs Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010. These bills will see a 25 per cent increase in the cost of cigarettes and tobacco products aimed at reducing the number of people who smoke. This is the first increase above inflation in the taxation on tobacco in over a decade. Given that the total cost to Australian society of tobacco is estimated at $31.5 billion each year, reducing the number of people who smoke and the quantities that people smoke is vital. The decline in smoking rates in Australia—a fall of 40 per cent for men and 44 per cent for women between 1989 and 2007—has been amongst the largest in the OECD. It is a fact that the fall in tobacco smoking in the population aged 14 years and over, from 23.9 per cent in 1995 to 17.4 per cent in 2004, saw Australia with rates amongst the lowest in the world.

The coalition government made significant inroads into smoking prevalence and tobacco control. In 2004, Australia formally ratified the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which provides a global policy framework for strong measures against the death and disease caused by smoking. Tobacco advertising was banned at all sporting events in Australia from 1 October 2006. Since March 2006, all Australian manufactured and imported tobacco product packaging has been printed with graphic coloured health warnings and the Quitline number and web address. Under the coalition government, pharmaceuticals to assist with quitting smoking were listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and nicotine replacement therapies, patches, gum and lozenges were designated GST free.

The legislation proposed responds to some of the recommendations of the National Preventative Health Task Force, which handed down its findings last September and which the government finally responded to in full on budget night. The bills also respond to Mr Rudd’s cash splash to the Labor premiers at the COAG health meeting on 20 April to ensure that his mates around the country signed up to his grand plan for health. The ‘local’ does not mean ‘local health plan’ that Kevin Rudd announced on 3 March and then conveniently used the Preventative Health Task Force as cover to help pay for his plan by raising excise on tobacco on 29 April. I quote:

The Rudd government today announced a comprehensive package targeting smoking and its harmful effects, including an increase in the tobacco excise of 25 per cent. This increase in tobacco excise will provide an extra $5 billion over four years which, along with existing revenues from tobacco, will be directly invested in better health and hospitals through the National Health and Hospital Network Fund.

It is a pity that the Prime Minister is searching for golden dollars for a hurried and doomed health and hospital plan that is more about spin than substance.

I would like to focus on this if I may. The health reform plan advertising campaign says:

Run locally, the new network will give local senior doctors and health experts a greater say …

We saw the Prime Minister at the National Press Club waxing lyrical about how his grand plan, where doctors were going to run these hospital networks locally. What a load of spin that was, because, like most things the Prime Minister says these days, sooner or later it will all come unravelled.

It is specifically stated at page 14 of the agreement that the Prime Minister drew up with the states in relation to health that the clinical expertise in relation to the local hospital networks will come from outside the local hospital network. Indeed, it says that wherever practical that is the starting point. So-called local doctors who will supposedly run these local hospital networks will come from outside—I stress: that is the starting point—the local hospital network. All this drivel we hear about a hospital network that is going to be run locally is just that: absolute, unadulterated drivel. This Prime Minister has once again—

Senator Stephens—I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. We are here debating the Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2010. I think that Senator Fierravanti-Wells has lost her way.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Cash)—There is no point of order.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I have not lost my way, because the Prime Minister is directly linking the money that he is raising from this exercise to his grand plan. So if he wants to tell us that he is going to use the money that he is supposedly raising from this new revenue on tobacco to pay for his grand plan, then I am fully entitled to talk about the grand plan, because that is supposedly where the money is going. In fairness, I am fully entitled to expose this plan for the fraud that it really is.

As I was saying, here we have this grand plan and the local doctors will be coming from outside the local hospital networks. This is deception of the utmost proportion and needs to be exposed. The government is running a deceptive advertising campaign, using our money. This is not even legislated yet and there they are, wasting almost $30 million selling a deceptive public campaign that is wrongly telling us ‘federally funded, locally run’. The campaign should be withdrawn and, at the very least, the government should correct the record.

It was not surprising to read in the Australian Financial Review on Wednesday, 9 June 2010, that the hospital ‘grand plan’ was among the key decisions that were taken without cabinet approval. The report said that the decision was made by the Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee, known as ‘the kitchen cabinet’ or ‘the gang of four’. The article went on to say:

… ministers arriving at cabinet meetings were given folders that they could look at, but not take out of the room, containing decisions already taken by the SPBC that they were expected to endorse without discussion.

I wanted to place that on the record, because it is very, very important that this charade that is now being played out in the public arena about this so-called grand hospital plan which is going to be run locally is exposed. Just like we see with the mining industry, Mr Rudd is spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars to argue his partisan political case on health, and he is just not telling the truth.

I will now go back to the issue of tobacco. According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco is the second highest cause of death in the world. It is responsible for about one in 10 adult deaths or five million deaths each year. As awareness of the negative impacts of smoking tobacco has increased, the proportion of people who smoke has declined Yet tobacco contains an addictive stimulant in the form of nicotine, which does mean that quitting smoking can be very difficult. According to data released in 2007 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia still has one of the lowest smoking rates in the OECD, with around 17 per cent of people aged 15 years and over smoking every day. However, Indigenous Australians are far more likely to smoke, with those in remote communities even more likely to do so. One in five Indigenous deaths is attributed to smoking—that is, 20 per cent of the Indigenous population. Higher rates of smoking can also be observed within lower socioeconomic communities and in other disadvantaged groups.

