Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023, Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2023; Second Reading
Today I rise to speak on a matter of significant importance to public health in Australia, the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023, a legislative proposal designed to streamline tobacco regulations in our country. I will make comment on the various aspects of the bill, its objectives, the accompanying Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2023 and the Labor government's recommendations.
The primary purpose of the bill is to consolidate the various tobacco regulations into one legislative package, with the aim of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our tobacco control framework. The bill seeks to regulate tobacco and e-cigarette advertising and sponsorships, prohibiting practices that may encourage consumption. This includes restrictions on advertising and promotion, to reduce the allure of these products. It mandates the requirements for plain packaging of tobacco products. This includes stringent regulations on the appearance, content and standards of tobacco products, to further discourage their consumption. Certain tobacco items like chewing tobacco and snuffs intended for oral use will face permanent bans, in line with existing bans on similar products. Reporting entities will be required to submit detailed reports on tobacco products, sold and supplied, on advertising, as well as on research and development activities. The bill establishes provisions for compliance and enforcement, including both the appointment of authorised officers and civil penalty provisions to ensure that the regulations are followed. The bill also includes various provisions related to delegations and constitutional matters to support the effective implementation of these regulations.
It's crucial to acknowledge the historical context of tobacco regulation in Australia. In 2012 Australia became the first country to implement plain packaging laws, a significant step in the global fight against tobacco use. Both Labor and coalition governments have consistently raised tobacco excise taxes to reduce affordability and discourage smoking, further demonstrating our bipartisan commitment to addressing this critical public health issue. In addition to plain packaging, graphic health warnings have been introduced on tobacco products, discouraging consumption by highlighting the devastating effects of smoking related diseases. Australia also has stringent restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, ensuring that tobacco companies can't exploit loopholes for indirect promotion. Governments have been proactive in providing support for smoking cessation programs and services, including nicotine replacement therapy and support helplines. This multifaceted approach has been instrumental in reducing tobacco consumption.
While the coalition supports the intention of this bill, it is essential to mention that a Senate committee inquiry has commenced, with a reporting date of 22 November. Any significant issues arising from this report should be taken into consideration. We understand that there are concerns about the costs associated with these measures. However, it's important to note that the government has proposed that the costs be met through existing resources of the Department of Health and Aged Care. Other costs due to the legislated changes will be borne by the industry. I strongly note that the coalition will have more to say about this bill when it comes before the Senate. However, it is with deep disappointment that we express our concerns regarding a crucial aspect that this bill does not address: the rampant and growing issue of the illegal tobacco trade in our country.
The illegal tobacco trade in Australia is a matter of increasing concern. It poses a serious threat to public health, government revenue and the very objectives that the public health bill seeks to achieve. The illegal tobacco market not only undermines the effectiveness of existing tobacco control measures but also significantly impacts government revenue and encourages a thriving black market. One of our primary concerns is that the bill does not address this growing illegal trade. While the bill focuses on imposing penalties for non-compliance with legal tobacco regulations, it falls short when it comes to deterring and penalising those involved in the illicit tobacco trade. The penalties for engaging in this illegal activity remain largely unchanged, even in the face of the growing threat it presents. To effectively combat the illegal tobacco trade, a coordinated effort is essential. It requires not only strict penalties but also proactive measures aimed at dismantling the illegal tobacco networks that thrive in the shadows. These networks operate with relative impunity, undermining public health objectives and costing the government significant revenue.
The illegal tobacco trade is a multifaceted issue that affects various aspects of society. The availability of cheaper, unregulated tobacco products encourages smokers to continue their habit or entices potential new users, defeating the purpose of public health measures. This illicit trade also results in significant revenue losses for the government—funds that could otherwise be directed towards essential public services. This figure from various sources is now in the billions. It continues to grow, and it is unacceptable. The existence of a thriving black market for tobacco products undermines the effectiveness of tobacco control measures such as excise taxes and plain packaging laws. The illegal tobacco trade often involves organised crime and money laundering, contributing to a broader range of criminal activities.
The coalition strongly believes that addressing the illegal tobacco trade must be an integral part of any comprehensive tobacco control strategy. We consider that significantly increasing penalties associated with illegal tobacco trade should be given appropriate consideration. This not only serves as a deterrent but also allows for more effective legal action against those involved in this illicit activity. Coordinated efforts between law enforcement agencies, border control and other relevant authorities are essential to dismantle illegal tobacco networks actively. Educating the public about the risks and implications of illegal tobacco consumption is critical. This can reduce the demand for illegal products. Given the global nature of the illegal tobacco trade, international collaboration with countries where these products are manufactured or trafficked is also crucial.
Importantly, comprehensive data and research on the scale of the illegal tobacco trade in Australia is needed to inform policy decisions effectively. The coalition cannot overlook the growing issue of the illegal tobacco trade in Australia. We're deeply disappointed that the bill does not adequately address this concern. To ensure the success of these public health measures, it is imperative that we also tackled the illegal tobacco trade with equal vigour. Without addressing the growing black market, this bill risks not being worth the paper it's written on.
The bill's objectives can be fully achieved only through a coordinated, comprehensive and robust effort to combat this growing problem. It is our hope that these concerns will be taken into serious consideration to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Australians and the economic interests of our nation. We look forward to the findings of the upcoming Senate committee inquiry. Together, we can make important advances in protecting the health and wellbeing of all Australians.