Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 1041

Senator MOORE (9:33 AM) —So many in this chamber, in our parliament and in our community agree with the focus of the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcasting Amendment) Bill 2010. This is a major issue for our community. However, at the beginning of this speech I have to say to Senator Brown and the people who are supporting this bill that, though we have great sympathy with their desire to make change in our community, at this stage we do not accept the need for the regulation which is spelled out in the bill.

I do note that the bill before us today is not the same bill that the Standing Committee on Community Affairs considered in 2008. There have been changes, and I think they certainly reflect some of the discussion that happened in the Community Affairs consideration at that time. That shows the way the debate must continue. The way we view these things, the way we respond, will evolve as more people come into the discussion and as more evidence is provided. As the National Preventative Health Strategy called on all people and government to do, we must have a key comprehensive strategy on the important issue of obesity in our community.

The strategy stated seven key objectives, the first of which is that there must be shared responsibility. We must develop effective strategic partnerships across the community to ensure that, at all levels of government, industry, business, unions, the non-government sector, research institutions and anywhere else, anyone who wants to be involved in this process should be involved in sharing the response and sharing the knowledge.

The second strategy is that we should act on these issues early and throughout life. This is not a problem that is related to age, location, process or family—it is something that we must consider across all of life. We need to work with individuals, families and, most importantly, within the community.

That leads onto the next objective, which is to engage communities. We need to actively engage with people where they live, where they work and where they play—at home, in schools, in workplaces and in the community. We have to inform, enable—most particularly enable—and support people to make healthy choices: healthy choices for themselves that they can own, not things imposed from outside, not from listening to experts who in many ways in their informing processes lose the audience. Too many words, too many rules and too many directives sometimes lose the battle. I think we have heard a few times that there is a battle. We have to engage, we have to identify and then we need to work together.

The fourth objective is to influence markets and develop connected and coherent policies—for example, through measures such as taxation and responsive regulation. This is one of the key recommendations, because that adjective ‘coherent’ is one that we need to take note of. Very often, in our need to make change, in our responses on something which we feel is important and we value, there is a tendency to leap forward quickly, to take an action that we might think will be positive, we might think will add to change, but we end up not having a coherent set of policies and, most importantly, forgetting to bring people along with us.

You cannot have a coherent policy, one that crosses all levels of government, without engaging with people and making sure that everybody is with you, understands the issue fully, and is prepared to listen and to conciliate and negotiate. Sometimes, in our need to be seen to be doing something, we forget that in making real difference, as I said on another of the objectives, we need to work effectively together.

The next objective is to reduce inequity through targeting disadvantage. We have heard that many times. Government policy has made an attempt to identify areas where there is particular disadvantage and clearly target those people and areas to ensure that the response is effective and not one size fits all. We understand that in working to develop a policy—in any area, but I think most particularly those who engage with families and communities on an issue such as obesity—we need to be sensitive and to understand that there are different needs and issues in different parts of our community. As I said, the directive ‘this will be the response and it will apply across the board’ is sometimes not the most effective response. The National Preventative Health Strategy did pick that up.

When we were looking at the Preventative Health Strategy, we also—as this government does across all elements of social policy—looked at the particular needs of Indigenous Australians. That must be brought into any discussion or debate that we have.

The last recommendation of the strategy, which is also part of the government’s response, is to look at our current primary healthcare process and refocus it to a clear understanding of prevention. We have heard the figures. There is no argument about the fact that if we can identify and prevent the cause of illness, if we can ensure that people understand that and put strategies in place cooperatively to address those major changes, we will have a healthier community across the board, which will inevitably lead to cost savings in the medical system. There have been many studies on that across the globe. The real push, apart from our need to respond to our citizenry in making sure that there is effective health care, is to look at the health budget. We need to refocus the health budget to ensure that prevention, understanding and education have a high profile and we are not completely reliant on extraordinarily expensive emergency care.

Developing the National Preventative Health Strategy took a number of years. In 2008, when the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs had its inquiry into the previous bill on this issue, the task force was still working towards bringing forward its final report. The report was produced, the government made an initial response and we continue to respond to those very important principles as we develop health policy and reform health across the country. That means engaging with industry, responding cooperatively and taking a whole-of-life approach to health issues. Most important, and I think a key aspect of the discussion we are having this morning, is working within community to engage within community. As I said earlier, that is not to impose from outside, to rush in with one element of a response, but rather to work cooperatively so that we have—I requote the strategy—a cohesive response that makes people feel as though they are involved, they own the policy and they have a role in it.

I congratulate the Australian Greens for putting this issue clearly on the agenda. They have led over many years in this area of advertising reform and linking it to process. I do not accept that the way to move this forward is to have a simple advertising ban. We had debate in the community and among our committee about how it should work with other areas, and I think that is important. But what we have in the bill this morning is leading with a ban, leading with a direction, leading with legislation, rather than working with industry and community to bring forward processes from those areas. I think that should be the response to the seven principles of the strategy that I outlined.

