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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3461

Mr BRIGGS (1:15 PM) —I also rise to speak on the Excise Tariff Validation Bill 2009 and the Customs Tariff Validation Bill 2009, which have been rushed into this parliament today—on budget day. And that is what this bill is about, of course. It is a revenue raiser to fill the black hole created by the reckless spending of the Rudd government.

The member for Petrie has just mounted a long argument for prohibition. She has just gone through step after step about why alcohol is causing so many social ills. She is right about some of those social ills. There are issues that some people have with alcohol. It does cause violence. It is responsible for domestic disputes on occasion. It is responsible for criminal behaviour on occasion. But the member for Petrie argued in her speech that prohibition could prevent those issues occurring. She has not argued about a tax increase on one alcohol product. That is what this bill is about. This bill is about the seemingly unrelenting attack on the distillers industry by the minister, the member for Petrie and those on the other side.

Most of the speech from the member for Petrie was dedicated to the distillers industry, when this is actually about a tax on a certain product. So I find the speech from the member for Petrie slightly misleading. She says that we do not address the statistics she talked about; the statistics she has talked about are related to alcohol use in general. The impact of violent behaviour is about alcohol use in general; it is not about alcopops particularly. The problem with this tax increase is its displacement effect. It is as simple as that.

Today the Australian reported comments from some Sydney university students—a young lady in Sydney, Shona Curvers, and her friends. The article said:

Nineteen-year-old arts-science student Clare Barnes said the alcopops tax was ineffective and tended to steer young people towards bottled spirits.

“The tax on alcopops is encouraging teens to buy bottles of vodka and so on,” …

That is the very point the member for Dickson, the shadow minister for health, and the opposition have been making now for months: that this is not a health measure. This is not a genuine health measure about addressing what is a genuine problem in our community. And it is not just a problem with younger people; it is a problem that is throughout all demographics and all age groups in our community—and I think the Minister for Health and Ageing would agree with that.

The excessive use of alcohol causes many issues throughout age groups in our community. In fact, the ABS National Health Survey, which gained coverage today, found that risky drinking was at its highest level amongst middle-aged women—those aged between 45 and 64. That is from the ABS National Health Survey, which is a very credible survey. And, of course, it is true. Of course there are issues with the excessive consumption of alcohol by some people and the effects it has on them. Binge drinking is a very genuine issue, and we should be moving measures in this place which address people’s attitudes to that. We are fully supportive of that on this side of the House. What we are not supportive of is using this as a cover for revenue raising. If the government were serious about it, the money they would raise would go into education programs. It would go into assistance for people who are at risk from alcohol abuse—whether that is from binge drinking once a week or from regular alcohol abuse.

We know this is a revenue raiser to fill the black hole created by the reckless spending of the Rudd government, because, when they announced the re-introduction of this bill, it was the Treasurer, not the minister for health, who did so. They stumped up here in Canberra as part of the budget preparation—which we have all seen before—and the Treasurer came out of ERC with the minister and went into the blue room. He stood there and announced a health policy. Now, why would a Treasurer announce a health policy? Because it is a tax policy. It is a revenue raiser to fill the black hole created by the reckless spending of the Rudd government. We will see that black hole tonight, when they deliver the biggest deficit in the country’s history and, in doing so, put the biggest debt in this country’s history onto our children—the ones we are apparently trying to protect with this legislation.

So it is a tax raiser to fill a black hole because of their reckless spending, but it does not address the serious issues of alcohol abuse by young people. It does not actually address the biggest issue that faces young people, which is illicit drugs. That is clearly the biggest issue that faces young people. The Courier-Mail did a very interesting series of articles—and I am sure the minister saw those pieces—I think it was five days in a row, about a month ago, on illicit drugs and their availability, particularly party drugs, at night spots in Brisbane. It was very telling. It was extraordinarily concerning. The average price, as I understand it, of ecstasy in Australia is now $15 per tablet. Four or five years ago it was $55 per tablet. As most members, most people in the galleries and those listening would know, $15 would get you probably two beers at a nightclub. To buy something for $15—when you do not know where it has been made, how it has been manufactured, what is in it or what its effect is likely to be—is an extraordinarily concerning thing. We do not see any policies from this government addressing the illicit drug trade or issues that are affecting young people. The member for Petrie said they can do more than one thing at a time. Of course they can—we understand that; there are a lot of bureaucrats in the department of health. But we are not seeing that. We are not seeing what that tough-on-drugs approach is from this government.

Of course, the previous government had an approach that was very tough on drugs, which was about addressing the No. 1 health issue for young people in our community. This tax approach to the alcohol industry is about filling a black hole. We do not see much of an approach to the illicit drugs issue because you cannot tax an illicit drug. You cannot find a revenue stream from illicit drug taking. So we see a serious addressing of this binge-drinking crisis, this war on binge drinking, whatever superlative you would like to use to describe it, but you do not see any serious attempt to address the illicit drug industry in Australia.

I congratulate the Courier-Mail on what they did with their survey. It brought to public attention a huge issue facing young Australians. I go back to what the young lady said in the Australian this morning—that what this policy has actually done in putting on this 70 per cent tax increase, this $351 million tax hike, to fill a black hole because of the reckless spending by those on the other side is to push people back to vodka, to bourbon, to serious spirits, which are much more dangerous. Miss Barnes said in the Australian this morning, ‘A litre bottle of vodka is more likely to kill you than a four-pack of alcopops.’ I think that would be right. So we see an extraordinarily concerning policy position from this government—that they are using a health policy dressed up as a concern about binge drinking to raise significant revenues to fill a black hole.

We stand here again on an issue that could have been sorted out three months ago. As I understand it, Senator Cormann offered this minister three opportunities in the Senate to validate the excise that had been collected and she refused. But then the Treasurer stepped in, took it to the blue room and announced the reintroduction of this policy. That is why we know it is a tax policy and not a health policy. We on this side of the House are extraordinarily concerned about binge drinking. We think there should be a serious policy approach and that the money raised should be directed to education and to assistance for young people who are abusing alcohol. In fact, there should be a serious approach to binge drinking—or excessive alcohol abuse—throughout the community. That is our concern. We are concerned about this minister not being able to manage her portfolio. I do not want to get into personal attacks. The member for Petrie seems to be concerned that any suggestion that the minister may not be managing her portfolio properly would be a personal attack, so I would not dare to do so, but we are very concerned about the management of this portfolio. We think the Prime Minister might be, too, and we suspect that in the upcoming reshuffle there might be some action in this portfolio, but we will wait and see after tonight’s budget.

In summing up, the opposition stands deeply opposed to a tax grab in the guise of a health policy. It is not designed to assist in solving excessive abuse of alcohol, which is a major issue in our community. It does not address the biggest issue facing young Australians, which is the illicit drug trade. Australia is the biggest consumer of ecstasy in the world, according to recent studies, and that is an extraordinarily concerning statistic. We should do something about it. We should be putting resources into this very major issue facing young Australians. I am sure the minister would agree with that, but this policy does not do so, because it is a tax grab. I think it is high time that the minister admitted that is what this is about, and then we would have more agreement on this side of the House. If she were able to recognise that this was a revenue raiser and not a health policy, I think we would see a bit more truthful debate.