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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6421

Senator MURPHY (4:55 PM) —For the sake of efficiency in terms of this debate, I might just speak in respect of Senator Murray's amendments, knowing that both the government and the opposition are opposed to both Senator Murray's amendments and the amendments that I have proposed. With regard to the purpose behind these amendments, it is not just about getting tax equivalence in the treatment of particular alcoholic drinks; there is also a very large health issue here in respect of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages.

We know that there is a significant consumption—somewhere in the order of between 22 million and 25 million cases per annum—and that this is probably consumed largely by young people. Of those 22 million or 25 million cases—whatever the number is—only about 1,800 are sold as low-alcohol drinks. I think it is a major health issue and one that this parliament ought to seek to address. I guess I could argue all of the reasons, from a competitive point of view, as to why you ought to develop a more equitable tax system for alcoholic beverages. But my approach to it is on the basis that, because we know that there is significant consumption, and because of the trend in the consumption of alcoholic beverages towards ready-to-drink beverages, we ought to be dealing with this very much from a health point of view.

I accept what Senator Ian Campbell has said; I welcome his and Senator Conroy's comments. I will certainly take up the opportunity to speak to the shadow Treasurer about this issue to see whether or not we can put in place what I think would be a far more sensible approach to taxation which would encourage more consumption of low-alcohol beverages. That is a great objective and one that I will certainly pursue.

The amendments that I propose are slightly different to Senator Murray's second set of amendments. In my contribution to the debate at this point, I am just going to cover the lot, for the purposes of efficiency and timeliness. This issue is very important. As I said, we know that between 22 million and 25 million cases of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages are consumed, and it is probably true that the great bulk of those will be consumed on premises—that is, in nightclubs or bars where people buy them and drink them on the premises. A lot of the arguments go to the revenue issues, particularly if we are looking at low-alcohol, on-tap, ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages—of which there are none at the moment. One of the reasons I have been pursuing this is that we should be encouraging the manufacturers to produce low-alcohol, on-tap, ready-to-drink beverages. That is something that we must give very serious consideration to.

I think Senator Murray's and my proposals are very worthwhile amendments to this bill. Obviously they are not going to succeed, but other opportunities will arise in the coming months. With regard to Senator Conroy's comments, I reiterate that I will be very keen to see what the Labor Party do and I certainly will make every effort I can to encourage them. If I can be of any assistance in respect of having some appropriate changes brought forward to this parliament which will at the end of the day ensure that we do go down a path of encouraging lower alcoholic beverage consumption, I will do so.

I think Senator Murray has pointed out very clearly the types of figures and the types of problems that we are dealing with, so this is a very important issue from a health point of view. I hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to see this parliament pass some laws in respect of excise on alcoholic beverages that will lead to a better health outcome, particularly for young Australians.