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Australian Capital Territory: Opposition Leader criticises the Government's agenda on banning smoking in public places

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, the ACT Opposition has, today, accused Health Minister, Wayne Berry, of running a public and a private agenda on the issue of banning smoking in Canberra's pubs, clubs and restaurants. Opposition Leader, Kate Carnell, has issued a statement saying Mr Berry does not intend to ban smoking in pubs and clubs for up to seven years, despite his public breast thumping on the issue. Kate Carnell is with me now.

Good morning. Well, what do you understand of what you say is a private agenda by Mr Berry?

KATE CARNELL: Well, from information that we've received, Matt, Mr Berry doesn't plan to ban smoking, particularly in clubs, for as long as seven years, and we understand that he's given the casino an assurance that they won't have smoking banned totally, possibly ever. Now that really isn't acceptable. Mr Berry has indicated that really he's going to take a hard line on this, and banning smoking only in restaurants and probably the area where the public health risk is least, really isn't good enough.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: You say you understand .. I mean, do you have this in writing? How do you have this information?

KATE CARNELL: I've had it from various sources, Matthew. And really, when you think about it, at this stage the Minister, Mr Berry, has given absolutely no indication at all what his time frames are for any enclosed public space, except restaurants. Now, we've asked him on a number of occasions 'Come on, give us the information. Tell us what your time frames are for clubs, particularly, bars, taverns, bistros and, of course, the casino', and he continually tells us 'Oh well, that will be done in consultation with the organisations involved'. Well, we understand that those consultations certainly aren't very far along the track, and he really has given undertakings, particularly to the clubs and to the casinos.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Why would he do that, though? Where's the value for him in that?

KATE CARNELL: Well, I'd hope it's not the case that he's really trading off public health for revenue for the Territory, because, as we know, the casino is very important for the ACT Government in terms of revenue, and of course in the club department, the ACT Labor Party would have an awful lot of trouble operating financially without the revenue they get from the Labor Club. So, I certainly hope that that's not his reasons, although it certainly appears to be the case.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: So, you support smoking in the casino, in clubs and restaurants in Canberra?

KATE CARNELL: Our approach, Matthew, has always been the same, that we believe that smoking should be banned in all enclosed public spaces within three years, where extraction systems that don't .. well, where extraction systems that don't meet Australian standards haven't been fitted. So, basically, what we're saying is that this is a public health issue, but it's also an issue that affects people's lives, the way they live their lives, and certainly affects the way people do business in Canberra. So, it's got to be done on a level playing field; in other words, all enclosed public spaces have to be treated the same. And if it is possible to put in extraction systems to meet Australian pure air standards, well then that should be all right too. That's an approach that gives, as I say, a level playing field; it gives everybody a fair go; and all businesses and our tourist operators and so on know exactly what the rules are and when they're going to have to be smoke-free.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And the tobacco lobby, the big bickie tobacco lobby, is quite happy with that because they love delaying these sorts of things.

KATE CARNELL: Our view is that the date has to be put into the legislation, Matthew. I agree that the amount of pressure that the tobacco lobby and the hoteliers and so on can put on politicians is huge. That's why we believe that the date when smoke .. well, when establishments have to all be smoke-free, must be put into legislation now.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I mean, you're a bit mixed up on this, aren't you? You sort of want Mr Berry to put a date in legislation; you want extraction systems, which is a delaying tactic; you're talking three years down the track, which is never-never land. I mean, you're trying to have two bob each way.

KATE CARNELL: Not at all, Matthew. What we're saying is we want to put a date in the legislation now. That's always been our position. So what we want to do....

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: But you don't want to ban smoking in clubs and pubs and restaurants.

KATE CARNELL: Yes, we do, Matthew. We've always wanted to. We supported....

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: But you want them to put in extractor systems.

KATE CARNELL: No, Matthew, what we said is that we want to .. well, as you know, we supported Mr Berry's legislation in its first reading stage, and we did that because we believe that smoking must be banned in enclosed public spaces, but what we believe is that there has to be a phase-in period, and all enclosed public spaces must be treated equally; therefore, we want a date in the legislation after which all enclosed public spaces must be smoke-free. But what we're also saying is if extraction systems can be installed, which mean that the establishment can meet Australian pure air standards, then surely that must be all right as well.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Does that work overseas, or interstate? Where is there one of these magical extractor systems that gets rid of, not just the visual smoke, but also the particles?

