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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4987

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (18:54): I rise to talk on this motion of Mr Christensen, the member for Dawson. It proposes that there be no tax based on the sugar content in food. The motion states that the sugar industry is one of the world's most efficient and innovative producers and exporters of sugar and a leader in the adoption of sustainable farming practices. That is quite true. I think it is pretty efficient and getting more so. I can remember when I was first elected to the parliament over 20 years ago that the Labor government in those days was endeavouring to focus on the efficiency of the industry, as well as the difficulties of run-off from cane farming onto the Great Barrier Reef. The Minister for Primary Industries in those days was very active in setting it up and putting a lot of money into the industry. It is also about becoming more productive, using less fertiliser but getting more from the production side. That is what it has to be all about. Australia is the third largest exporter of sugar in the world. That is a fact. We have some six thousand cane growers in Australia and more than 4,000 farms growing sugar along the eastern seaboard. They are another couple of facts. The sugar industry directly and indirectly supports 40,000 jobs in Australia, underpinning the economic stability and social fabric of many coastal communities.

The motion expresses concerns about claims that sugar is toxic. That is probably an extreme view that is put around. The motion rejects calls for a tax based on the sugar content of particular food products. Australia is the third biggest exporter of sugar. The industry has undergone a lot of changes. It tackled and got rid of tariffs. It survived all of that. It did a pretty good job coming through that one. We use granulated sugars every day in our food and drinks. We know icing sugar is great on raspberries and strawberries from the great Tasmanian state. The Australian Dietary Guidelines for the intake of foods and drinks containing added sugar, like soft drinks and confectionery, have recently been revised to strengthen the advice for the consumption of sugar from moderate to limited. It is like anything that is taken in excess. If you see a mother putting soft drinks into a baby's bottle you would start to get concerned.

Those are the things we have to face up to and we need to make sure that we talk in reality. I was reading that our bodies need the right balance of sugar to function normally, as they do with everything else. I will not comment on the intake of rum and sugar for the sake of the member for Hinkler, who has just arrived in the chamber. I would like to refer to the good old Tasmanian apple, which is said to be both a killer and a cure, meaning that the natural sugars in the apples are high but they are balanced by the fibre in the apple so that it becomes a very good thing to eat. The old saying is: 'An apple a day will keep that doctor away.' The honourable member was talking about reaching the stage where sugar was banned not only in soft drink production.

I saw on Friday last in the Hobart Mercury 'Bring in a sugar tax', following the release of the state public health report by Dr Taylor, who is the Director of Public Health in Tasmania. He said Australia needed to seriously consider a tax on unhealthy food. I suppose it is pretty easy to pass it over from the state to the Commonwealth but I think Dr Taylor was genuine. He was talking about statistics that showed people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds have more health problems linked in part to the culture of consuming cheap fast foods, which, according to the statistics, is true.

The state Minister for Health, Michelle O'Byrne, said that putting in place a tax is a pretty serious matter and would require significant scrutiny to ensure that it would achieve an outcome. I think that is where it comes to a dead end. I think it is pretty difficult to put a tax on sugar or a tax on fat or anything else and then say 'this is the outcome'. We need to deal with issues but we need to deal with them in a proper way through education, knowledge and good labelling so people understand what they are taking in.

I also think the sugar industry needs to deal with many issues. I saw just recently that this Labor government has certainly been doing a fair bit. The Prime Minister was in the seat of Dawson in April. The government promised another $200 million over the next five years for the next stage of the Reef Rescue program. The program already has stopped 92,000 tonnes of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment going on to the Great Barrier Reef.

Looking at new ways of doing things and what you use sugar for, I am reminded of the amount of ethanol that comes from sugar in places like Brazil, which seems to get on very well. I think about 25 per cent of what drives cars in Brazil comes from sugar cane. They have an enormous bio ethanol industry. It all comes from sugar cane. There is a lot of opportunity to do that. This present government has contributed over $9 million from the Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program to McKay Sugar Limited. I am sure the member put out a press release praising the government for putting money into his electorate. That company is investing over $120 million to reduce carbon emissions across its operations by 70 per cent for every unit of production, which is a credit to it. I congratulate it on achieving that.

We have an industry which plays a very important role, especially in those areas where the member for Dawson, who moved this motion in the House, comes from. We do have to confront the issues the industry is dealing with in growing sugar cane—the run-off effect and the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which the industry is dealing with in a very constructive way—and also improving productivity at the same time.

We need to deal with in a proper and constructive manner the issues we confront of sugars in our food and in our diets. We need to do that basing it on science. We should not just be blaming sugar. That seems to be an easy cop out to me. It is about education, better labelling, knowledge of our foods. I think of all the good programs like the Stephanie Alexander program, which will convince kids in schools to understand nutrition and food. That is one of the ways forward.