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

7:36 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I'm speaking today on behalf of the Australian Greens in support of the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023. The Greens welcome this legislation which consolidates tobacco control laws and regulatory instruments and implements stricter controls on tobacco products.

The Greens have always supported a reduction in the rate of tobacco use. The active and passive consumption of tobacco smoke is a demonstrated health risk and is a significant cost to the community and health care more broadly. According to the Cancer Council, about two million Australians currently still smoke regularly and an estimated 20,500 people die each year in Australia of smoking related illnesses. Let's just reflect on that for a moment. Over 20,000 people every year die of smoking related illnesses. That is completely unacceptable in 2023. Smoking is a major cause not just of cancer of the lung but also cancer of the head and neck, the oesophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, bowel, the kidney and bladder, and the cervix, as well as acute myeloid leukaemia. It is expected that, on the current trajectory, cigarette smoking will cause more than 250,000 cancer deaths in Australia between 2020 and 2044. If you stop for a moment to think about the grief unleashed by that number—250,000—and the pain endured by so many, there is nothing that this chamber should be focused on in this moment except for the reality of the cost to human life and the impact of that on the community. We must be moved in this moment to be bold and to tackle this continuing, pervasive evil—this health based nightmare that continues to cause so much damage to so many Australians.

In addition to cancers, cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart disease and stroke, and it is a causative factor for many chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular degeneration, cataracts, peptic ulcers, impotence, fertility problems—all of which greatly affect quality of life. What we know, clearly, and what we have known for all too long is that this is not the only cost in relation to quality of life and life expectancy. There are also clear economic costs. This bill provides an opportunity for Australia to lead the world in reducing the consumption of tobacco products, to improve the quality of life for our community and to better support our health system.

This bill alone will not provide the community with the support it needs in full. I want to highlight the words of the Public Health Association of Australia, who said in their submission to the inquiry into the bill:

It is essential that the Bill be understood as one component of the many-pronged National Tobacco Strategy. The Strategy sets the vision for reducing, and ideally eliminating, the harm caused by tobacco and associated products. The elements of this Strategy, including strong regulation, workplace safety measures, cessation support, information and behaviour change campaigns, revenue measures, approaches for priority populations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the protection of policy-making from commercial interference, are all interlocking and mutually supporting. The Strategy should remain a guiding framework for policy work through the current decade.

In this, we urge the government to prioritise education campaigns, nicotine-dependence programs and better smoking-cessation tools which aim to support people to give up cigarettes.

Additionally, as will be highlighted by the second reading amendment which will be moved by my colleague Senator Whish-Wilson, there are environmental as well as public health reasons to discourage the use of tobacco products. According to the not-for-profit No More Butts Campaign, up to 4.5 trillion cigarette butts become litter globally. In Australia, a World Wildlife Fund report estimated that up to 8.9 billion cigarette butts become litter each year. Cigarette butts are one of the three most common types of rubbish found in the Great Barrier Reef's marine environment. I urge the Senate to support this second reading amendment, in support of Australia's environment, which, critically, cannot be overlooked in the course of this debate.

The Greens have always supported the critical need for a ban on donations from the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical industries to Australian political parties and candidates. The influence of these lobbies on the work of this place is toxic. In relation to tobacco, it prevented for decades the adequate action that was needed to address this public health crisis. I shudder to think of the tens of thousands of lives lost in this country and all over the world because of actions that were stymied, stalled or shelved altogether because of the financial influence of big tobacco. It is a shame upon any and every political party that ever took donations and on any and every political party that still takes them to this day. It is nothing short of blood money, and it has no place in a modern-day democracy.

Alcohol and tobacco policy development should occur without alcohol and tobacco company involvement; this should not be a bold thing to say in 2023. As my colleague Senator Waters said in relation to her private senator's bill to ban dirty donations:

In the past decade, $230 million have flowed in corporate donations to the Labor, Liberal and National parties from the likes of the big banks; from industries like mining, defence and big pharma; from property developers; and from alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies. These are just some of the industries that have paid the Liberal, National and Labor parties to put their private profits ahead of the needs of our community. These industries are not donating millions of dollars because they believe in the institution of strong democracy. They are donating because it gets results for them.

I couldn't have said it better myself: they donate to political parties to get outcomes, and those outcomes are to the detriment of the Australian people and our environment. They should be banned. They should have been banned decades ago.

In every other space of regulation or proper work, this type of influence peddling would not be allowed. Yet in politics it is accepted as business as usual by people in this place. It is not accepted by the Australian public. The Australian public find the continued presence of corporate donations in politics to the very people given the jobs of regulating those industries and making those policies repugnant. That sense of revulsion reaches across the great divide of Australian politics and is felt deeply in the hearts of conservatives and progressives, and people everywhere in between. They want to see their democracy work for people, not for corporate profits. While the Greens remain in the Senate, on these crossbenches, that will be the goal we work towards.

I indicate the support of the Australian Greens for Senator Pocock's amendment, which calls on politicians and all political parties to stop accepting political donations from the tobacco industry and to revoke any passes they have sponsored for members of the tobacco industry and their agents to access Parliament House. It is not a radical idea. Let's make sure that the merchants of death can't stalk the corridors of this place and influence the conversations about how we curtail and prevent the disastrous public health consequences and the human impact of the products they peddle and profit from.

I indicate as well that the Greens are supportive of this legislation within the context where it is a tool in the toolbox to tackle this profound public health challenge. I once again commend Senator Whish-Wilson for his important amendment. With that, I will conclude my remarks.


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