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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
09/08/2011
Funding of political parties and election campaigns

JONES, Ms Anne, OAM, Chief Executive Officer, Action on Smoking and Health Australia Pty Ltd

CHAIR: Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence on oath, I should advise you that these hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and therefore have the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The committee has received a submission from the Action on Smoking and Health group, and I ask at this stage if you wish to make an opening statement.

Ms Jones : Yes, thank you very much—just a brief opening statement. We are very pleased to present to this inquiry. We are aware that there have been several inquiries and discussion papers, and for a number of years now we have been putting in submissions, mainly about our chief concern, which is tobacco industry interference in health policies and the political donations that they have made over many years for the purpose, really, of obtaining influence and opening doors. The World Health Organisation has done a report reviewing a large body of evidence demonstrating that the tobacco industry does use a wide range of tactics to interfere in tobacco control, including direct and indirect donations, and I would like to table that report, because I do not intend, unless questioned, to—

CHAIR: We have had that tabled for us.

Ms Jones : Okay, good. I also want to briefly mention the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control obligations. Australia is a signatory to that treaty, along with 170 other countries, and there are a number of legal obligations in that treaty, including in article 5.3, which says that parties shall act to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests. I think that because of those obligations the Department of Health and Ageing and the Australian Taxation Office do make disclosures about whenever they meet with the tobacco industry and put those online with the topics of discussion. So that is something we certainly welcome.

You would have heard from some of my colleagues yesterday that the global tobacco industry, which operates here in Australia, is like no other industry in that its products cause death and disease and are still the leading cause of premature death and disease in Australia, with 15,000 deaths a year. They are not held in high esteem. The reputation index recently surveyed 86,000 people, including 5,000 in Australia, and I think that is good evidence of the level of distrust that people hold for the tobacco industry. A recent opinion poll in 2010 in Australia found that 69 per cent of people were opposed to tobacco donations, and that in turn was contributing to a lot of public distrust.

It is a very harmful industry, which is why we are concerned about tobacco industry donations, and we are particularly concerned about third parties, because we know that industries can hide behind third parties and front groups. That, combined with the fact that secret donations of up to $11,500 can be made to political parties, does not make it any easier for us to identify the full extent of tobacco industry donations. From a voter's perspective, it is also very hard to know the full extent of our local member's source of funding, as you would appreciate. Even with my local member there have been all sorts of accusations about breaches of various laws, and I think that has not really been made fully transparent.

Senator RHIANNON: Who is your local member?

Ms Jones : Mr Abbott. I think that it would be a lot easier for members of parliament, as well as for voters, if we had greater transparency about sources of donations and the sort of influence. It is quite clear that I represent a health group. We have a single purpose in trying to reduce tobacco deaths and disease. We are not experts in electoral reform but, because of our concern about third parties, we have made a series of recommendations—only for your consideration. Based on the advice of other experts, we have done research to try to understand how you would have a more transparent and accountable system. We have briefly looked at reforms in other countries like Canada, the UK and so on and can see that they have introduced reforms there, including caps on donations and expenditure. So we wanted to bring those to your attention and to say that, although our main concern is about tobacco industry donations and influence, we believe that there is a major concern as well about third parties and how the tobacco industry can use those to try to influence politicians. We have many, many examples in tobacco control legislation. In fact, a lot of our legislation, all the way through at state and federal level, really is full of exemptions that have given the tobacco industry more time, more openings and more opportunities. So it concerns us that this is a very powerful and influential industry, and we would at the very least appreciate seeing a lot more transparency in our democratic system about who funds and how. I think I will leave it at that for the moment.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Firstly, you say you are a health-funding organisation, but you are really an anti-tobacco organisation—is that right?

Ms Jones : We are about saving lives from tobacco diseases.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Do you do anything else but be anti tobacco? What else do you do?

Ms Jones : No, we are just focused on health promotion and tobacco—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So you are just a single-issue—

Ms Jones : A single-issue organisation.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Do you get public funding?

Ms Jones : No, we are funded by the Cancer Council Australia and the Heart Foundation and a small number of donations of, on average, less than $100.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: But the Cancer Council and the Heart Foundation are both publicly funded, right?

