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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1499

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:47 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. In a triumph of hope over experience, I would like to ask the minister about modelling. Has the minister undertaken any modelling on the impact on alcohol consumption of the government’s new $2 billion tax on premixed drinks? If so, would the minister share with the Senate what that study revealed? If not, why not?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —It is recognised that alcohol plays a significant role in Australian society. Many Australians drink alcohol and most do so responsibly. Despite this, there is still a major problem that centres on the 35 per cent of people who drink at a level that places them at a significant risk of harm in the short term and the 10 per cent of people who drink at a level that places them at a high risk of harm in the long term. The government supports the measure to reduce alcohol related harm in the Australian community and change Australia’s unhealthy drinking culture. This government is committed to developing a preventive health strategy and has established a preventive health task force. When one hears the questions and interjections from the opposition, one wonders whether they do in fact support the measures that are being taken to reduce the level of alcohol consumption amongst young people.

The government has announced a national strategy to address binge-drinking and has increased the excise on ready-to-drink products. On 10 March 2008 the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, announced a national strategy worth $53 million to address the binge drinking epidemic among young Australians. The national strategy will begin with three new practical measures to help reduce the misuse of alcohol and binge drinking among young Australians. I would encourage the opposition to support that position. The strategy includes $14.4 million to invest in community-level initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking, particularly in sporting organisations; $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young people and ensure that they assume personal responsibility for their binge drinking; and $20 million to fund advertising that confronts young people with the costs and consequences of binge drinking. A key part of this strategy is to engage sporting organisations from the elite level down to the community level. I would encourage the Liberals to engage in this as well and undertake support and assistance to ensure that the youth of today do not suffer the consequences of binge drinking. A key part of this strategy also includes Nicola Roxon meeting—

Senator Humphries —Mr President, on a point of order: I think lecturing the Senate on the evils of alcohol is somewhat redundant. My question was about modelling. What modelling has the government done before deciding to impose this $2 billion tax on Australian drinkers?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ludwig, I would remind you of the question.

Senator LUDWIG —Thank you, Mr President. I am concerned about the impact of binge drinking on Australia’s young people, but I am also concerned about the impact of alcohol on our wider society. On 26 April the government announced that it would restore the excise on ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages to the spirit levels that previously applied. The government’s decision to lift the excise on RTD products will help tackle binge drinking, as research shows that price is an effective measure in reducing alcohol consumption, especially by young people.

When we look at the opposition’s engagement in this, they are not serious about assisting in how you tackle binge drinking in youth and how you ensure that the youth of today will not suffer health problems in later years. What the opposition is concerned about seems to be a mile away from where the young people are at now. The strategy that the Rudd government has announced will provide assistance not only at the community level but also at the advertisement level to ensure that they would— (Time expired)

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I take it from the minister’s answer that there was no study conducted, and I assume therefore that Labor decided before this recent election that it intended to impose this new tax. How does the minister rebut the charge that the Labor Party were cowardly in formulating a decision to have a new $2 billion tax on drinkers to pay for their unfunded election promises but were not prepared to take the electors of Australia into their confidence before the election last year?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —In rebutting the charge that the opposition makes, what they did not do in their 11 long years in government is deal with these significant health issues around ready-to-drink products and around alcohol. The Australian government is committed to a comprehensive strategy to address binge drinking among young Australians. More than $53 million will provide support to the strategy which will be implemented by the Department of Health and Ageing. In rebutting your charge, you have done nothing to assist in this area. You, in fact, ensured that you neglected the youth of today in this area. You, in fact, did not assist. In addition, the National Health and Medical Research Council is currently—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ludwig, I would appreciate it if you address the chair and not senators across the chamber.

Senator LUDWIG —Sorry, Mr President, I will address you. In addition, the National Health and Medical Research Council is currently finalising revised draft Australian alcohol guidelines for low-risk drinking; something that the opposition did not do when they were in government. (Time expired)