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ABC News Breakfast -

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(generated from captions) the area off Narrabeen, but so

far have found no trace of the

man. As we just heard, tobacco

company Philip Morris is

launching legal action today to

try to block the Federal

Government's plain packaging

laws. The company says it's

planning to argue, as Michael

mentioned, the new laws breach an international investment

now by treaty. For more, we're joined

now by the Health Minister,

Nicola Roxon, on the phone from

Canberra for her response and

the Government's response.

Minister, good morning. Thanks

for joining us. Good morning.

Were you expecting a legal

challenge on precisely this

issue? Well, the tobacco

companies have made clear from

the start that they would fight

this step tooth and nail. It

won't deter our Government from

taking action, which we believe

is in the public health

interests of the community.

But was it this particular

issue that you've been

preparing yourself for legally?

Up until now it seems largely

to have been a trademark, an IP

protection issue. Well, I

think that the tobacco

companies have talked for a

long time about which

international forums they'd try

to use. I need to remind you

and your listeners that this is action, the plain packaging

step that our Government is

recommended by the World Health taking is action which has been

Organisation for States to

consider. We believe we're on

very strong ground in taking

this action and we won't let tobacco companies either

threaten or use legal action to

try to deter us from taking

those steps. What legal briefing have you received

about the nature of this

bilateral investment treaty

between Australia and Hong

Kong? Are you completely

secure that what you plan to do

does not breach elements of

that treaty? Well, I am very

confident - you would

understand why I wouldn't want

to go through each and every

legal argument in the media.

This is going to be, no doubt,

a complicated argument with big

tobacco. Sure, but there's no

reason why you can't outline

the general thrust of the

Government's plan, it's not

going to be heard in front of a

jury, there's no risk there.

There are a range of reasons

why it would not be wise for me

of every to go through the ins and outs

of every legal argument that

would be made. I don't intend

to do that. I'm not our legal

counsel. What I am making

clear, though, is the reason we

are confident about our advice,

which we have taken and have

been very thorough in taking,

is that governments - and I

think the Australian community

would expect the Australian

Government - are alls able to

take action in the public

health interests of the

specifically community. This is

specifically action recommended

by the World Health

Organisation and we believe

that that puts us on very

strong grounds for any

challenges that will be made.

Obviously we are determined to

continue with this, because we

believe anyone we can do to

reduce the 15,000 Australians

that die every year from tobacco-related illnesses is

worth while. Just quickly and

finally, can I get a response

from you on the issue of the from you on the issue of the

between Australia and Hong bilateral investment treaty

Kong, and Hong Kong seems to be

the interesting issue here.

That's where Philip Morris has

selected, because they

manufacture there. Are you

secure no element of what you

plan breaches that treaty, or

elements of that treaty? I'm

confident that our legal advice

makes very clear that we can

government believe we should take this action, and we as a

take this action in order to

try to reduce the harms caused by smoking. Okay. by smoking. Okay. Now, the

notice of claim, according to a

report printed today in the 'Australian', triggers a

three-month period of

negotiation. So is it possible

then that during that period of

argy-bargy, this matter might

be settled? No, I think that's

very unlikely. But I do need

to emphasise that we have not

received that claim. It is in

the media today and it's very

dramatically in the media. We

will, when we receive that claim, obviously assess it will, when we receive that

carefully and take proper legal

advice about the claim. We

haven't been given the courtesy

of having been served with it before it appeared in the

media. Okay. But that

assertion, three-month

negotiation period, won't be of

any use? I'm not going to make comments about something I have

not been provided with, nor

been provided with advice on

that claim. It's not

appropriate for me to do that.

I think we're going to see

quite a long period of lots of

different legal manoeuvres in

and out and it won't be my

practice to try to argue each

of them in the media. As a

consequence of that, as you

say, Nicola Roxon, if there's

going to be a long period of

legal manoeuvres - we're

talking very high stakes here -

this has to end up costing, and will end up costing the

Australian taxpayer, a hell of

lot of money in legal fees.

Have you done broadbrush

costings of how high the fees

could run? We certainly know that they pale into insignificance when you look at

the billions of dollars we

spend in our health and

hospital system picking up the

pieces of harms caused from

tobacco-related illness. I do

think that needs to be put into

context. We can't use and

legal action or allow companies to threaten

legal action or try to

intimidate governments out of

taking action simply because

there may be some legal costs.

We have made provision for some

legal costs. Of course we will

need advice and we will need to

pursue and defend our actions

in the courts. We're very

confident that it will be

insignificant when compared to

the scale of money that we need

to spend in our health system

picking up the pieces from

tobacco-related disease. But

the reason I press you on this

is if there is to be a period,

or possibly a period, of

negotiation of some kind,

aren't you honour bound as

custodians of Australia's

taxpayers' money to make sure

the period can be usefully used

and you don't end up spending

too much money on litigation?

I can understand why, as a

journalist, you want to ask

those questions. I'm not going

to go into detail on a claim

that hasn't been served on our

government yet. It was more a

question about the costs, just

a question about the provision

you've made, Nicola Roxon?

You're asking me about the

costs and negotiation process

and allegations made in the

claim, which we haven't been

given the courtesy of yet

receiving. I can answer your

questions generally, which I'm

more than happy to do, but I'm

not going to be in a position

where I'm making comment on

legal action of claims not yet provided to the government.