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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4991

Mr LAMING (Bowman) (19:15): I rise to support my Queensland colleague on this very important motion that certainly from our point of view absolutely repudiates any possibility of a sugar tax in this nation. This side of politics is very firmly committed to making sure that we do not head down a path where we continue to raise taxes on hardworking Australian families, particularly in an area like diet. I have no problem with a government that make dietary recommendations or publishes dietary guidelines—I might even brook the notion of a CSIRO cookbook! But we certainly should not be in the game of having the government taxing particular items of food according to what the government feels is or is not something that is suitable to be consumed. There are plenty of ways to evaluate both what is a healthy food, by a nutrient analysis, and a safe food, under the food standards currently in place between Australia and New Zealand. It is quite another step, as has been proposed by the head of public health in Tasmania, to propose a sugar tax—either for that state or nationwide—as he did two days ago. That should not be supported and will not be supported by this side of the chamber.

I would like to devote my remaining time to what obviously underpins the great sugar industry of this nation, which indirectly or directly employs 40,000 Australians, which has 6,000 growers and which is the No. 1 exporter of sugar in the world. I also want to point out that, under the surface, there is quite an active debate between academics, groups that are supported by the food industry, and those that are supporting a range of different interests—even, lest I say, the author of Sweet Poison, David Gillespie—to try and shed some light on one constituent of the sugar molecule called fructose. We know that the body has hypothalamic regulation of protein intake and of fat intake, and that there are a few people that do not have good regulation of that intake. But we also know that sugar, broken down, is fundamentally fructose, glucose or galactose. Increasingly, light is shining on increased fructose consumption—which historically over the last few decades has increased—despite the findings of the 'Australian paradox' paper presented by Sim and Barclay, findings which have since been significantly attacked but are yet to be repudiated by the university that supported that research.

In essence, we are talking about what we are going to do for Australians whose consumption of high-energy food, particularly fast food, is inordinately large—consumption that in my part of the world, in regional Australia, leads to nearly three out of four adults being obese or overweight. Something has to be done. In this generation it will be the governments—both state and territory governments, and this federal government—that must find a solution. The solution is not blanket sugar taxes—I want to say that right now. The solution is more open dialogue. The debate around nutrition and dietary consumption should never become the tobacco debate, where we all hold firm and say that until the evidence is absolutely irrefutable we must do nothing. It is time that we negotiate, that we engage and that we speak to everyone—from the supermarkets to the retailers, from the food manufacturers to the growers—about identifying what is a healthy, balanced diet, and about encouraging Australians to stick to that.

The other major player in this space that has already spoken on this topic is the Dietitians Association of Australia. I am disappointed that the dietitians did not come to a federal, bipartisan forum held in this place in October of last year. The forum was attended by FSANZ and by the NHMRC, but amongst the 5,100 members of the DAA, they could not find one person to come and present at that forum and that discussion on sugar—a forum that had senior academics and other lay writers present. It is a debate that has to be had, not one that should be suppressed. When it comes to working out whether we need stronger guidelines, as we saw published earlier this year after significant delays, that move from moderating to restricting is a significant recommendation which does not need to affect the sugar price at all. It does not need to affect our overall consumption; it is just a reminder to those that have significant overconsumption of sugar—and that can be potentially 100 kilograms or more per year—that that the recommendations suggest half of that, at best. The average Australian consumes 50 kilograms of sugar plus another 10 per year consumed in juices. The debate is not about the national consumption. The debate is about excessive and wanton consumption in small numbers of Australians. That is a health issue that every one of us needs to commit to. Nut-net is another group that has worked very hard to combat some of the contributions by Gillespie and, by giving both of them an equal say, I am simply saying that we need to stick to the big picture. We need to admit that diabetes may not be a disease of sugar but it is certainly a disease of over-consumption of food and a disease of overweight. It is patently obvious that sugar is part of that formula and must remain in that national debate.