Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


Select Committee on Red Tape

8:36 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak about a 24 November article in TheAustralian by Adam Creighton, which reports that a trio of anti-smoking health nannies, led by Simon Chapman, provided a 'series of factual errors' at a parliamentary inquiry into vaping and the use of e-cigarettes. Simon Chapman's claims were so inaccurate they prompted a response from Public Health England. That's correct; part of the UK's Department of Health were so taken aback by Simon Chapman's false statements that they felt the need to go on the record to clear things up. The story even made it into the French media.

During the parliamentary inquiry, Chapman and his group of health nannies made no fewer than seven false and misleading claims about vaping restrictions overseas and the results of legalisation in other countries. These inaccuracies had the potential to negatively affect the outcome of this important inquiry. It would appear as though Professors Chapman, Freeman and Swanson may have taken it upon themselves to purposely provide the public with false information to stop any changes to the government's policies on e-cigarettes. This would be an enormous tragedy, because the evidence is that e-cigarettes save lives. The fewer people smoke tobacco, the less their chances of dying.

Rates of smoking are in significant decline in countries that allow e-cigarettes, but not in Australia. Australia's current policy means people who are trying to save their lives through quitting smoking can face jail terms of up to two years and fines of up to $45,000 just for possessing nicotine that's not in a cigarette. In other words, you can possess nicotine in a cigarette but not in a form that's safer to use.

In case some claim that the information presented by the professors was misconstrued or that these professors made some mistakes when presenting their information, let me tell you some more. Chapman goes to great lengths to let everyone under the sun know about his expertise in the field of tobacco research, and he is, possibly, the most vocal anti-smoking nanny-statist in Australia. The idea that he would by accident misrepresent information where the misrepresentation just happens to suit his agenda seems too far-fetched. Stretching the truth in order to pursue what a nanny-statist perceives to be the greater good is not beyond the pale, especially for a man like Simon Chapman.

This is a man who, despite having no discernible knowledge about wind farm technologies, decided to present poorly conceived and patently false information at the wind farm inquiry in which I was heavily involved. He cited many of his own publications in order to make his case that the ill-effects some local residents associated with wind turbines are due to a nocebo effect. This means, in his words:

… the phenomenon of people claiming to be adversely affected by exposure to wind turbines is best understood as a communicated disease that exhibits many signs of the classic psychosocial and nocebo phenomenon where negative expectations can translate into symptoms of tension and anxiety.

He made these claims despite not being a medical practitioner, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, an acoustician, an audiologist, a physicist or even an engineer.

In the final report by the Select Committee on Wind Turbines the committee made a point on taking on Chapman's dodgy workings and spurious claims, noting:

Professor Chapman has made several claims which are contrary to the evidence gathered by this committee.

I will mention two of them. He said that the majority of Australia's wind turbines have never received a single complaint. The evidence didn't indicate that, but it's not relevant. Wind farms are only a problem if people live too close to them. He claimed that complaints of adverse health effects from wind farms tend to be limited to anglophone nations—quite false, which the evidence confirmed. There were others. Now he has even published a book that repeats his unqualified fantasies. Chapman's qualifications are an undergraduate degree in sociology and a PhD in social medicine, specifically related to the semiotics of cigarette advertising. If you need to know the meaning behind an ad for Marlboro, Dr Chapman might just be the man for you—or at least he can claim to know a bit about the subject—but, if you need professional advice on health matters or, indeed, anything of a scientific or technical nature, you'd be best to steer well clear of him.

Chapman's attempts to control the lives of others doesn't stop with wind farm inquiries and vaping restrictions though. In the past Chapman has involved himself in Australia's gun control debate. In fact, he credits himself with having helped inform the Howard era gun law reforms. Yet again he has no qualifications or expertise on this subject. On reflection, perhaps Chapman's involvement helps explain why Howard's gun laws were so ineffective.

When Chapman is not off trying to impose his will on Australia through punitive restrictions, he can be found soaking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers' funds to conduct research that always seems tailored to suit his ideological agenda. Chapman is at the end of his career and his ability to do further damage to Australia's policy environment is limited, but I would like to highlight to my colleagues in the Senate that health nannies like Chapman are more than willing to attend inquiries and provide any information they can in order to suit their agenda. It does not matter to them if the information they provide is false or the research they point to is flawed, because the ends justify the means. In this instance the end goal is to continue the ban on safer nicotine alternatives and allow hundreds of thousands of people to suffer.

Policymakers in this place should learn from Chapman's antics and remember that, when you are looking to inform your policies with evidence, you should always look at the actual experience and credentials of those you call on to give evidence, otherwise you end up with ill-informed, wilfully ignorant and downright malicious people like Chapman rocking up on the taxpayers' dollar to give you research that suits their particular agenda. Snake-oil salesmen come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they take the guise of an emeritus professor of sociology.


No comments