KATE CARNELL: There really are some very good extraction systems around, Matthew. But really, I don't....

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Where?

KATE CARNELL: Well, remember we're at the cutting-edge of legislation in Australia here in the ACT.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Yes, so where are the extraction systems that work?

KATE CARNELL: The point I'm making with this is that if the extraction systems can meet Australian pure air standards....

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: But where are the ones that do?

KATE CARNELL: Well, they do exist, Matthew.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Where?

KATE CARNELL: They're expensive.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Where?

KATE CARNELL: Well, they exist now.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Where?

KATE CARNELL: A number of places in the United States. We've spoken at length to a number of air-condition companies and so on. But I don't think that's the issue, Matt. If these extraction systems do meet the Australian standards, then it's okay. Now, if they don't, then they're no use. So, if your approach is right, that extraction systems simply don't work, then....

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I'm just asking you where they do work; that's all.

KATE CARNELL: Our information suggests that extraction systems can be fitted which will meet Australian standards. Now, if that's the case, well then I think smoking should continue to be allowed. I believe, though, that there should be non-smoking areas and smoking areas in all of these establishments, because, let's be fair, smoke isn't pleasant for those of us who don't smoke.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Okay. Let's just go to Health Minister, Wayne Berry.

Good morning. Mr Berry, have you had talks with clubs? Is there a bit of a double dealing going on here?

WAYNE BERRY: No, no, no. We hear from Mrs Carnell - a woman who has been badly caught on this smoking issue. I mean, we had legislation before the Assembly which would have allowed the bans to take effect immediately in restaurants and other places - shopping malls, child care centres and so on.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: At your discretion?

WAYNE BERRY: Well, I would have been able to make regulations which could have been reviewed in the Assembly, by Mrs Carnell and Mr Moore and Ms Szuty, but they all opted to push the legislation off to a committee and play around with it. Now when it comes to clubs, the casino and other workplaces, there is already a level playing field in place. The Occupational Health and Safety legislation requires all employers, not just one or two, all of them, to observe a duty of care in relation to their employees. Now, pretty soon, I'll be announcing a code of practice which will be a background for employers to observe that duty of care. So, we are serious about making sure it's safe in the workplace.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Excuse me. Can I just pick you up on that. Is this .. if the legislation is bogged down in an Assembly committee, which it appears to be, are you looking at moving on another front, through work safety legislation?

WAYNE BERRY: Well, I was always going to. It was always a two-pronged approach. We were going to deal with the public safety and comfort issues, with smoke-free public place legislation, and that's what we attempted to do, and we were blocked by the Liberals, Mr Moore and Ms Szuty. And on the workplace issue, the Occupational Health and Safety Act ensures that employers must observe a duty of care, right across-the-board, in relation to their employees. Now there are substantial fines if they don't.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Now what power would that have, though? Would you need to legislate on that, or is it just a matter of enforcing?

WAYNE BERRY: Our real problem is that the code of practice that I will announce is disallowable. So heaven knows what will happen to it in the Assembly. I suspect that we might hear some more delaying tactics from Mrs Carnell, Mr Moore and Ms Szuty on this question, but we're moving on anyway.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, look, can I just pin you down on this. Have you given an undertaking to the casino that smoking will be allowed? that they'll be exempt? and also to certain clubs?

WAYNE BERRY: No, I've never spoken to the casino. I've spoken to the licensed club industry.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And what did you tell them?

WAYNE BERRY: I've told them that they've got a duty of care to observe under the Occupational Health and Safety Act right now, and if they get caught out, that is, if there is a successful claim by an employee, the whole background will change overnight; insurance companies will put the premiums up so high that they won't be able to afford it; and they'll have to deal with the issue overnight. They know that.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: But have you told them that you'll use your discretion to exempt certain clubs, such as the Labor Club?

WAYNE BERRY: No. No, no. No, no. They're all covered by the OHS Act right across-the-board .. right across-the-board. I mean, this nonsense that Mrs Carnell is going on about is just utter nonsense. She's trying to struggle back from a very bad position, which resulted from her knocking off the .. or pushing aside the smoke-free public places legislation. She's been made look like a fool on this smoking issue.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Wayne Berry, thank you. Health Minister Wayne Berry and Opposition Leader Kate Carnell.