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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 9013

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:33): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum.

Leave granted.

Senator BOB BROWN: i seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

In introducing this bill, the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcasting and Telecommunications Amendment) Bill 2011, I note that this will be the third time that I have introduced a private senators' bill on this matter of critical importance to the Australian community.

In March this year the Senate debated Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcasting Amendment) Bill 2010, which was opposed by both the government and the Coalition. I had previously introduced the bill in 2008, which was also voted down by the Labor and Coalition senators, when the debate occurred in June 2009. I said at the time of those surprising and disappointing votes, I would continue to advocate legislative action in this area.

The bill I am introducing today reflects the broad recommendations of the paper on regulatory approaches to protect children from junk food advertising, released in May by the Obesity Policy Coalition. This highly credentialed group includes the Cancer Council Victoria, Diabetes Australia - Victoria, VicHealth and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Obesity Prevention at Deakin University. Their work is backed by the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (including Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia and the National Heart Foundation), the Australian Medical Association, and the Coalition on Food Advertising to Children.

As the Obesity Policy Coalition state in making their recommendations for a regulatory approach to protecting children from junk food advertising, "The aim of the legislation should be to minimise children's exposure to unhealthy food product and brand advertising to the greatest extent possible, as well as restrict unhealthy food product and brand advertising that specifically targets children."

This bill extends the restrictions placed on junk food advertisers beyond children's free-to-air television to include subscription television, the internet and mobile phone advertising to reflect the rapid change in telecommunications tech­nologies and usage by children in recent years. For example, a study conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in 2007 found that 33% of children aged 8-11 years watched subscription television. The bill also prohibits the promotion of unhealthy food to children via web pages and websites that are likely to appeal to children and via commercial electronic messages, for example email or SMS.

The bill also adopts the recommendations of the Obesity Policy Coalition on restricted viewing times. Weekdays from 6-9am and 4-9 pm, and weekends and public holidays from 6am-12pm and 4-9pm are identified as the key times when a significant number of children or a proportion of children are watching television. These restricted times incorporate G classification periods when material suitable for children is broadcast.

The need to address the growing crisis of childhood obesity has been well established. I will simply set out a few of the most compelling statistics to highlight the case.

Childhood obesity in the 5 - 15 years age group has almost doubled for boys and girls in the last 20 years. Comparing prevalence of obesity for boys and girls in 1985 and 2007, the increase is 11 percent to nearly 24 percent, and 12.2 percent to 21.5 percent respectively. The health impacts and costs of this rising tide of obesity include shorter life expectancy, increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, orthopaedic complica­tions, asthma and high blood pressure. Obese children are 25 - 50 percent more likely to become obese adults, thereby increasing their risk of cancer as well as other psycho-social problems. In addition to the burden of ill health for individuals, the economic and social costs of childhood obesity into the future will be sub­stantial and borne by all Australians. In a report commissioned by Diabetes Australia in 2008, Access Economics estimated that the costs of obesity were $58.2 billion when the indirect cost of loss of productivity and well-being are in­cluded. Access Economics estimated the costs of obesity to the health system to be $2 billion in 2008. This is a pressure on our health services which is preventable and there is no excuse for not taking the steps necessary to avoid this health crisis.

Restricting the advertising of unhealthy food to children is a preventative step that has long been supported by public health advocates and health professionals. One of the key recommendations of the National Preventative Health Taskforce to tackle obesity was to "reduce the exposure of children and others to marketing, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of energy-dense nutrient-poor foods and beverages."

There is overwhelming public support for this measure. The findings of the recent study released by the Obesity Policy Coalition were consistent with previous research. This study, Obesity Prevention Policy Proposals: Public Acceptability 2008 to 2010 surveyed a random sample of 1521 adults who were the main grocery buyer, residing in private households in metropolitan and regional areas across all Australian states and territories in 2010 by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at Cancer Council Victoria.

As I have said previously, and will say again, the World Health Organization has recognised that food marketing to children, particularly television advertising, is an important area for action to prevent obesity and has called upon governments to implement policies and strategies that reduce the impact of foods high in fat, sugar and salt and promote the responsible marketing of foods and beverages.

Critics of this approach have argued that the advertising of unhealthy food to children is a cultural and community issue; that it is a matter of parental accountability and responsibility. Governments of both persuasions have shirked their responsibility by accepting the advertising and food industries' promise of self-regulation and voluntary codes of practice. Let me quote here from the Obesity Policy Coalition summa­tion of this approach: "These codes are effective in creating the appearance of responsible conduct and in achieving advertisers' aim in warding off intervention. However these codes fail to impose meaningful limits on the content of food advertising to children, or the level of children's exposure to this advertising." According to the Obesity Policy Coalition, even the Australian Food and Grocery Council's (AFGC) own report in January 2011 found that one in five food advertisements in children's programs were for high fat, sugar and salt products. Simply, voluntary self-regulation by industry is not working. It is time for a legislative intervention.

No single intervention will combat the problem of childhood obesity. This issue requires a comprehensive approach, and government action is one essential component. In this regard, Norway, Quebec, and the United Kingdom have all banned exposing children to unhealthy food advertising to some degree. Adopting this legislation to restrict junk food advertising to children will provide an effective measure in the tool kit of the National Preventative Health Agency in its role of tackling the biggest public health issues facing our nation today.

There is bipartisan support in this parliament for tackling childhood obesity. This bill provides the opportunity to capitalise on this co-operative intention and demonstrate to Australian parents and children that we are committed to ending childhood obesity. Restricting the advertising of unhealthy food to children is one crucial step in the right direction.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Senator BOB BROWN: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.