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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2882


Senator BELL (10.50 p.m.) —Tonight I want to raise an issue in relation to Australia's export performance. For many years we have heard, and quite rightly so, of the need for Australia to export more. It is quite an easy concept to agree with. Most of our recent Treasurers have espoused that particular concept. We have heard the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) repeat the message. Ministers for Primary Industries and Energy have been particularly keen to emphasise it. We can easily agree with more exports, but there are two particular exports which should register as exceptions and they are our arms exports and our tobacco trade overseas.

  Tonight I want to address tobacco exports. It has been quite a week for tobacco and the problems associated with it. We notice, if we refer to today's Australian newspaper, that there is quite a controversy boiling up about it, something which was emphasised by Dr Nigel Gray, who opened the sixth world conference on lung cancer. In today's Australian in an article by Carmel Egan we are told that Dr Gray said at the opening of the conference in Melbourne that there should be a ban on smoking on international flights coming to and leaving Australia. Dr Gray said that the ban was necessary to protect the health of passengers and, in particular, crew who were exposed to cigarette smoke for regular long periods in a confined space. Further, he said that such a ban would be the logical extension of policies that are already in place in Australian air travel. The article stated:

  Dr Gray further called on the Federal Government to negotiate agreements with foreign governments to ban smoking on flights to and from Australia with all airlines registered in this country.

Dr Gray informed the conference that his call had been supported by the International Cabin Crew Association and the Australian Flight Attendants Association, who are concerned that their members' health could be compromised by exposure to passive smoking.

  Mr President, I continued that theme. I thought that the suggestion by Dr Gray was eminently sensible, and you may recall that today I gave notice of a motion calling for an end to smoking in Australian airline terminals. It seems to me to be quite silly that we have a ban which applies to our travel in the air but that at the termination or start of our travel we are subjected to quite a distorted exposure to intensive smoking by the people panicking while waiting for their luggage or before they get on a plane. They seem to seek solace in extra smoking at those times.

  As well as that couple of contributions to the debate, we are told in today's Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that tobacco companies are about to target people in suburban streets in a desperate bid to win support against a proposed ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship in sport. We are told that this is a reaction to proposed legislation in New South Wales. All in all, it does not seem to be a very good time for the proponents of the use of tobacco. The campaign against them seems to be mounting.

  Nevertheless, if we look at our export performance, which is where, normally, we would wish to support increased activity, taking the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports, we find that over the past eight years tobacco exports have varied from a low, at market prices, of about $15m per year in 1983-84, 1984-85 and 1985-86, to a high of about $25m in 1987-88. In 1990-91 the value of tobacco exports was about $20m. Conventional economic wisdom is that these exports, which over eight years totalled $146m, are a good thing, firstly, because they help Australia's balance of trade and, secondly, because they are useful to the country importing them.

  I would like to point out that quite obviously there can be another view of that. My view and the view of the Australian Democrats is that this amount of $146m is a disgrace. It is a disgrace because in totalling that amount we, as a nation, abrogate all sense of propriety and any claim of concern about the welfare of the importing nation and the health and well-being of its citizens by continuing these exports. The $146m which has been returned to Australia over the eight years involved represents drug addiction, ill health, disease and death to the importing nations.

  There are many organisations, in particular, health organisations, cancer prevention groups—some of them voluntary but others government instrumentalities, especially overseas aid organisations—which are asking the rest of the world to help to deal with the problems brought about by such exports. Throughout the United States and Europe, and even in Australia, there are organisations which are fighting the attempts of tobacco manufacturers to push—and I use that word advisedly because cigarette manufacturers are merely up-market drug pushers—their products, particularly to Third World countries.

  Such an act is grossly irresponsible and in no way should be condoned by us as a nation.  We have seen evidence recently of Western drug pushers pushing their tobacco drugs in Eastern Europe and the USSR while the market is ripe for the plucking. I say: shame on those exporters for contributing to the ill health, the disease and the death which will result from their activities.

  We can do better. We should be doing better as a nation. We can export foodstuffs and manufactured products, which increase the well-being and longevity of people, not products which diminish their well-being or longevity. We can export goods which can contribute to these nations' gross domestic product and not diminish them by loading their health systems with the extra costs of medical attention.

  Given the other political parties' inaction over many years on tobacco and the problems that it brings to our economy and the economies of other countries throughout the world; remembering that this tobacco substance and its consumption is one of the major causes of

preventable ill health, disease and death; I am left wondering yet again—I repeat my wondering here tonight—whether that inaction is a result of the influence and the amount of financial assistance that can be derived from the contributions of the tobacco companies. Why else would other parties take comfort in the export of $146m-worth of ill health, disease and death?

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 10.59 p.m.