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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3458

Mrs D’ATH (12:56 PM) —I rise to speak in support of these cognate bills: the Excise Tariff Validation Bill 2009 and the Customs Tariff Validation Bill 2009. It is unfortunate that the member for Dickson felt the need to stoop to the level of personally attacking the Minister for Health and Ageing, but I am not surprised that they would do anything to avoid having a genuine debate on the alcopops legislation. That is why we are here today putting these validation bills through. The member for Dickson has talked about how this government should be embarrassed by the fact that it has had to put this validation legislation up today. The true embarrassment has to come from the opposition and the position that they chose to take in the Senate, opposing these increases on alcopops. They have had to go back and justify their position to the general community, who are very supportive of these particular bills going through both the House and the Senate. They are now in a position of having to validate the revenue collected while at the same time still saying that they stand by the distilling industry and oppose any form of increase in taxes on these alcopops.

These bills will provide for the validation of all duties demanded or collected as a result of the Excise Tariff Proposal (No. 1) 2008 and the Customs Tariff Proposal (No.1) 2008, tabled in the House of Representatives on 13 May 2008. This is so they are taken to have been lawfully imposed and lawfully demanded or collected. The bills also provide for the validation of all duties demanded or collected before 14 May 2009, as a result of the Commonwealth Government Special Notices Gazette No. S87 and No. S88, published on 26 April 2008, so that such duties are taken to have been lawfully imposed and lawfully demanded or collected. The bills cover a period of collection of revenue from 27 April 2008 to 13 May 2009, inclusive.

Since coming into power, this government has asserted from day one its absolute commitment to the health sector and to investing in preventative health measures. That includes closing the tax loophole on alcopops. But we have said since the beginning that the measures in relation to alcopops are only part of the solution, albeit a very important part. The Rudd government is serious about tackling binge drinking. We have already committed $14.4 million in community level initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking in partnership with sporting and community organisations. We have committed $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young people and ensure that they assume personal responsibility. We have committed to a $20 million advertising campaign, ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’, confronting youth with the consequences of binge drinking. And, as we heard from the minister for health earlier, we committed $872 million in funding to preventative health, announced at the Council of Australian Governments in November 2008, which will include new initiatives to tackle binge drinking. That is why it is important that these customs and excise validation bills pass through the parliament and the revenue that has been collected to date does not simply become a windfall gain to the alcopop producers. It is important that we retain this revenue to assist in the implementation of our programs to address binge drinking.

Of course, binge drinking is still a problem and, despite the Senate taking the position it did in March to oppose the increase in taxation on alcopops, the fact is that it is a problem we must all face. We heard the minister for health today citing statistics on alcohol consumption. In any given week approximately one in 10 12- to 17-year-olds are binge drinking or drinking at risky levels. High levels of alcohol consumption are leading to alarming levels of hospitalisation. The number of young women aged 18 to 24 being admitted to hospitals because of alcohol has doubled in the last eight years. Binge drinking leads to violence. Last year, more than three-quarters of a million Australians were physically abused by persons under the influence of alcohol.

Not only does binge drinking hurt Australian society; it hurts the economy as well. According to the most recent estimates of the social cost of alcohol misuse in Australia, the bill is around $15 billion every year. Further, one in five Australians drink at short-term high-risk levels at least once a month. This equates to more than 42 million occasions of binge drinking in Australia each year. A recent survey of Australians showed that 84 per cent of people are concerned about the impact of alcohol on the community and that they consider intoxication to be unacceptable.

Alcohol consumption accounts for 3.2 per cent of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia, affecting 4.9 per cent of males and 1.6 per cent of females. The annual tangible net cost to the Australian community from harmful drinking is estimated to be almost $11 billion. Much of this cost is borne outside the health system. One of the major tangible costs is lost productivity in the workplace, which is $3.5 billion. An estimated 689,000 Australians attend work under the influence of alcohol each year. Costs outside the health system include the costs of road accidents, $2.2 billion; the costs of crime, $1.6 billion; and lost productivity in the home, $1.5 billion. It is also estimated that alcohol is responsible for insurance costs totalling $14 million a year.

The negative impacts of harmful consumption of alcohol by individuals on those around them are felt regularly by many Australians. Thirteen per cent of Australians report being put in fear by a person under the influence of alcohol, and 25.4 per cent report being subjected to alcohol related verbal abuse. Unfortunately, in my state of Queensland in the past couple of weeks we saw another young man losing his life because of alcohol and a crime allegedly committed by a young person, who has been charged. These are the sorts of incidents we have to face up to and start dealing with. Thirteen per cent of Australian children aged two years or below are exposed to an adult who is a regular binge drinker. It has been estimated that 31 per cent of parents involved in substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect experience significant problems with alcohol abuse.

We heard today from the member for Dickson that, as a consequence of the increase in alcopops taxation, there was an increase in consumption of full spirits. An example given was that the sale of bourbon has gone through the roof. But I did not hear any statistics or figures; we just have these broad, sweeping statements that consumption of full spirits such as bourbon has gone through the roof. The figures put forward by this government are real figures that we cannot ignore any longer.

Why are alcopops a problem? The ready-to-drink spirits industry itself reports that sales have increased by over 250 per cent since the loophole was created by the Howard government. That is why this initiative was taken by the Rudd Labor government over 12 months ago—because this loophole needed to be closed. Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of female drinkers aged 15 to 17 reporting that they had consumed ready-to-drink spirits at their last drinking occasion increased from 14 per cent to 62 per cent. These are the issues we have to address.

