Tuesday, 18 September 2018
Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018; In Committee
I move amendment (1) on sheet 8518:
(1) Page 3 (after line 25), at the end of the Bill, add:
Schedule 2—Further amendments
Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011
1 At the end of Division 3 of Part 2 of Chapter 2
29A Requirements apply only if manufacturer consents
Despite any other provision of this Act or the regulations, the:
(a) requirements for retail packaging of tobacco products in Division 1 of this Part; and
(b) requirements for appearance of tobacco products in Division 2 of this Part; and
(c) additional requirements (if any) prescribed by the regulations;
only apply if the person who manufactures the retail packaging or the tobacco product (the manufacturer):
(d) consents to the application of the requirements to the retail packaging or tobacco products which they manufacture; and
(e) notifies the Secretary in writing of such consent.
I rise on behalf of Katter's Australian Party to speak on the amendment to the government's Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018. This amendment seeks to give tobacco manufacturers the right of veto over government efforts to impose plain packaging on their products. The likelihood is that, if this amendment were passed, so-called plain packaging of tobacco products would come to an end. This amendment seeks to ensure that the property rights expropriated by the original Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 are restored. The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, while masquerading as a bold public health initiative, was actually just a nasty bit of pure socialism which simply displayed the total contempt that the former Gillard government had for private property. On the pretext of discouraging smoking, the former Labor government legislated to destroy the private property of tobacco manufacturers—brand equity built up over many years—and dictated the design of packaging to include revolting images of diseased organs. Given that tobacco remains a perfectly legal product, this was an unheard-of and outrageous attack on private property.
There seems to be little clear evidence that plain packaging has any effect on reducing smoking rates, and it probably just encourages those who wish to smoke to buy the cheapest cigarettes available, since the absence of a brand image undermines the appeal of more expensive tobacco. Certainly, smoking rates have fallen in recent times, but they were falling before the plain packaging act. If the government seriously wanted to reduce the adverse effects of smoking then, instead of imposing plain packaging, they would legalise vaping, which studies have shown encourages smokers to switch to a much healthier way of getting nicotine but also serves as a very real aid to those who wish to quit altogether.
However, whether or not the tasteless images of diseased lungs on cigarette packages may actually discourage a few people from taking up smoking in the first place, this is actually irrelevant. The real issue is that, in destroying brand equity and dictating packaging, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act actually took away the property rights of the manufacturers. What people seem to fail to grasp is the insidious nature of this kind of legislation. Once a principle is established that private property can be expropriated at the discretion of the government of the day, the only question becomes: which group of property owners will have their rights trampled on next? That tobacco companies are widely disliked does not justify abrogation of their rights. The truth is that, however supposedly worthy the cause, it never justifies measures which undermine our basic freedoms because, once undermined, they cease to be rights and become privileges to be given or withheld on the grace and favour of the government of the day. If this government is allowed to get away with destroying the brand equity and dictating how a perfectly legal product is packaged, it is only a matter of time before it does so with something else. Today the politically unfashionable tobacco companies have their property appropriated by the state. Tomorrow it could be the breweries or unhealthy fast-food retailers. How long will it be before some left-wing do-gooder decides that we need plain packaging for alcohol and we find nauseating images of diseased livers on every beer bottle? Or indeed how long before every greasy hamburger is obliged to be covered in brown wrapping that graphically depicts fat-clogged arteries and heart attack warnings?
This is why I've moved my amendment to require the consent of tobacco companies for plain packaging. As long as it's a legal product, it should be up to the manufacturer as to how it is packaged. As for any other legal product, it should be up to the consumer to decide whether the costs outweigh the benefits—caveat emptor. However, this amendment also serves to highlight the issue of what principles political parties stand for. It was one thing for the hard-left Gillard government to have attacked private property with ill-conceived legislation like the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, but it is quite another for a Liberal-National government to continue in the same vein.
When the coalition was elected in 2013, I had hoped that legislation hostile to private property rights, such as the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, would be repealed. However, I'm sorry to say that this, like section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and so many other laws brought in by Labor, remains on the statute books. Whether this represents a weakness of will or a lack of ideological commitment is a matter of speculation. But the question must be asked as to how any government can call itself liberal if it will not stand up for private property rights, free speech and reward for effort. You may think that smoking is a major health concern. You may even think that anything that may reduce the incidence of it must be a good thing. But what you cannot do is call yourself liberal if you do not defend the inalienable rights of private property, whoever that property may belong to. Just because many people don't like tobacco should have no bearing on manufacturers' rights; they should be the same as for anyone else. Any public health initiative that undermines fundamental rights in society costs far more than it is worth. What needs to be understood is that this amendment is not about smoking. It is about private property, and I urge all senators who believe in its importance to support my amendment on this basis. Thank you.