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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2542

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (3:40 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister outline to the House the government’s action on alcopops and any obstacles in its way?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Canberra for this question. She, like many members on this side of the House, has a keen interest in making sure that our alcopops measure is passed by the Senate next week. I can update the House that the public hearings that the Senate has been conducting into this measure have now been completed. We look forward to the report in the coming days. But what was very clear from the evidence that was given over the last two days is that the health experts—including public health academics, the doctors and the AMA—have all sided with Labor, with our government, in supporting this tax and arguing that if it was removed it would be a retrograde step.

The only people who are on the other side of this argument are the Liberal Party and the distillers. The Liberal Party have been going around pretending that, if this measure is not passed, the money will be able to go off to some worthy cause of their choosing when in fact the clear legal obligation, if this bill does not pass the Senate, is to have money go back directly to the very distillers and distributors who are making and selling these products to our young people. The distillers, of course, are pretending that they do not want the money back. But what has been interesting—although DSICA, the advocacy body for the distillers, said this in August last year, they said it in February and they said it yesterday—is that we now have evidence that one of the major members of DSICA in fact has made clear that they do want to the money back if this bill is not passed and that DSICA has been trying to hoodwink the public, in the same way that the Liberal Party have been trying to hoodwink the public. If they vote against this measure and it fails in the Senate, hundreds of millions of dollars will go back directly to distillers and their distributors to sell even more of these products.

Not only has DSCIA refused to tell the public—it was not made clear until it was uncovered in the Senate inquiry yesterday—that Bacardi Lion, one of the big producers of alcopops, has said that they want the money back if the tax is not passed in the Senate, but, in fact, we find out that DSICA actually wrote to each and every one of their members—to each and every one of the distributors—last year providing advice to them about how to protect their rights to get a refund in case this matter failed to pass the Senate. This is exactly what they have been lobbying for. All of this has been a pretence. From the very beginning, the Liberal Party, including the Leader of the Opposition, has pretended there is not a binge-drinking problem. We have seen the shadow minister pretending the money is going to back to some worthy cause, rather than to the distillers, when we know that that is the truth. And we have had the distillers themselves pretending they do not want the money, while at the same time they are writing to their members, arguing for them to keep receipts and be able to claim refunds, and ignoring the fact that one of their significant members actually disagrees with them.

What we have seen is just a complete shambles from those opposite. They have not understood that there is a big community problem here and we are trying to tackle it. They are just a mess. The rest of question time has been evidence that the Liberal Party has no idea any longer of what they stand for, who they stand for, who is leading them, what leadership there is or even what the law will be if this bill does not get passed. It is about time the Liberal Party admitted that they are just a lost cause, got out of the way and let us pass this bill in the Senate and get on with our good, health related prevention measures.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.