Senate debates

Monday, 27 November 2023


Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023, Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2023

7:27 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

Today I rise to speak on a matter of significant importance to the public health of Australians, and that is the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023 and a consequential amendments and transitional provisions bill. These bills aim to streamline tobacco regulation in Australia. The primary purpose of the bills is to consolidate the various tobacco regulations into one legislative package with the aim of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Australia's tobacco control framework. The coalition supports this aim in recognition of its importance to public health outcomes in this country. However, we have significant concerns that this bill completely ignores the critical issue impacting the effectiveness of tobacco control in Australia right now, which is the growing black market

It is crucial to first acknowledge the historical context of tobacco regulation in Australia. In 2012, Australia became the first country to implement plain-packaging laws, a critical step in the global fight against tobacco use. There has been a longstanding bipartisan commitment to addressing this critical public health issue, with both Labor and coalition governments consistently raising tobacco excise taxes and implementing further measures to reduce affordability and to discourage smoking amongst the Australian population. In addition to plain packaging, graphic health warnings highlighting the devastating effects of smoking related diseases have been introduced on tobacco products in order to further discourage consumption. Australia also has stringent restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion, ensuring that tobacco companies can't exploit loopholes for indirect promotion. The Australian government has 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 in this country.

This bill seeks to further regulate tobacco and e-cigarette advertising and sponsorships, prohibiting practices that may encourage consumption, including restrictions on advertising and promotion. It mandates the requirements for plain packaging of tobacco products, including stringent regulations on the appearance, content and standards of tobacco products to further discourage consumption.

Certain tobacco items intended for oral use like chewing tobacco and snuff 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, and advertising, as well as on research and development activities. The bill establishes provisions for compliance and enforcement, including the appointment of authorised officers and civil penalty provisions to ensure the regulations are followed. The bill also includes various provisions related to delegation and Constitutional matters to support the effectiveness and implementation of these regulations.

While the coalition supports these bills and their aim to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of tobacco control framework in Australia, it is with deep disappointment that we express our concerns regarding a crucial aspect of this bill that it does not address—that is, the rampant and growing issue of the illicit tobacco trade in our country.

The illicit tobacco trade in Australia is a matter of increasing concern. It's absolutely undeniable that without addressing the illicit tobacco trade, the effectiveness of existing tobacco control measures will continue to be undermined, and a thriving black market will be further encouraged. This poses a serious threat to public health, to law and order, to government revenue, and to the very objectives that this public health bill seeks to achieve. Despite the importance of addressing the illicit tobacco trade to the effectiveness of Australia's tobacco control, this bill does not address this growing illegal tobacco trade. While the bill focuses on imposing penalties for noncompliance 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 remained largely unchanged, even in the face of the growing threat that it presents.

To effectively control and combat the illegal tobacco trade, a coordinated effort is absolutely 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 multifaceted and it affects various aspects of society. The availability of cheaper, unregulated tobacco products encourages smokers to continue their habit or entices potential new entrants, 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 an excise tax 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 the illegal tobacco trade should be given appropriate consideration. This not only serves as a deterrent but also allows for a 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 dismantling illegal tobacco networks. Educating the public about the risks and implications of illegal tobacco consumption is also 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 illegal tobacco trade in this country. We are deeply disappointed that this bill does not adequately address this pressing concern and that, therefore, the success of public health measures contained in this legislation is seriously compromised. Without addressing the growing black market, this bill risks not being worth the paper that it is written on.

The bill's objectives can be fully achieved only through a coordinated, comprehensive and robust effort to combat this growing problem, which is the growing black market in both illicit tobacco and vaping products. Just as the government is failing to address the issue of illicit tobacco, they're clearly asleep at the wheel when it comes to children accessing vaping products. Until existing tobacco and vaping laws are actually enforced—particularly, making sure that Australian children are protected from getting access to these products, through proper enforcement at the point of sale—then they cannot expect to achieve better outcomes in this critical and urgent area. This bill in no way seeks to address the issue of enforcement, which is underpinning a thriving black market in Australia.

Likewise, we have serious concerns that the vaping regulations the minister is seeking to put through this place before the end of the year will fail to address enforcement based on what we've heard so far. For this reason, the bill we are debating today and the vaping regulations that have been foreshadowed by the minister will not protect Australia's children from accessing these dangerous products. Until a comprehensive effort to enforce current laws and regulations is undertaken and until the black market is addressed, we will not achieve better public health outcomes in our country when it comes to Australians' uptake of smoking and vaping. That is why I'm foreshadowing that I will move a second reading amendment which notes that this bill fails to combat the trade of illicit tobacco and calls on the government to commit to combating this trade as a priority. If the government wants to retain any credibility on protecting Australians and pursuing real public health outcomes, then it is imperative that they make this commitment. I move:

At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate:

(a) notes that the bill fails to combat the trade of illicit tobacco; and

(b) calls on the Government to commit to combating this trade as a priority".


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