Ms Jones : No, they are charities who raise their own funds.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Yes, but they get public funding.

Ms Jones : You mean government funding?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Yes.

Ms Jones : Very little government funding. Most of their funding is in fact from donations from—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: But they do get public funding, and you get money from them. Do you get private donations?

Ms Jones : Yes, we get private donations, but probably less than $2,000—in fact, maybe even less than $1,000—a year.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: A thousand dollars is the total amount?

Ms Jones : Yes.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So you are getting only a small amount.

Ms Jones : A small amount. Mostly they are people whose family members have died from smoking, and they give us small amounts—for instance, $20 comes out of their pay once a month or something like that.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So, if they had views on things, you would be influenced by that donation.

Ms Jones : No, we are influenced by our sponsors, who are the Cancer Council Australia and the Heart Foundation, who set our organisation up to reduce smoking rates and to reduce the deaths caused by tobacco.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Do you want to make smoking illegal?

Ms Jones : No, we do not want to make smoking illegal?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Why not?

Ms Jones : Because we have three million smokers in Australia who would suffer enormously if all of a sudden smoking were made illegal. But we are very supportive of restrictions and legislation that will drive down smoking rates and help existing smokers to quit. It is possible that, if we reach the national goal that the government has set of smoking rates being under 10 per cent of the population by 2018, you may start to look at further and further restrictions till you have smoking down to one or two per cent.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Do you believe that illicit drugs should be made legal?

Ms Jones : I have no intention of commenting on illicit drugs. That is not my field of expertise.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I was asking your belief. Do you think they should be made legal?

Ms Jones : Let me say one thing about illicit drugs: tobacco kills more people than illicit drugs.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I did not ask you that. Do you believe illicit drugs should be made legal.

Ms Jones : No, I do not.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Thank you. With your concern about smoking, do you think that the campaigns that have been run have been successful?

Ms Jones : We have had a very up and down history of the success of campaigns. I have been at ASH since 1994, and there were times when smoking rates went up, times when smoking rates went down and times when they plateaued. At the moment, smoking rates are down to 16 per cent. You might say, 'How good is that?' and 'We've done very well.' We are doing quite well, but we still have 15,000 deaths a year, they are still a leading cause of death and disease and I think there is a lot more to be done, frankly.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Do you have access to the methodology used to determine who dies from what?

Ms Jones : You mean the data that is produced by the—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Yes. I was given a copy of it at one stage, but it is at least 12 years old. I was wondering if I could get an updated copy of the methodology that is used by, presumably, you and others that shows how you connect the death to the smoking.

Ms Jones : They are very-large-scale epidemiological studies.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Yes, they are quite thick. Could we get a copy of that?

Ms Jones : Of course. I will take that on notice.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: That would be lovely. Thank you. Could we also get it broken up by ages? I tried to get it from the Library, but it is very difficult material to get.

Ms Jones : The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the government produce a lot of very solid data.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I frequently look at the Institute of Health and Welfare. I asked the Library to get me a paper that showed this and they literally said they could not get all the data that I wanted, so perhaps this might help. Thank you.

Senator RHIANNON: You spoke about third parties and how one of your concerns is that the tobacco industry could use third parties to hide behind. I wonder if you have any examples and can expand on how you think we should be managing third parties. What are your recommendations? Would they broadly be that you think third parties should come under a set of rules similar to what political parties come under?

Ms Jones : I can give you two recent examples of third parties this year. I think they have spent a total of up to $40 million on mass media campaigns. That is the Alliance of—the Australian Retailers Association. They just ran a campaign opposing plain packaging.

Senator RYAN: Are you sure you do not mean the Alliance of Australian Retailers? The ARA is a different group.

Ms Jones : Yes. They have very similar names.

Senator RYAN: Sorry. I know the ARA, and I do not think they were involved in the campaign. It was the Alliance of Australian Retailers.

Ms Jones : The Alliance of Australian Retailers, funded by the three major tobacco companies.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: And that was pretty well known.

Ms Jones : Well, not initially; it was exposed. But they spent up to $20 million opposing plain packaging. That was followed by—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Should they be allowed to do that?

