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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 949

Mr MILLAR(9.38) —This morning I had in mind to bring one grievance to the House during this debate. A short while ago in my office, listening to the proceedings of the House over the relay, a second grievance took its rise. It sprung from the remarks of the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Wells) who, with quite creditable diligence and efficiency, has emulated the behaviour of many in this House-I make this statement quite apologetically-by misusing and abusing this institution, for which I have a very strong feeling, in order to put aside the matters of a very urgent nature which should command all our time and all our resources, and divert the attention of this place into distant areas to campaign for a party in a State election.

Mr Dawkins —Oh Clarrie, come on. Don't bung it on.

Mr MILLAR —I respond to the mild interjection by the Minister for Finance. I recognise immediately that I could be charged with a degree of naivete. My most painful experiences relate to an occasion when we sat on that side of the House. There was shocking abuse day after day and week after week while the urgent affairs of this nation, which should primarily concern us, were put aside. I think that those who have special responsibilities in other areas should be left to their own devices and we should be able to address ourselves to the matters peculiarly attached to this House. I do not impugn the honourable member in a personal sense. I recognise the diligence and the efficiency with which he has pursued a customary practice. There is no personal admonition in my statement. I merely speak for the House.

Mr Wells —But they were Federal funds.

Mr MILLAR —I understand. I shall not argue that at this juncture because it would rob me of the opportunity to deal with the more substantial matter that I wish to bring before the House. I venture to say that, in general terms, it would be true to say that our society has become conditioned to hard-sell practices in the market place. These practices usually take the form of patently extravagant television, radio and printed media using all the gimmickry that a pseudo-sophisticated advertising industry can bring to its command. Whilst market research proves the cash benefit of this device, John and Jane Citizen tend to recognise, by the very nature of the hard-sell technique, that there is a risk that they could be subjected to a degree of tongue-in-cheek conning by the advertiser. Therefore, it does not really do any mischief.

However, my concern today relates to the other end of the spectrum, namely, the soft-sell practice or, more particularly, the Press article or presentation which, whilst invariably well motivated, leads to a situation which could be described as the soft sell not to sell. In essence I speak of the impact on the sugar industry resulting from the misconception placed in people's minds that sugar inescapably has a deleterious effect on health. The fact is that there is no substantiated evidence to detract from the proposition that sugar is a safe foodstuff. Indeed, no lesser body than the United States Food and Drug Administration established this fact and affirms sucrose as a safe foodstuff. This conclusion was arrived at after a specially appointed committee, chosen for the credentials within the members' disciplines, had examined 1,980 scientific papers during its study. True it is that the committee concluded that reasonable evidence exists that sucrose is a contributor to the formation of dental caries. But, at the same time, it must be noted that dental caries occur in populations which have never used sugar or any other processed foodstuffs. Many foods which contain little or no sucrose but which contain other fermentable carbohydrates are capable of causing dental decay. Good dental hygiene, including the use of fluoridated toothpastes can substantially reduce the risk of dental caries.

It certainly seems less than fair or sensible that an industry as important as the sugar industry should be placed in jeopardy by the seemingly never-ending spate of views-many of them not accredited-which seek to discourage the use of sugar on the basis that it is injurious to health. I would not suggest for one minute that sugar, along with all other foodstuffs, should not be subject to continuing scientific examination as to its application to consumer needs. But until such time as research results can be endorsed by a properly constituted body, common logic and mutuality of benefit must surely invite, if not demand, some restraint in influencing usage of the commodity. Many criticisms of sugar- albeit the critics enjoy professional qualifications-have been dismissed by expert committees of scientists because no scientific evience existed to support the criticisms. Should any foodstuff, or any item for that matter, attract condemnation, let that condemnation at least carry the seal of unimpeachable authority.

Having said that, one would have to allow that the Commonwealth Department of Health and the National Health and Medical Research Council could fairly lay claim to come within the ambit of a reliable authority on matters I am presently discussing. The National Health and Medical Research Council, in pursuit of its commission, adopted dietary guidelines and, not illogically, made those guidelines available to the community by way of public statement. No doubt the National Health and Medical Research Council had an arguable, in-depth case to sustain its conclusions. The public, for all sorts of totally acceptable reasons , tends not to concern itself so much with detailed presentation but rather retains the encapsulated impression of cryptic captions. As a result, modified dietary guidelines for Australians are put out by the Council for use in nutrition publications for the community. Let us look at these guidelines.

Firstly, these guidelines suggest that breastfeeding should be promoted. That seems a sensible operation. I guess all honourable members can say that they know what that means, although, on reflection, I must allow for the possibility that, in this age of elimination of all forms of sexual discrimination, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we too may be left nursing the baby. Secondly, the guidelines suggest that we should choose a nutritious diet from a variety of foods. That is commendable. Nobody can argue with that. But what does it mean? No more than is perceived. People are left to make their own conclusions on the captions used. If people want to go away and read about it and be educated in the matter they might be better informed as to what they require. But people snap captions and take them on the run and opinions are formed.

Thirdly, the guidelines suggest that we should control our weight. Of course we control our weight. We think we know what this means. But who is to say that there is somebody who believes that to control one's weight means not letting it fall off the chair? It does not spell it out. Fourthly, the guidelines suggest that we should avoid eating too much fat. All right, avoid eating too much fat and lean to good health. It makes good sense. But what is too much fat? Fifthly, it suggests that we should avoid eating too much sugar. What does that mean? Does it mean we should eat more than 46 kilograms a year, which is approximately the consumption of the average Australian, or 20 kilograms, 80 kilograms or 100 kilograms? Sixthly, it states that we should eat more breads and cereals. Seventhly, we are told to limit alcohol consumption. Should we reduce our consumption of 18 tinnies a day to 12? What sort of limit do we put on it? We believe that we should limit it to a negligible level but people are left to form their own impressions. Lastly, just to rub salt in the wounds, the guidelines recommend that we should use less salt.

All these things are quite laudable in themselves but people are left to form their own impressions. In laying down all these things it is absurd not to emphasise that they must go hand in hand with all those other requirements that attend good health in the ordinary man or woman. How silly to be worrying about all these things if we do not exercise, if we abuse that wonderful machine that is in our custody and charge. It is somewhat synonymous with not attending to the right mix for a combustion engine. If one gets things right and one works that engine one does not have the problems. But any of these elements that are introduced as serious potential problems for man are not necessarily serious problems if the total requirements for good health are attended to. I think the sugar industry deserves better because of its importance to this country and to many people. I hope that the Council and all the other bodies are mindful that when they put out these encapsulated slogans the full story is put to the people .