The National Preventative Health Taskforce identified that around 41 per cent of pregnant teenagers, 38 per cent of unemployed people, 34 per cent of people unable to work, 32 per cent of people with a mental illness, 78 per cent of male prisoners and 83 per cent of female prisoners are smokers. These are all groups where price increases for tobacco should have a real impact. The coalition government was often criticised for not doing enough for preventative health, and today I would like to set the record straight on a number of things. I would like to remind the chamber that the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, was a very successful health minister from 2003 to 2007 and, among his achievements in preventative health were: an estimated annual expenditure of $443 million on vaccines in 2007-08 under the National Immunisation Program—an increase from $13 million in 1996; over $715 million committed to improve Australia’s responsiveness to national emergencies; various programs in relation to trauma response, skin cancer awareness and—directly relevant to today’s debate—the coalition committed around $715 million from 1996 to 2010 to support national smoking cessation activities, including $25 million over four years to reduce smoking rates amongst youth through the youth tobacco campaign.

There has been a lot of discussion about, allegedly, Tony Abbott’s record not being successful. I think that the facts prove that he was very successful and had many achievements as Minister for Health and Ageing. Other achievements: when we came into government in 1996, we increased spending on health by $19.5 billion per year to $52 billion a year by 2007 and we made a record investment in public hospitals. Increasing the private health coverage from the low 30 per cents to the mid 40 per cents was, I think, one of our most successful achievements. As I said, immunisation rates rose. The fall in smoking rates over Mr Abbott’s term as health minister is an achievement in that portfolio that the Prime Minister and Minister Roxon ought to look at emulating.

The coalition acknowledge that increasing the cost of cigarettes and tobacco has proven to be a financial incentive for people to quit smoking, thereby reducing the long-term strain on the hospital and healthcare system. This coalition, when elected at the next election, will continue this commitment to the Australian people. Ours is a genuine commitment to resolve to improve services in public hospitals and to improve the coverage of private health insurance beyond the 10 million people who have private health insurance now in our country, because we want to ease the burden on our public system. We want to make sure that mums and dads who are waiting long periods of time in emergency departments in the early hours have better and faster access to health professionals. We want to make sure that we continue our work in government to improve health outcomes.

We have some very good statistics in this country when contrasted with similar countries and that is something we can be very proud of. We have a lot of graduating doctors coming through the system. While some medical students have expressed concerns about when they will be trained and where they will be doing their internships, these people have not just popped out over the two-year mark of the Rudd government; they are people who went to university because of new places created when Tony Abbott was health minister and when we were in government. So we want to make sure that after the next federal election we fix the mistakes this government has made in health.

There has been a lot of waste of money in health. We cannot go beyond the spectacular failure that we are seeing with the GP superclinics. Thirty-seven GP superclinics were promised by this government before the last federal election. How many are now operational? Two and a half of the 37 superclinics are now operational. Then they said, ‘We are going to have another 25.’ They have the most deceptive information on their website about this—and we trawled this through the recent estimates hearings as well. If you go on the government website, you will see this great map of Australia with the GP superclinic locations—all 37 of them. They do not say in the print—they do not say anywhere—that only 2½ are operational. They are giving the impression that their GP superclinics are all out there and all up and running.

When you look at how these superclinics are going to work, they keep telling us: ‘No, no, no. We’re not into big bureaucracy.’ But you only have to look at one of the GP superclinics—and again we trawled this through the recent estimates hearings—to see the absolutely amazing bureaucracy that each of these superclinics is going to have to go through to be established as a GP superclinic. There are going to be steering committees, there are going to be advisory committees, there are going to be local reference groups and the bureaucracy will just go on and on and on. How are we actually going to get better outcomes for people? Whether it is for smoking or diabetes or anything else, one only has to look and ask oneself: how is this litany of bureaucracy actually going to deliver better health outcomes for this country? That is the real question.

How can it, with the Rudd government having thrust this country into enormous debt? We started with over $20 billion in the bank. This is a government which, instead of spending money on health, is wasting money on all sorts of things—pink batts, the BER, useless school facilities, overcharging. There is a whole litany of wastage of money. Look at the state of today’s economy and the billions of dollars in interest each year that we will have to pay just to pay off Labor’s debt. The budget deficit for this coming year is a massive $40.8 billion, the second biggest since World War II. The Rudd Labor government will need to borrow $700 million a week—that is, $100 million a day. That is, somebody said, the value of two jumbo jets a day to fund its reckless and wasteful spending. What is this going to do? It is going to put upward pressure on interest rates and on the cost of living for Australian families.

Do you know who is going to end up paying for all this reckless spending? I notice that in the public gallery today there is a group of young people. I say to them: your generation is going to pay the debt of this government. You will be paying this debt off for years and years. So, when you are doing that, think back to Mr Rudd and today. This is always the legacy of a Labor government. It is always red ink and it is always a lot of spending. It will make it a lot harder to invest in health and the sorts of programs—like tobacco, which we are talking about today—when we see a Labor government that thrusts this country into debt. As I said, this will be the burden that future generations will carry.

We want to invest further in health at the same time as managing the Australian economy responsibly. We do not oppose these bills. There is a lot more that needs to be done in this area and in health generally. There needs to be a massive redirection of investment in health, and the coalition is the only party at this election that will stand to serve the Australian people in getting better health outcomes for everybody in Australia.