Ms Jones : I am not opposed. If corporations come out and run those campaigns, I would be opposed if they were running them during an election campaign; I think that would be pretty unfair to whoever was in government, trying to be re-elected or whatever. It does concern us that they are running major campaigns—$20 million plus—opposing government policies. But they have a right to do that under the current system.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Do you think that right should be taken away?

Ms Jones : No, but I think it could be made a lot more accountable and transparent. It looked to everyone's observation that they were genuine businesspeople, and in fact it was funded by the three tobacco companies. How genuine was that?

CHAIR: This was a sneaky campaign by tobacco companies that was exposed by Lateline. That is the reality. If they were upfront they would have said so upfront. That says it all.

Senator RHIANNON: I think that is part of the question: why weren't they upfront? It is worth considering.

Ms Jones : I think they wanted to position it as all about hurting small business men and women and wanting to oppose it.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: But just because they oppose does not mean that small business men and women did not agree with that and that they are not being hurt.

Senator RHIANNON: But isn't the relevant issue here why they were not upfront?

Ms Jones : That is right. There were secret donations and a whole secret campaign until it was exposed. I suppose that is why Imperial Tobacco followed it up with an anti-nanny-state campaign, which they were upfront about and which they spent another $20 million on as well, which has only petered out in recent times. So that is $40 million just in a couple of months that a major industry group has spent to oppose a government policy.

I think the issue for us is that the tobacco industry is an extremely powerful and influential industry. It is not only giving millions of dollars in donations to political parties that will accept them; it is also setting up a lot of front groups. They fund, for example—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: How do you—

CHAIR: Hang on. Mrs Bishop, the witness is entitled to respect to give her evidence. She is doing it in a civil manner. You will have an opportunity to ask questions. Let her go.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Thanks for the commentary.

CHAIR: It is not commentary. As chair, I have a duty to allow free-flowing inquiry and witnesses not to be harassed and interjected upon unnecessarily. You had a good go. You will continue to get a good go. You get a long-term go. She gets a one-off go. She will be heard in silence.

Ms Jones : It is also a concern that the tobacco industry has funded the Institute of Public Affairs but often that is not publicly stated. It has been stated in the past. They have had tobacco chiefs on their board and so on in the past. We would like a bit of a clear statement at times when they are positioning themselves as social commentators: where does the funding come from? It is really very important for tobacco industry money and influence to be transparent at the very least.

Senator RHIANNON: In your submission you set out how the Australian government is party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which really sets out very clearly obligations on government to protect health policies from interference by the tobacco industry. I would assume that if the Liberal Nationals won the next government they would also still be a party to that framework. Is that how it would work?

Ms Jones : Yes. Australia ratified that treaty in 2005, so they are a party along with 170 countries. There are obligations, and that particular area about preventing tobacco industry interference in health policies is an obligation.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if that is an obligation, would you say that that obligation would also flow through how you work as a party as well as in government in terms of taking tobacco donations? Would that put the Liberals and the Nationals in a contradictory situation?

Ms Jones : I think so. We only have a voluntary agreement at the moment with some parties saying they will not accept political donations from tobacco companies, but that could be skewed by third parties that are accepting money and then giving money to political parties, so it would be hard to know how far that money is really going from the industry through to parties via third parties. But with that obligation under the FCTC political donations are particularly mentioned.

Senator RHIANNON: They are actually set out in that convention.

Ms Jones : In the article 5.3 guidelines, of which I have a copy here—

Senator RHIANNON: Could you table that? That would be relevant for this.

Ms Jones : Yes. They do specifically mention political donations and how political parties should be considering making those illegal from tobacco companies. So that is the treaty, which I would like to table, and at the end is the 5.3 guidelines.

CHAIR: I have a motion that that be received. Carried. I will get that copied. Continue.

Senator RHIANNON: To get back to the issue with the third parties: you have set out some clear examples there. One of the enormous challenges when you read about electoral funding reform has certainly been how one manages third parties. I understand that ASH supports some form of limits on third-party activities. Do you have any model that you think works reasonably well? Do you think it should just be broadly similar to how political parties work? I am interested in how you are coming at this.