No-one could doubt that if this piece of legislation went through there would be a change. There would be no advertising of these products between early morning and late night. That is an element of change that we have had between 2008 and now. The bill that went before the community affairs committee in 2008 did not have such a wide range. This one is a wider response. It says there should not be any advertising, of any kind, of what the bill refers to as junk food—and there was quite a degree of debate among the community affairs committee as to how you define the term ‘junk’—on the TV networks between those hours. I believe—and certainly I will be arguing it today—that response is too wide-ranging. It does not bring industry along with it. It says, ‘This is what we’re going to do and this is how it’s going to work.’ While there should always be a wide range of options on the table, in our community now, as a result of the work that has been done on the national health strategy, we have the Preventative Health Agency, which has been given the authority by this parliament to monitor the effectiveness of regulations and initiatives. It will continue to engage with community and bring together the expertise, knowledge and commitment of people in the Australian community and internationally to analyse, work effectively with and disseminate the latest evidence. That will lead to a coherent and cohesive connected policy framework.

We know that efforts have already been made across a range of communities and industries to ensure that the issues of obesity, protection of our community and protection of our health are moved forward. It is important to note that that has occurred. Sometimes, I think, people who are caught up in the need to make change, people who are committed to a principle, do not always acknowledge work that has been done, because that work may not have reached the point that those people want to get to.

Through our community affairs inquiry and through ongoing discussion with industry, we know that there have been a range of changes in the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, in industry responsiveness in the areas of healthy food and lifestyle and in ensuring that there is an understanding by the advertising industry and by the communications networks of the best ways to respond both to the needs of the market and to the needs of the wider community and health base.

An example is the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative, a voluntary code developed by the Australian food and beverage industry. The code requires that advertisements targeted at children help promote healthy dietary choices and lifestyles. Linked with that healthy choice in lifestyle component of the initiative is a truth in advertising process. This prohibits advertisements shown to any members of the community—it is not limited to children—from portraying something which is wrong, which is misleading or which can lead to false expectations. When you put those things together, you see the cooperative way that the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the Australian Beverages Council and the various bodies involved in communications, TV and advertising are approaching this issue. They are not running away from this issue; they are not moving away from the argument; they are not excluding themselves from a commitment—one we all know we need—to the health of our communities. People have chosen to be involved.

There was certainly some discussion during the hearings of the community affairs committee about the level of trust in industry self-regulation. In some ways I share in that concern. But I always believe we should allow people the opportunity to be engaged and then, should their participation, their cooperation and their actions not meet our requirements, we can pursue options to move in different directions. While the cooperative arrangement is being pursued, however, and while the industry is voluntarily changing its practice and while it is showing a willingness to listen and to be involved, I think we should be encouraging that. As the strategy pointed out, we should attempt to make sure that industry is involved in the process rather than seeing it as the enemy or taking a punitive approach to it. The needs of the industry should be recognised as should its achievements in addressing this issue. The community affairs committee hearings had a number of really positive discussions. That is how we like to work in the community affairs committee—we like to have open discussions so people can share their views and be involved in working towards a genuine outcome.

At some stage—it is in Hansard—I did say that my own childhood was actually enhanced by some of the advertisements for products that were important to me at the time. I hope there is no commercial problem here, but I did refer to Cherry Ripe advertisements and the beautiful images that were in them. As part of that discussion, I talked about the fact that there was, at that time, no doubt in my family and in the families I knew that those sorts of advertisements were about luxury foods. Those products referred to in this bill as ‘junk food’—unnecessarily in my view—were products that were openly available in the community. While they were openly available, people knew and understood what those products were. The key responsibility, when looking at those sorts of advertisements and sharing them in family and school communities, was knowing what was appropriate at what time.

One of the things we talked about was the role of parental responsibility and the role of effective community education. Effective education is needed to ensure that the people watching the advertisements understand that the kinds of foods being promoted, the ones which are the target of this bill, are not your staple family meals. We are not saying that everybody should eat the foods referred to in this bill—they are not your standard meal. One of the key aspects of the government response to the whole health strategy is community education. People need to understand the necessity for a good basic diet and that the kinds of things we are talking about now are add-ons—they are not core diet, but they are part of life.

The way you work effectively in, live in and survive in the community is to know boundaries. Very often people forget that there must be personal accountability and personal responsibility. Advertising has a role and industry has a role, but the final decision must be with individuals, families and society. I believe that part of the preventative health strategy in our community must look at appropriate education—support for people so that they understand health, they understand diet and they understand the importance of advertising. The government needs to work effectively in that space.

So responding to people in their own lives and their own schools, as we have already done with the various programs aimed at encouraging increased physical activity, to enable them to work out for themselves what is best is a strategy that should be part of our response. We should take that approach rather than immediately moving to a blanket advertising ban. I am not saying that there is no role in this debate for discussion of the regulation of advertising. What I do say is that we need to look at all the options and engage with all the people who have a definite interest in this area. No-one can just decide to move away from this debate—it is the responsibility of all of us. But if we are going to say that our key response is to ban advertising on what is defined as junk food—and I am not quite sure whether that definition is particularly clear—and that everything else will fall in around that, we are not giving the appropriate message, that each of us has a responsibility, to the community and to every individual. We work within our community to achieve a result.

The debate on this issue will continue. The way it should occur is through the Australian Preventative Health Agency, which is calling upon all of us to be involved and work with them so that we have a response that engages, informs and results in an effective policy that we share and own.