I know that the member for Mayo will be speaking shortly on these bills, and both of us spoke recently on the proposed legislation rejected by the Senate. I believe the member for Mayo said, ‘Drinking has been going on for a long time,’ and certainly since he was young. That is correct: binge drinking is not a new problem, but the reality is that the statistics show that, since this loophole was created around RTDs, the problem has been exacerbated. We have a responsibility as a government to address that loophole. That is exactly what this government sought to do over 12 months ago.

In addition, as the minister for health stated, alcopops do disguise the taste of alcohol with sweet flavours. This is not merely a case of trying to target one area specifically. We have heard the member for Dickson argue, not just on this occasion but on many occasions in this debate, that we are trying to target one part of an industry as opposed to dealing with the whole issue. But it is an industry that has chosen to deliberately go out and create a product that is attractive to young people, that disguises the taste of alcohol with sweet flavours. It exposes young and inexperienced drinkers to a higher than normal risk because those young drinkers are more likely to make false judgments about the product that they are consuming.

I have already stated the increase between 2000 and 2004 for female drinkers. In addition, between 1999 and 2005, the proportion of teenage girls aged 12 to 17 who chose RTDs as their preferred drink rose from 23 per cent to 48 per cent. So, despite the legislation that was introduced by the Rudd government last year, and despite the ongoing opposition by those who sit opposite, the fact is that these statistics show that the alcopops measure has achieved significant results.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that, between April 2008 and January 2009, Australians drank 124 million fewer standard drinks for all alcohol types, according to ACNielsen. Industry figures show alcopop sales have fallen by 310 million standard drinks. A recent study in the Medical Journal of Australia also argued that the measure was working effectively. ATO figures show that, for the period May 2008 to March 2009, total spirits clearances decreased by eight per cent compared to the same period in 2007 to 2008—compared to solid growth in the previous three years—and that alcopop clearances declined by 35 per cent.

These are real figures. These are clear evidence that the action the government took over 12 months ago is action that is getting results. We have stated time and time again that this is only one measure, but an important measure. We are yet to hear any of those on the other side make reference to these particular statistics. They talk about the surveys conducted by the distilling industry which we all see but which I believe are yet to actually ask people, especially young people: are they drinking less alcohol? Are they drinking fewer alcopops? They are yet to ask that direct question. There are many questions that they ask people, but they are yet to ask that direct question.

We keep hearing that the alcopops increase has not resulted in any significant change but, as I argued last time I spoke on this bill, the reality is: why is this industry complaining so loudly if, in fact, the increase is not having any effect? They are still selling as much alcohol as they ever have. In fact, they are selling more, because they are selling full spirits now—large bottles of full spirits are being sold instead of alcopops. So why is this industry so concerned? Why is this industry fighting so hard to ensure that these initiatives of the Rudd Labor government do not go through if they are not having any effect? Their argument just does not stand up. Neither does the argument put by the opposition.

I continue to support the Rudd Labor government’s initiatives to see an increase in the alcopops tax. I fully support not only the validation bills that are now before this House but the tariff proposals that were proposed by the Minister for Health and Ageing today—the Excise Tariff Proposal (No. 1) 2009 and the Customs Tariff Proposal (No. 3) 2009.

I know that the youth workers, the community organisations, the church groups and individuals across my electorate are supportive of this initiative of the Rudd Labor government. They have continued to talk to me about the commitment of this government since I spoke on the previous bills back in February of this year. My youth workers continue to tell me of the struggles that they face—going out and trying to educate young people about binge drinking and about the risks of alcopops.

We did hear the member for Dickson talk about illicit drugs and say that this government is not doing anything about illicit drugs. Once again, we are hearing from those opposite the proposition that seems to be that we can only focus on one thing at a time, so, if we are dealing with alcopops, we cannot be dealing with illicit drugs. The reality is that this government is committed to a range of measures. We are not just dealing with alcopops. We are not just dealing with binge drinking. We are dealing with illicit drugs and dealing with a whole lot of problems that our young people and our community as a whole are facing out there. These are commitments that this government has shown from day one—that it showed with its previous budget last year including its commitment to the states for funding not just in health but especially in preventative health.

I will continue to work with my local youth organisations to get that education message out. But it is not just up to them. It is not just up to the young people. It is not just up to the parents. It is not just up to the government—or the opposition for that matter. The distillery industry has got to take responsibility for its actions, the way it promotes these products and the products it keeps creating to try to get around these laws. It is quite an appalling state that this industry goes out of its way to create ‘malternatives’, as they are called, to try to get around the law.

I will end on this note. Last time, in February, when I spoke on the bill, I spoke about the comment from those on the other side about the distillery industry wanting to have genuine debate with members of the government on this issue. I was quite appalled that, in fact, what they were doing, instead of having genuine debate with members of the government, was having stunts and gimmicks such as dropping alcohol around to various members’ offices. I can report that the day after I spoke on that bill in February, those bottles were collected from my office. So I will say thank you to the industry and their representative for that, because those four bottles have finally been collected.

But this industry needs to take responsibility. This government certainly takes seriously its responsibility by making sure that we are doing everything possible to tackle binge drinking. One of those important initiatives is to ensure that alcopops are not an attractive drinking product for our young people. That is why I fully support these cognate bills before the House.