Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator McKenzie. The Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance is an umbrella organisation made up of a variety of organisations currently engaged in a campaign to have the Australian government introduce a tax on the sugar in sweetened beverages. Can the minister advise how much these organisations have benefited from grants or other contributions of taxpayers' money in the past three financial years?
Thanks, Senator Leyonhjelm. The Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance members include Diabetes Australia, Cancer Council Australia, Kidney Health Australia, the National Heart Foundation and the Stroke Foundation. The government has been pleased to fund members of the alliance, which are respected, trusted organisations in the Australian community, to deliver a range of valuable preventative health activities over the past few years.
The funding has included $660,000 over the last three years to the Stroke Foundation to review and update the clinical guidelines for stroke management, which will help doctors better ensure outcomes for Australians who are unfortunate enough to suffer from a stroke; $55.6 million to Diabetes Australia in the last financial year to implement the National Diabetes Services Scheme, a scheme that is helping all Australians afflicted with diabetes to get the supplies they need to manage this potentially debilitating condition; and $730,000 to Cancer Council Australia to revise guidelines to assist doctors to detect bowel cancer early, to manage cancer when it occurs and to provide advice to patients on how to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. This work is done by our world-leading experts, helping us to reduce the incidence and impact of this common cancer.
The research is clear. Chronic conditions can be best addressed by reducing the prevalence and impact of health risk factors such as physical inactivity, unhealthy weight gain, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. The government acknowledges that chronic conditions impact heavily on the community, families and individuals, but according to the 2014-15 National Health Survey it's estimated that 63.4 per cent of Australians aged 18 years and over are overweight or obese. That is why we support a range of issues and tangible initiatives in the community to reduce those health risk factors.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Leyonhjelm, a supplementary question.
Can the minister advise if there have been any reductions in rates of obesity rather than simply a reduction in the consumption of sweetened beverages in any country or countries following the introduction of a sugar tax?
Yes, I can. I can inform the senator that currently there is no empirical evidence from any country that indicates obesity rates have declined due to the implementation of a sugar-sweetened beverages tax. Obesity, as we know, is often caused by poor diet choices, physical inactivity and a range of other factors that are often interrelated. As such, obesity prevention and nutrition promotion requires a multifactorial approach, and this government is delivering on a range of tangible programs, such as the Healthy Food Partnership and Sporting Schools initiative, to assist in this area.
In relation to international approaches, Mexico is often lauded as a success story by sugar tax supporters. However, a recent study that was in fact funded by those organisations who financed the campaign for a sugar tax admitted that causality cannot be established between the sugar tax and reduced rates of obesity. We will support evidence based policy decisions.
There is significant research indicating that sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of certain cancers. Time spent sitting can be detrimental, even for people who are otherwise physically active. But people should be allowed to make their own decisions about when to sit down, free from any nudges from authoritarian governments. Can the minister please rule out this government ever introducing a tax on chairs and sofas?
The budget is a little while away, and I don't want to steal the Treasurer's thunder, but today I think it's appropriate that I do make a prebudget announcement in relation to any suggestion that a chair tax is in this federal government's budget in a month's time.
Unfortunately, Senator Di Natale did not let me finish. Note to Senator Leyonhjelm: I know you would like to get rid of the 10 per cent GST on the chairs; that will remain post budget. Senator Di Natale, the only party in the Senate that supports a sugar tax is the Greens. If you look at the Greens' electoral fortunes over the recent past, it will show they are in decline. Clearly Australians don't support the Greens and their support for a sugar tax. I can absolutely commit to the Senate and to Senator Leyonhjelm we will not be introducing a sugar tax.