Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Questions without Notice
I thank the member for Franklin for her question. I know that as the mother of several young children she is thinking about what will happen when they become teenagers. Along with many on this side of the House, she is particularly interested to make sure that teenagers do not have cheap and easy access to alcopops.
Today in the Senate the Liberal Party have made clear again their intention to oppose the government’s alcopops measure. What they have made clear is that they intend to send a cheque for $300 million directly back to the distillers. That is what I call one hell of a shout. They are going to make alcopops cheaper for teenagers. As a consequence of the Leader of the Opposition’s absolute lack of interest in this issue and his determination to show no leadership, he is going to make sure that young people can get these products at a cheaper price everyday in probably just a couple of weeks time if this measure fails. In fact, I am sure that Malcolm Turnbull is going to fast become the toast of every 18th birthday party from Brisbane to Broome. They will be happy that they can get these products cheaper thanks to the Leader of the Opposition. It really is quite surprising.
He might be the toast of the 18th birthday parties across the country, but he will not be toasted at the emergency departments across the country. The Liberal Party will be cursed when emergency departments have to pick up the pieces across the country. He might be toasted at schoolies, but he certainly will be cursed at every police station across the country. He might be toasted around the board tables of big alcopop companies, but around the kitchen tables, by mums and dads of teenagers, he will be cursed.
Let me explain again why this measure is so important—particularly for those on the other side of the House who might not have been in the parliament in 2000 when the Liberal Party first created this tax break for alcolpops. They took a sugary drink they knew was targeted at under-age drinkers and they gave it a tax break. Since then, these drinks have become immensely popular. Let us just have a look at one of the statistics. For high-risk female drinkers aged 15 to 17, in the year 2000, before the Liberal Party gave alcopops this tax break, only 21 per cent had drunk alcopops on their last drinking occasion. By 2004, after four years of this tax break, that had risen to three out of every four 15- to 17-year-old high-risk female drinkers. Alcopops sales shot up by 250 per cent, all courtesy of a decision by the member for Higgins.
We know that alcohol abuse is a serious problem. Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, we are prepared to do something about it. It is not just the alcopops measure; we are also investing $872 million in prevention measures—$53 million in direct anti-binge-drinking initiatives. If this measure is passed we have put on the table another $50 million to look at sponsorship, to look at expanding the social marketing campaigns and to look at a number of community-level initiatives. Since our measure has been in place—for almost 12 months—310 million fewer standard alcopops drinks have been sold. That is a lot less consumption. Overall, alcohol sales have fallen by 124 million standard drinks—and Malcolm Turnbull wants to give them all back.
My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, I refer to the fact that the coalition today have actually moved an amendment to legalise the $300 million to date for a special alcohol abuse fund but that the Labor Party in the Senate did not support it. We have circulated an amendment again today. Will the government support that amendment?
The member for Dickson is angered by one fact, and that is that the Liberal Party, once calling itself the party for family values, has now become the party for binge drinking. It stands absolutely condemned.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask you to require the Prime Minister to withdraw the statement that we are the party of binge drinking. That is offensive to all of us. It is particularly offensive to the member from Perth, who was referred to yesterday, and it is offensive to me personally. He should be required to withdraw it.
This is akin to a ruling that I gave the day before yesterday, whilst I appreciate that it is in a totally different context. The clearest rulings that have been given about these matters have been given by Speaker Snedden, as quoted in House of Representatives Practice. For some, when we read the outcome of the implementation of what Speaker Snedden indicates, it is a tough business. Often remarks made in the context of us as members of parliament and in the political profession would be seen as being things that we would not wish to be entered into the debate. But, as Speaker Snedden said, the fact that we are in the public eye from time to time means that things like this occur and comments are made, and, no matter how harsh they appear, it is probably the judgment of others that decides these matters.
Mr Speaker, just to clarify: are you ruling that the Prime Minister need not withdraw that remark—notwithstanding that many people on this side found it offensive?
The member for Warringah has asked me a question. That is what I am saying, on the basis of my understanding of those matters that have been traversed in practice and akin to the ways in which other occupants of this chair, since Speaker Snedden, have ruled on these matters.
Mr Speaker, I appreciate what you have just said, but the Prime Minister has had a few moments now to reflect on the remark and perhaps he might care to withdraw it of his own volition, without your ruling that way.