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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 4002


Senator HURLEY (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. I note the coalition’s backflip over the government’s alcopops policy and I ask Senator Ludwig to update the Senate on the latest developments on the government’s alcopops policy and support for the measure.


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Hurley for her question. I know Senator Hurley has a huge interest in tackling the scourge of binge drinking in our community. After months and months of siding with the distilling industry and going against the government’s plans to tackle the increasing problem of binge drinking, the opposition in the House of Representatives have finally seen the light. I note those on the opposite side here may not have seen the light. But maybe their yelling is really a symptom of the problem they now have. I do congratulate, though, the members of the House of Representatives for their decision yesterday to support the increased tax on premixed alcoholic drinks. But I note that not all of the coalition MPs in the other house agreed with the shadow minister’s memo, because some of them took the opportunity to vote against this important measure to deal with the binge-drinking culture in our community. What we hear now—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Government senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Constant interjections on both sides are disorderly. Senator Ludwig is entitled to be heard.


Senator LUDWIG —The government’s alcopops policy has been backed by 80 per cent of the community health experts but not by those on the opposite side in the Senate. The Cancer Council of Australia joined the Rudd government in welcoming the opposition’s change of heart in the House. The CEO, Ian Olver, said, ‘Sales data showed that the alcopops tax was driving down net alcohol consumption, which on a population basis equates to reduced risk of alcohol related cancers.’ They have seen the light, but those opposite in the Senate are yet to find their feet on this. Yesterday, I congratulated those in the House. They found the nerve to support the reduction in binge drinking within our community. But four coalition members voted against it. How many more of those opposite are going to join with those four on the other side—(Time expired)


Senator HURLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can Senator Ludwig explain to the Senate how the Rudd government’s alcopops policy is a priority for the government in tackling the binge-drinking culture, which unfortunately is beginning to emerge in our community—unrecognised by some opposite?


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Hurley for her supplementary question. After more than 12 months—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Government senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order, on both sides! As I have pointed out, interjections across the chamber are disorderly. Senator Ludwig is entitled to be heard.


Senator LUDWIG —After 12 months of opportunistic delay and obstruction by those opposite, the coalition have finally seen the merit in supporting the reduction in binge drinking in our society. But what we now have is that the opposition in the Senate—and it seems to be led by those opposite—to deal with this bill in the Senate. They are not going to ensure that it is put on the program to be dealt with. Those opposite are now going to join with those four who did not support the bill and make sure that this bill does not get dealt with. That is what the opposition are now saying to this government. This government want this bill dealt with tomorrow as early as possible to ensure that we address the issues of binge drinking in our society. If you are going to stand up for your shadow minister in the House—(Time expired)


Senator HURLEY —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can Senator Ludwig inform the Senate how the Rudd government’s alcopops policy will support a comprehensive strategy to deal with the problem of binge drinking within the community?


Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —Of course, on this side of the chamber we are committed to improving the health of all Australians no matter where they live. Those opposite in the House of Representatives, thankfully, have seen sense and support us in our pursuit of tackling binge drinking. The alcopops tax is one part of our overall plan on the national anti-binge-drinking strategy. But I encourage those opposite to rethink their current strategy in the Senate to ensure that the alcopops tax is dealt with in the Senate, because at the moment the motion that they passed today makes it plain that we cannot deal with the alcopops tax before we go home this week. If those opposite want to support the bill, give us the indication and we will bring the bill on and have it dealt with. The simple message is that those opposite should support the alcopops tax. Stand up with your shadow minister and support it or tell us that you have joined the pack of four.