Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Tobacco Industry Donations) Bill 2011; Second Reading

3:47 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death and disease in Australia, accounting for approximately 15,500 deaths per annum. Tobacco also has a massive social cost for Australia, calculated at over $30 billion per year even when the tobacco excise is taken into account. The revenue from tobacco tax does not come close to covering the social costs of tobacco use to our community.

Australia’s tobacco control achievements over the past decades have been substantial. Tobacco control measures have prevented a significant number of premature deaths, and saved far more in health and other costs than the amount spent on the measures themselves.

Such measures include restricting the advertising of tobacco products, increasing the excise on tobacco products and now the government’s plans to mandate plain packaging for all cigarettes sold in Australia by 1 July 2012, which the Greens support.

And yet we still allow tobacco companies to donate to political parties in Australia. In fact tobacco companies have a history of donating to major political parties. This practice is untenable and the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Tobacco Industry Donations) Bill 2011 seeks to remedy this situation by banning political donations from the tobacco industry.

The bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to:

      Currently the only legislation in Australia prohibiting political donations from tobacco companies is in New South Wales due to major reforms to the state’s political funding and disclosure legislation passed last year. The changes commenced on 1 January 2011 and reflect amendments proposed by the NSW Greens to include prohibitions on donations from a range of players, including tobacco industry business entities.

      No other states or territories legislatively prohibit donations from tobacco companies.

      The bill is an opportunity for the Com­monwealth parliament to take the lead and legislate to ban the insidious practice of tobacco companies trying to exert influence over our democratic decision making processes.

      In 2004 the Australian Labor Party com­mendably stopped accepting donations from the tobacco industry. However, the Liberal and National parties continue to accept money from big tobacco. Between 2005 and 2010, the Liberals and Nationals received a combined total of over $1.4 million from the two major tobacco companies—British American and Philip Morris. By its own admission, British American Tobacco states that on the issue of political donations, 'such payments can only be made for the purpose of influencing the debate on issues.'

      Notably, the Western Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, has stated that he does not support accepting donations from tobacco companies and that the state parliamentary Liberal Party also takes that position. Furthermore, individual federal Liberal MPs have stated their opposition to their party accepting donations from big tobacco, and are now publicly calling on their leader Mr Abbott to end this appalling practice.

      Research published in 2008 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health revealed that approximately 61.6 per cent of smokers and 78.4 per cent of non-smokers surveyed were against political parties accepting tobacco industry donations.

      I commend Mr Shayne Neumann MP, member for Blair, for his motion in the House of Representatives on 30 May 2011 which in part calls on all members and political parties to immediately stop accepting political donations from tobacco companies.

      It is Greens' policy that there should be public funding of elections to eliminate corporate funding, with the exception of small donations by individuals. Donations by tobacco companies are particularly insidious, peddling death. Public health is at risk if we continue to allow big tobacco to exert influence over our policy making.

      Australia is leading the world by mandating plain packaging for all cigarettes. We can reinforce our leadership and bipartisan support in the area of tobacco control by banning political donations by tobacco companies and prioritising public health over the interests of big corporations and political parties.

      I commend the bill to the Senate.

      I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

      Leave granted; debate adjourned.