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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 453

Senator XENOPHON (2:47 PM) —My questions are to Senator Ludwig, the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. In light of Senator Cormann’s successful motion yesterday in relation to total revenue and alcohol consumption due to the alcopops tax, I ask the minister the following: what proportion of revenue that has been raised from the alcopops tax to date has been used to fund drug and alcohol education and addiction programs, and what are the details of those programs; and, further, how much of this expenditure is actually devoted to new rather than pre-existing programs planned before the announcement of the tax?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Xenophon for his excellent question. Can I say at the outset that in respect of the budget itself, it is worth highlighting the fact that $3.1 billion was raised through this measure. However, that is likely to be revised downwards partly due to the success of the program that has been implemented. I can say that the details of the program were announced last year as part of the $53.5 million National Binge Drinking Strategy. There was $14.4 million to invest in community-level initiatives to confront the culture of binge drinking particularly in sporting organisations.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Resume your seat, Senator Ludwig. Whilst we do have a microphone system, and we do have speakers around the place, there is loud noise which makes it difficult for Senator Xenophon and other senators to hear the answer. In particular, Senator Xenophon is entitled to hear the answer to the question.

Senator LUDWIG —As I was saying, $19.1 million was provided to intervene early to assist young people and ensure that they assume personal responsibility for their binge drinking, and $20 million was provided to fund advertisements that confront young people with the costs and consequences of binge drinking. The National Preventative Health Taskforce has been assigned alcohol as one of its three priority areas and released a discussion paper, an alcohol technical paper, last year. It will report back to the government in mid-2009.

Senator Xenophon also asked about new money. I can say that the government is taking action on binge drinking and preventative health. When the alcopops measure was announced, Minister Roxon said that this change ‘will see the single biggest investment ever by a Commonwealth government into preventative health measures’. And, behold, at COAG the government announced the largest ever investment in preventative health of $872 million. This is all new money. Tackling alcohol abuse will figure highly in the national partnership. That is a significant proportion of the revenue to be collected, which we will be making public in the near future. The government was always realistic about the fact that significant prevention funding would be provided through COAG and that it would take, of course, some time to finalise. (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How much money has actually been spent to date on these programs since introduction of the tax, and what evidence can the minister provide that there has not been widespread drink substitution amongst young drinkers since the introduction of this tax, with young people choosing to either mix spirits themselves or turn to a wider array of new wine and beer based alcopop drinks which are not subject to the new tax?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —There was a range of matters in that question and in the short time I have available I will see if I can provide further information, but I may not get an opportunity to address them in the given time. Whether at-risk teenagers prefer other drinks is one of the matters that Senator Xenophon turned to. Teenagers who drink alcohol at risky levels have a stronger preference for alcopops compared to low-risk drinkers. That information was from the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. As we know a very, very high proportion of at-risk teenage drinkers are drinking alcopops as one of their favourite drinks. The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed—which is, of course, one of the concerns of this government and why we are acting—that, of females aged 14 to 19 who consume alcohol at risky and high-risk levels, 75.3 per cent reported that they usually consume RTDs in a bottle when drinking alcohol, 75.9 per cent reported— (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What data is available and what surveys and research have been conducted by the government, or are available to the government, to confirm any change in alcohol consumption across the board since the introduction of the alcopops tax, particularly for young people?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —As I indicated in my answer to your first supplementary question, for any matters that I have not addressed in the broad, I will seek further information from the minister to see what we can make available. However, the third part really supports what they have been saying about alcohol measures to date. An independent report was commissioned by the then Howard government. I know it is not since the introduction of the tax but it is what I have available at this time. David Collins and Helen Lapsley, in The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society, found:

There would appear to be strong justification for the April 2008 increase in the Australian tax on pre-mixed drinks (alcopops) by 70 per cent.

What they said in that report—and I think it is still true today—is:

... alcohol excise taxes are capable of being designed explicitly to target the types of alcohol known to be the subject of abuse (for example, high strength beer and alcopops) ...

…         …         …

For example, studies show that young people are more influenced—

(Time expired)