Ms Jones : I do not believe you can have exemptions. I do not believe you can say, 'We should ban corporations from making donations but not ban unions.' I think it is all about having as fair and equitable a system as we possibly can. I know Canada has been mentioned as an example of a country that has brought in these sorts of caps not only on donations but also on expenditure. It is difficult to know exactly what is happening at the moment with a change of government there, but I notice that the Prime Minister did reaffirm his opposition to corporations and unions making donations—really it should be voters who make the donations. I think that is a very good example of a country that has moved ahead, and a couple of others have as well. In Australia, in comparison, we have had many inquiries and discussion papers but do not seem to be able to get past the complexity of what needs to be done.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you clarify your position on the tobacco donations? You have given the example of Canada. As we know, they have a ban on all corporate donations. Would ASH's position be that the favoured position would be to ban all donations from corporations and other organisations and, if that failed, then to have the ban on donations from the tobacco industry?

Ms Jones : Yes. I know there is a private member's bill in the federal parliament. I assume that, given it has been prepared by parliamentary counsel, it would have legal standing. It looks like it addresses our major concern of donations from tobacco companies and related third parties. So, yes, we support that. We would like to see the reforms go further, obviously, to greater transparency and frequency of disclosure. We do believe, because of our concerns about third parties and front groups, that money may be channelled through these other bodies unless there are more comprehensive reforms put in place.

Senator RHIANNON: You mentioned before how in some states political parties have imposed their own bans. Could you give a summary of what the status is around the country with regard to donations from the tobacco industry according to parties and states?

Ms Jones : Yes. As far as we understand, the ALP and the Greens have for some time voluntarily agreed to refuse to accept donations from tobacco companies. In terms of government legislation, only last year the New South Wales government introduced some partial reforms which included a ban on some donations. I understand there are still some issues there about weaknesses in that legislation, but nevertheless they drew a line in the sand over tobacco industry donations. The Premier of Western Australia has announced he intends to ban political donations from tobacco companies. I do not know of any others.

Where I feel there is much more agitation for action is within the community itself. According to the surveys, the reputation index and so on, there is a lot of distrust not only of the tobacco industry but of political donations in general. You only have to look back: there have been so many editorials in, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald over this issue, but they are in others as well. I think it is an indication of the level of community concern about political donations and how influential they are.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Senator RYAN: I traditionally do not take the number of editorials in the Fairfax press as a barometer of public opinion, but I would encourage my political opponents to do so. You single out one industry here with tobacco. The common language we heard yesterday as well is that the product used as instructed cannot be used safely. Are you saying that in the absence of there being complete bans on corporate donations this is the only industry you will single out? Yesterday we heard a rationale that anything that impacts the health system, whether it be property developers, food companies, pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies or alcohol, should be regulated in some way because their behaviour can have some sort of indirect impact on the cost of the health system—or, more accurately, utilisation of the health system. Are you saying this should just be tobacco or are you saying this should go further?

Ms Jones : I am saying that, because tobacco is the single leading cause of death and disease, we should do something about it. There has been a long history of misleading and deceptive conduct by this industry. There are even industry documents indicating that they have had very-high-level access to governments and political parties.

Senator RYAN: Are you proposing to ban that access?

Ms Jones : I am not proposing to ban that access, but what would be a very good move would be to have a much more transparent and open system about what the industry is doing and how much they are paying to gain access.

Senator RYAN: Can you be careful about language here? We had a long debate about this yesterday. I am happy for people to talk about meetings. I am happy for people to say that donations are made. But when language is used that talks about someone paying money and, effectively, getting access to me, I start to draw a line. That is not how I work in a personal sense, and I think a lot of politicians will say that. So can we be a bit more careful with the language? I know you talk about public perception. It is the constant throwing of mud that creates this public perception.

Ms Jones : There are industry documents showing that the tobacco industry has had very-high-level access.

Senator RYAN: That I agree with. I am just asking if we can not necessarily associate it with donations and saying it has always been bought?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Lots of people get access.

Senator RYAN: I meet with people I do not agree with all the time too. Sometimes you meet with people to disagree with them and to express that point.

Ms Jones : I think that, because of the huge effect on population health in Australia by the tobacco industry, this is why the Department of Health and Ageing and the ATO now publicly disclose when they meet with this industry. It is for two reasons: it is an extremely controversial industry whose products are still causing a lot of death and disease, and we have treaty obligations to be transparent and clear about any interaction with the tobacco industry.

