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Thursday, 10 November 2011
Page: 8902

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (18:17): I am pleased to be able to participate in the debate on this legislation. Before I do so I acknowledge that I have been a reformed smoker for some 27 months, 10 days, four hours and about 34 seconds, I suspect—and counting. Those who have been around here for some time will know that in between my time in the other place and my time here I was a participant on behalf of the industry, which is no secret to anyone.

I just want to say a few words. The first is that this is still a legal activity. The companies producing the cigarettes are doing so legally. Those who are selling the cigarettes are doing so legally. Therefore, it was with some concern that during this debate I heard from some on the other side an almost arrogant dismissal of the concerns of small business. Small businesses are concerned about loss of business and the flow-on effects of a reduction in smoking. To arrogantly dismiss those concerns is, I think, very unfortunate. I think they should be listened to, respected and acknowledged. Their issue is also our issue, because it is indeed we who have put them into this position.

I would like to think that this bill will work. I remain unconvinced and I remember vividly when I was in the other place meeting with Customs, the Australian Federal Police and others to address what was a very serious chop-chop issue in Ballarat. What a lot of small business people are concerned about is that they will lose business as a result of this but there will be other so-called small business people operating out of homes and the backs of cars and at markets who have not been paying rates and taxes as part of their businesses, and we will see a shift from legitimate taxpayers across to illegitimate non-taxpayers. That is why I think arrogantly dismissing the concerns of small businesses in relation to this matter is wrong—wrong, wrong, wrong.

Chop-chop undoubtedly is going to become an even bigger issue than it is at the moment. It is a serious issue because it is cheap. There are price controls and points in smoking, as there are with any other purchase. You will probably see more cigarettes smoked with greater prevalence of chop-chop, not fewer. With chop-chop you will probably see some of the outcomes of the reduced use of filters, for example. It will not always be so, but those who know something about it will know that filters are not necessarily used with chop-chop. So I want to make sure that we are not just transferring a problem from the main street to the back alley. If we have done that and that is the outcome then we have let down a generation of small business people, and that, quite frankly, is not fair.

While I remain unconvinced that this is going to work, I will be supporting it. But there is a bigger issue involved, and that is at what stage personal responsibilities finish and government responsibilities start. At what stage do parental responsibilities start and finish and government interference and intervention start in a legitimate sense? This is a bit like the debate at the moment about takeaway advertising. At what stage do we as parents abrogate any responsibility for our children to the state? It is a bit like what is happening in schools, where our teachers are getting enormous pressure placed on them to be parents. These children are delivered from our loins, not those of the teachers who have responsibility for them at school. So what has happened to parental responsibility in relation to issues such as takeaway? What is it that drives people to say the state must step in at every point in the chain to impose itself on the community? Why do parents continue to abrogate their responsibility for their children in relation to these matters? Children do not hop in motor cars and drive down to takeaway outlets; they are in the main driven down there by parents who have the choice as to whether they go and buy some vegetables and some meat and some fish—whatever it might be—at a supermarket or take those children through the driveway at a takeaway shop.

We can sit back here as legislators and throw our hands up and just say at every stage, 'We will support the intervention of the state.' I am simply not prepared to accept that. The challenge for this chamber and for the other place and for the state legislators is to ensure that we do not become the most overgoverned country in this world, and I suspect that is where we are at. We are so darn lucky in this country that I think we have forgotten to take personal and collective responsibility for our own good and we have abrogated it to a group of faceless people who might be there to do the right thing, but are they necessarily delivering the right outcomes? I need a lot of convincing. If we keep on ceding responsibility to government, which is by design a faceless person, then we deserve the outcome we get, quite frankly.

Some six or seven years ago I prepared a paper in relation to red tape in this country. This debate has prompted me and will drive me to update that. When you look at the level of state interference, be it at a local, state government or Commonwealth level, it is frightening. I have heard some remarkable discussions in this chamber over the last 24 hours about trademarks and trademark protection. If we as a nation are prepared to undermine the sanctity of trademarks in this country then we deserve to die by the sword that will be delivered to us. We must protect the integrity of the trademark, and that is why we will be opposing that particular bill.

But I want to say this before I finish up. I have seen the outcome of cancer in its most insidious state. Senator Di Natale talked about his experiences as a doctor. I fully accept that. I lost three of my closest friends in about 18 months from various forms of cancer; none of them reached the age of 55 and I still desperately miss all of them. But we have to separate out those issues from the bigger issues. We have to make sure that we are not doing things because we think it will make us better or we think that it might work. We must be making these long-term decisions, these government intervention decisions, on the back of facts. There is no doubt that smoking is bad for you. There is no doubt that smoking will kill you. There is some doubt about whether this measure is going to address that issue. If in 10 years time we look back and all we have achieved out of this is an increase in the illicit tobacco trade then we have not just let ourselves down; we have let down those people we are ostensibly here to protect as a result of this legislation. It would give me no joy, I can assure you, Mr Acting Deputy President, if that were the outcome, but I think there is a very serious risk that it will be.

This is a campaign that has been driven by those who I accept have a legitimate health issue and concern, but it is also being driven by an industry of people who want to see the state interfere in every single aspect of our lives. I am not suggesting for a minute that any one person here who has spoken is solely part of that latter group. I certainly would not accuse Dr Di Natale of that. But what I am saying is that there is a group out there that just see this as part of a long-term strategy in relation to increased interference. And we know what is going to be next: it will be the alcohol industry; and then they will just be picked off slowly, slowly, slowly. I think it was Senator Edwards who said it is the thin end of the wedge.

Let us support this bill, let us see if it works, but let us not make this the test case for what we are going to do in the future. Feeling good about doing something is not the reason we are here. We are here to legislate for legitimate outcomes, not faint hopes. If we allow ourselves to slip into the latter then we will allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion of 'feeling good' being the appropriate outcome. And it must never be the appropriate outcome; good governance has got to be the outcome; what is in the long-term interests of this country has got to be the long-term outcome. But what is not in the best long-term interests of this country is for the state to determine our every single movement, our every single activity. I have said before that there is a very substantial risk that we will become totally over-governed in this country.

I hope that this measure works. The jury is very much out. But I will finish where I started. Do not blame the small business community for their concerns about this legislation. Do not blame them for expressing concern, as I said earlier, that we will see the tobacco industry going from a legitimate business to an illegitimate business. Do not accuse the tobacco companies of being the purveyors of evil. They are operating because we allow them to operate—no more and no less. They are a legitimate business in this country, fully sanctioned by this chamber, by this government and by past governments. If someone wants to do something about that, okay, put your hands up and let us do it. But do not, in these debates, separate these people out and put them into the evil corner without acknowledging that they are there because we allow them to be there. They are legitimate because we make them legitimate. Those small businesses selling this product are there because we make them legitimate. I do not support the trade marks bill. We do not support the trade marks bill. I will support the first bill in the hope that something constructive comes out of it. But I think the jury is very, very much out in relation to that.