Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Excise Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2016, Customs Tariff Amendment (Tobacco) Bill 2016; In Committee
I have some questions to ask which I raised in my speech in the second reading debate
. I will be as quick as I can. These issues were raised in an Australian National Audit Office report in May this year. Concerns were raised about the whole issue of the collection of the excise. The Australian National Audit Office, the Auditor-General, raised a number of concerns in relation to the rigorousness, if you like, of the collection of these taxes. These concerns were effectively expressed in the context of the Australian Taxation Office. I think these are legitimate matters of public concern.
I thank Senator Xenophon for his question and for his keen interest. The government recognises the concern he raises and we recognise that quitting smoking is difficult, which is why we have a number of supports in place to help people successfully quit. These include Quitline, a telephone information and counselling service for people who want to quit smoking.
I will get to that question in a minute. I am grateful to the minister for his keenness to answer a question I have not even yet put. This relates to matters that were raised publically in an article in The Australian Financial Reviewby Joanna Mather and Fleur Anderson. It was an article on the Australian National Audit Office's serious concerns about the question of excise collection for tobacco.
I do not want to slow this down, but I very quickly want to raise an issue. The point is that, in terms of the revenue that has been reaped from tobacco excise—and I am not arguing about the revenue; cigarettes are more expensive to discourage consumption—it seems that, over the years, the amount of revenue was something like $40 billion from 2009 to 2014-15 but the amount that was spent on antismoking campaigns, according to the information I have, for that same period was about $135 million. Also, with respect to nicotine replacement therapies: it still costs people money to try and quit. Is the government considering expanding the Quitlines and the funding to education campaigns, and also to make it easier for people to quit smoking by making nicotine replacement therapies either free or even cheaper?
I thank Senator Xenophon for those further questions. It is true that these bills contribute to budget repair, but it is also true that increasing the price of cigarettes via taxation has proven to be one of the most effective ways of reducing tobacco consumption and preventing the uptake of smoking. Each year smoking kills an estimated 15,000 Australians. It costs Australia about $31.5 billion in social and economic costs. While smoking rates have been decreasing, about 2.6 million Australians still smoke. We do require further action to decrease smoking rates and to consolidate the gains that have been made.
As I indicated earlier, the government recognises that quitting smoking is difficult, and there are a range of programs provided by the government, including the Quitline telephone information and counselling service for people who want to quit smoking, and subsidies for nicotine replacement therapies. The government is also addressing high smoking rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program. In the 2016-17 to 2017-18 years, up to $81.5 million has been allocated to achieve a variety of tobacco reduction outcomes. These bills are important pieces of legislation that contribute to the overall effort to reduce the rate of smoking in Australia and also help to repair the budget.
I thank the minister for his answer. But the fact is: over the period from 2009-10 to 2014-15, the revenue from tobacco excise was in the order of $40 billion but, for that same period, it seems that the federal government spent $135 million in antismoking campaigns and, for PBS benefits for smoking cessation therapy, in one year, 2014, $47.8 million. All I wish to ask is this. Has the government done any modelling on this: if nicotine replacement therapy were cheaper, or free, and if there were more money spent on tobacco cessation campaigns—out of the $40 billion that the government got in that period or the $8 billion plus it gets each year, another $50 million, $100 million or $200 million a year—what difference would that make in terms of reducing smoking rates? Has there been any modelling done of that? Some cynics have put to me that the government does not want these antismoking campaigns to be too successful because they will actually lose revenue, because if people ultimately stopped smoking then there would not be any excise, but of course there would be an enormous health and social dividend.
I am not aware of any such modelling. I can certainly confirm that the twin objectives of these bills are to raise revenue—that is clear; that is reflected in the budget—but also to achieve a public health outcome. There is really nothing further that I can add to what I have said so far.
Through you, Mr Temporary Chair: can the government confirm how much money it is planning to spend this year on antismoking campaigns, given that the Commonwealth will be raising something like $9 billion in revenue? So, in terms of campaigns to help people quit—advertising campaigns to raise these issues—how much is actually being spent this financial year?
In response to a previous question, I did actually point out that, in the 2016-17 to 2017-18 financial years, up to $81.5 million has been allocated in the budget to achieve a variety of tobacco reduction outcomes.