Senator RYAN: On the point of the treaties: you are aware that, in law in Australia, the executive signing and ratifying a treaty does not create a domestic legal burden whatsoever and that Australian law is that treaties need to be enacted into legislation by parliament. So the constant throwing around of something that a minister or cabinet has signed up to, absent of any democratic consultation with elected Australian officials other than the Cabinet—and it could be a small number of that cabinet—does not create a domestic legal obligation at all.

Ms Jones : Are you saying that, though Australia has ratified the treaty, they are not obligated to do anything about it?

Senator RYAN: I am not going to feel under any obligation to vote for something because a minister has signed up to it. The decision to sign up and ratify is not to undertake. Unlike, say, the United States, where treaties are ratified by the US Senate, in Australia it is the executive prerogative but the trade-off is that they have no domestic legal meaning until they are enacted by parliament. It comes down to 'UN-itis', when different people throw down different treaties that different executives have signed up to over many years. Until they are enacted into Australian law, there is no obligation.

CHAIR: We will not worry about Tasmanian dams.

Senator RYAN: I know that case particularly well. That was actually about the power of the Commonwealth parliament to legislate to enact the provisions of a treaty. It was not about the power of the executive to enter it; it was about whether the parliament could bind Tasmania under its own law.

CHAIR: It was about the foreign affairs power and saving the Franklin dam.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: It was about the treaty making power in section 51.

CHAIR: I take your point.

Senator RYAN: It is about the power of the Commonwealth to legislate, not the executive's power to sign or ratify.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Exactly.

CHAIR: The foreign affairs power has been greatly expanded as a result of the signing of treaties, amongst other things—but we have better constitutional lawyers in the audience than us.

Ms Jones : We do have a national tobacco control strategy and we have a record of legislative reforms to reduce tobacco harm in Australia. In fact, Michael Wooldridge, in 2000 when he introduced an end to the exemptions for tobacco sponsorship of international sport, did leave one loophole, which was continuing to allow the sponsorship of political parties. At the time, the government decided there was no ethical reason left to continue allowing tobacco companies to sponsor sport.

Senator RYAN: I am not debating the Commonwealth's power to legislate. I am simply saying that I have no obligation to do so because someone signed up without consulting the parliament first.

Ms Jones : Sure. I am just mentioning that we also have national obligations in terms of strategic plans and commitments at other levels to try to reduce smoking rates. We have an international treaty and then we have national.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: The two are unrelated.

Senator RYAN: You mentioned the Institute of Public Affairs. I should say that I am a former research fellow there, although I was not financially remunerated. I think you said that, as well as being funded at various points by tobacco, they had 'tobacco chiefs on their board'. Nothing in your submission seems to indicate that you want to move into the space of regulating think tanks that are not directly involved in the political process. Are you proposing some form of regulation upon groups like that?

Ms Jones : No. That is an illustration of my point about third parties and our concern about third parties being used to promote tobacco industry points of view.

Senator RYAN: You have done it also with the Alliance of Australian Retailers, which became pretty clear pretty quickly—I do not recall there being a lot of time between that campaign starting at that Lateline episode.

CHAIR: It was a few months.

Senator RYAN: I do not think it was a few months at all. But you say about the IPA and about that campaign as if any concern that they express is to be disregarded by virtue of the source of the funding as if it is a vehicle only. I can tell you that, whether you agree that it is fair or not, there are a lot of small businesses that do not like the idea of plain packaging, because they think it is going to take them longer behind the counter. I am not saying that they necessarily paid for the ads, but at the same time I do not think you can dismiss the concerns by trying to peer into the soul of everyone: 'The campaign has been supported by group A; therefore, anything group B says is irrelevant purely because of the fruit of the poison tree the money came from.' It is the same with the Institute of Public Affairs. Are you saying that what they say is because they may have had money from tobacco companies?

Ms Jones : I am saying that it is transparency that is at the heart of this issue. When you have front groups that have been funded—

Senator RYAN: Are you calling the Institute of Public Affairs a front group?

Ms Jones : I am talking in general about groups that have been largely funded by the tobacco industry. The institute has probably been partially funded, not fully funded—I am not suggesting that—

Senator RYAN: It is 70 years old.

