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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7637

Senator BARNETT (10:43 PM) —In 1997 tobacco wholesalers gained a windfall of up to $250 million following a High Court ruling on tobacco franchise fees. The ruling meant that the tobacco wholesalers did not have to pay excise collected during the period 1 July 1997 and 5 August 1997 to the states or to the Australian government. Wholesalers retained up to $250 million in excise collections and, while the Australian government acted to prevent greater windfalls to wholesalers for all amounts prior to 1 July 1997, the government has cited subsequent High Court judgments to argue that its legal options are constrained. Retrospective legislation is a dangerous precedent at any time. This money does not belong to either the tobacco retailers or the tobacco wholesalers. Neither does it belong to any government—state or federal. It belongs to those smokers who purchased their tobacco products during the same period in 1997. If no action is taken, there is every possibility that some of the funds will remain with the tobacco wholesalers, and in my view this would be a tragedy.

I acknowledge that there is currently litigation between the tobacco retailers and the tobacco wholesalers and that the tobacco retailers are likely to be successful in retrieving some of the funds from the tobacco wholesalers. But I say again that it is, in my view, not their money nor the tobacco wholesalers' money. The $250 million windfall gained by the tobacco wholesalers in 1997 should be used for antismoking campaigns and tobacco related health care. In my view, the tobacco wholesalers and retailers are morally bound to return the money and use it, preferably by way of hypothecated funding, for smoking related health care.

I have been advised by the Cancer Council in my home state of Tasmania that the $250 million would assist with much-needed antismoking campaigns—indeed, I agree. I hope that this money will help save some of the nearly 20,000 Australian lives lost to tobacco related diseases each year. The Cancer Council has advised that tobacco addiction carries a health and social cost of $12.7 billion a year in Australia.

I compliment Lawson Ride, the Executive Director of the Cancer Council of Tasmania, and the Chairman, Rob Walters, for the work that they do in raising this important issue. I also compliment the cancer councils in each and every state and territory around this nation for highlighting and addressing the concerns that are faced by those Australian people dealing with tobacco related diseases. There are costs that flow from that, and of course there are 20,000 Australian lives lost each year to tobacco related diseases.

I also acknowledge the work of the Launceston Cancerians, including the good work of my own mother, Lady Ferrall, for raising money in aid of research for cancer. It may seem unusual to stand in this place to compliment one's mother, but in this case the accolades are entirely appropriate. I compliment the Launceston Cancerians for the work that they do and the team that they have around them. Indeed, there is another team in Hobart and there are other groups in and around Tasmania that raise funds for research into cancer and for cancer support. I compliment all those who work in the cancer support industry. I hope that this call for action and the moral authority that we have in this place will be a good indicator and will send a very strong message to the tobacco wholesalers and the tobacco retailers that this is actually not their money and that it can be best used for antismoking campaigns and tobacco related health care.