Ms Jones : because it has been very difficult getting any information out of them about their source of funding, but they have had tobacco company chiefs and former chiefs on their board, and I assume that they are interested in representing the tobacco industry.

Senator RYAN: Hang on. I can stand here today and argue against your views on tobacco regulation and against plain packaging if I so choose. As far as I know, I have not been party to a donation from tobacco companies, but let's say I had. Are you saying that somehow I am representing tobacco companies? Can I not just genuinely philosophically disagree with your world view and the role of regulation rather than have you assign a motive to me purely because of the source of some money?

Ms Jones : I am only talking about the transparency. When a group stands up and says, 'We are opposed to plain packaging,' it is very important for people to know that that group has received funding from the tobacco industry. Then let us be the judge.

Senator RYAN: So it is regardless of whether they are a political party or not?

Ms Jones : Let us be the judge.

Senator RYAN: So you are proposing we regulate groups like the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs, which are unassociated with political parties in any way and some of which are older than some of the political parties in this country, simply by virtue of them entering public debate even during a non-election period? You are proposing we regulate them and force them to disclose where all their money comes from and who their members are?

CHAIR: If I can come in on this: isn't it appropriate that if someone wants to enter a debate they declare an interest? It is along the same line as—

Senator RYAN: I raise a point of order. I am just trying to get to the point, because the submission does not talk about third parties in the context of the IPA. I want to know whether or not they are proposing that groups like that—

CHAIR: Okay. We have four minutes. Go.

Ms Jones : I am talking about third parties in general and saying these are a concern for us, because we cannot just stop at saying we are concerned about the tobacco industry donations to political parties, which have come to millions of dollars over the past decade or so. We know that there are third parties that have been set up that the tobacco industry has funded, but that has been largely secret. I am talking about the whole issue of transparency and accountability. When it comes to donations, what we have said we support is donations that are capped, including from third parties, and much greater transparency about where money is coming from and who is getting it. I do not see that there is a problem with that.

Senator RYAN: I am just trying to get this point. Under all the proposals we have seen thus far, 'third parties' does not include the classic think tanks that are decades old. What I want to know is if you are proposing that we bring those people into this regulatory space.

Ms Jones : I am not proposing that.

Senator RYAN: Thank you.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: You have said smoking is now down to 16 per cent of the population. What was it in the 1970s?

Ms Jones : It was closer to 50 per cent.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So you could say that the campaigns that have been waged have been highly successful.

Ms Jones : Actually, it was closer to 50 per cent post war. By the seventies it was probably about 30 per cent. Yes, it has been successful, but would you say 15,000 deaths a year is low enough?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I am going to use that figure of 15,000. I used it yesterday, so I will use it again today. I am concerned with deaths that are preventable at any rate. You say it is the largest cause. It is not. We kill 18,000 people a year in hospitals through maladministration and negligence. We maim a further 12,000 people.

CHAIR: Is that proven maladministration and negligence? I am not aware of that.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I am just saying—

CHAIR: I am not aware of proven maladministration and negligence. I am just saying this is where you have to be careful throwing these figures and assertions around; that is all. I am not saying there are not 18,000 who die in our hospitals.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: They are avoidable deaths.

CHAIR: What is the definition of 'avoidable'?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: They are people who would have lived if there had not been negligence.

Senator RHIANNON: That is an extraordinary statement.

CHAIR: It is also false.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: It is not. So I am concerned about people who die unnecessarily.

Ms Jones : There are a lot of causes of death, and I think that—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I do not want to argue the point. There are just more of them dying that way than the other way. So I am interested in anything that is preventable. You make this great point about morality and whether it is acceptable to take money from tobacco companies. Is it moral for people who work in the tobacco industry to take their wages from that industry?

Ms Jones : I would question the ethics of people who work for the tobacco industry—how can they work for an industry whose products kill people—but that is not why I am here today. I am here to talk about—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So they are immoral.

CHAIR: I do not know where this goes, quite frankly.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I have one more question. They are immoral to work in the industry.

Ms Jones : I am not going to say—

CHAIR: Why would anyone be a politician? Some would say they are immoral too!

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: One last question: do you think it is immoral for governments to take millions of dollars from the tobacco industry by way of taxation?

Ms Jones : The taxing of tobacco is a very blunt public health tool. It is used to reduce consumption. The fact that we have had a recent tax rise has been credited with encouraging an extra 100,000 smokers to quit smoking in Australia. So I think governments taking money from tobacco is a historical accident. If they tried to introduce tobacco today, it would not be approved. It would not pass all of our safety regulations. But we have tobacco. I think the government could tax it out of existence if it wanted to. We would obviously be very supportive of further increases in the tobacco tax. At the moment, it is only about 69 to 70 per cent of the retail price.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: So it is moral for governments to take it but immoral for anybody else.

Ms Jones : I am not saying it is immoral for anybody else. I am saying this is an industry—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: You just said it was immoral to take wages.

Ms Jones : You put those words in my mouth. I did not say that. I said I would not want to be somebody working for the tobacco industry. I think the government is taking tax because they are in a position where they have had to tax it.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: They need the money.

Ms Jones : They can keep putting the price up and tax it out of existence. That is what I would do if I were them.

CHAIR: Is it your view that tobacco companies are not donating to political parties for the love of those political parties but in an attempt to influence their policies?

Ms Jones : I think donations are all about opening doors, influence and so on. Obviously I am not privy to what goes on in party rooms but I think that donations are really all about trying to look good—'I am giving you money so would you meet with me?'

CHAIR: Can I suggest that the debate has been about party rooms and members of parliament. It should also include party officials of political parties, both state and national—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: And NGOs and everybody else that takes the donations.

CHAIR: and a whole range of other things. That goes across the board. My final question to you relates to some questions that Senator Ryan was asking you when we were talking about think tanks. Indeed, in your evidence you also talked about the political campaign that was subsequently exposed as being funded by the tobacco industry. Is it your view that if the think tanks and others want to contribute to the debate then they should disclose donations and the sources of donations because of the perception of a conflict of interest? We require journalists to declare an interest when they do a story—

Senator RYAN: Not by law.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: No we don't.

CHAIR: I understand that. I am not arguing about the law. I am arguing about the principle.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Really?

CHAIR: There are two ways of doing things: you can legislate or you can have a code. My understanding is that there is a code where journalists declare when writing a particular story any interest that they might have. I am asking is that another way of overcoming the need to legislate so that, if the Institute of Public Affairs wants to comment on tobacco advertising, they are duty bound, given that they do not publicly disclose their funds, to declare whether they have been funded?

Ms Jones : I completely agree that we do need transparency in disclosure. If you set yourself up as a public commentator and you are opposing something vehemently then it is important for people to know whether you are funded by the industry that will benefit. That is really what the Institute of Public Affairs has been doing for some time—opposing plain packaging without declaring their sources of funding.

CHAIR: I thank you for your attendance today. You will get a transcript of evidence in due course. Feel free to make any corrections of fact that you wish—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Chair, I think the other thing we have to say is that I really find offensive the general slur about politicians that because there is funding it changes our point of view. Politicians themselves or members of the parties do not touch money themselves at all. To have somebody like you sit there and make a veiled assertion that if we accept a donation it will change the way in which we think I find highly offensive and wrong.

Senator RHIANNON: Surely that is why we are having the enquiry, so we can hear the evidence of witnesses.

CHAIR: Mrs Bishop, I am not prepared to give undertakings in relation to anyone other than myself. In relation to yourself, I take it that you are incorruptible. I think we will leave it there.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Do you want to make a disclosure about your chairmanship of your local leagues club or whatever it is?

CHAIR: I have made the disclosure. If you read the register of interests, any particular time that I have had to, I have. I actually do know about conflict of interest and perceived conflict of interest. In 21 years in public office there has never been a hint that I have breached any of it. Some of us do have credibility that stands up to scrutiny.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I included you in my statement and you were exempting yourself.

CHAIR: The point is: I am not about to vouch for you and you do not have to vouch for me. People can do their own research. The trouble is that we have an instance where a number of politicians in this country have been sent to jail because they were corruptible. That is on both sides of political persuasion. A fellow was jailed in Tasmania because he tried to influence the formation of government, so we are not totally pure. Thank you, Ms Jones.