Tuesday, 18 September 2018
Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018; In Committee
I move amendment (1) on sheet 8518:
(1) Page 3 (after line 25), at the end of the Bill, add:
Schedule 2—Further amendments
Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011
1 At the end of Division 3 of Part 2 of Chapter 2
29A Requirements apply only if manufacturer consents
Despite any other provision of this Act or the regulations, the:
(a) requirements for retail packaging of tobacco products in Division 1 of this Part; and
(b) requirements for appearance of tobacco products in Division 2 of this Part; and
(c) additional requirements (if any) prescribed by the regulations;
only apply if the person who manufactures the retail packaging or the tobacco product (the manufacturer):
(d) consents to the application of the requirements to the retail packaging or tobacco products which they manufacture; and
(e) notifies the Secretary in writing of such consent.
I rise on behalf of Katter's Australian Party to speak on the amendment to the government's Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018. This amendment seeks to give tobacco manufacturers the right of veto over government efforts to impose plain packaging on their products. The likelihood is that, if this amendment were passed, so-called plain packaging of tobacco products would come to an end. This amendment seeks to ensure that the property rights expropriated by the original Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 are restored. The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, while masquerading as a bold public health initiative, was actually just a nasty bit of pure socialism which simply displayed the total contempt that the former Gillard government had for private property. On the pretext of discouraging smoking, the former Labor government legislated to destroy the private property of tobacco manufacturers—brand equity built up over many years—and dictated the design of packaging to include revolting images of diseased organs. Given that tobacco remains a perfectly legal product, this was an unheard-of and outrageous attack on private property.
There seems to be little clear evidence that plain packaging has any effect on reducing smoking rates, and it probably just encourages those who wish to smoke to buy the cheapest cigarettes available, since the absence of a brand image undermines the appeal of more expensive tobacco. Certainly, smoking rates have fallen in recent times, but they were falling before the plain packaging act. If the government seriously wanted to reduce the adverse effects of smoking then, instead of imposing plain packaging, they would legalise vaping, which studies have shown encourages smokers to switch to a much healthier way of getting nicotine but also serves as a very real aid to those who wish to quit altogether.
However, whether or not the tasteless images of diseased lungs on cigarette packages may actually discourage a few people from taking up smoking in the first place, this is actually irrelevant. The real issue is that, in destroying brand equity and dictating packaging, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act actually took away the property rights of the manufacturers. What people seem to fail to grasp is the insidious nature of this kind of legislation. Once a principle is established that private property can be expropriated at the discretion of the government of the day, the only question becomes: which group of property owners will have their rights trampled on next? That tobacco companies are widely disliked does not justify abrogation of their rights. The truth is that, however supposedly worthy the cause, it never justifies measures which undermine our basic freedoms because, once undermined, they cease to be rights and become privileges to be given or withheld on the grace and favour of the government of the day. If this government is allowed to get away with destroying the brand equity and dictating how a perfectly legal product is packaged, it is only a matter of time before it does so with something else. Today the politically unfashionable tobacco companies have their property appropriated by the state. Tomorrow it could be the breweries or unhealthy fast-food retailers. How long will it be before some left-wing do-gooder decides that we need plain packaging for alcohol and we find nauseating images of diseased livers on every beer bottle? Or indeed how long before every greasy hamburger is obliged to be covered in brown wrapping that graphically depicts fat-clogged arteries and heart attack warnings?
This is why I've moved my amendment to require the consent of tobacco companies for plain packaging. As long as it's a legal product, it should be up to the manufacturer as to how it is packaged. As for any other legal product, it should be up to the consumer to decide whether the costs outweigh the benefits—caveat emptor. However, this amendment also serves to highlight the issue of what principles political parties stand for. It was one thing for the hard-left Gillard government to have attacked private property with ill-conceived legislation like the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, but it is quite another for a Liberal-National government to continue in the same vein.
When the coalition was elected in 2013, I had hoped that legislation hostile to private property rights, such as the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, would be repealed. However, I'm sorry to say that this, like section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and so many other laws brought in by Labor, remains on the statute books. Whether this represents a weakness of will or a lack of ideological commitment is a matter of speculation. But the question must be asked as to how any government can call itself liberal if it will not stand up for private property rights, free speech and reward for effort. You may think that smoking is a major health concern. You may even think that anything that may reduce the incidence of it must be a good thing. But what you cannot do is call yourself liberal if you do not defend the inalienable rights of private property, whoever that property may belong to. Just because many people don't like tobacco should have no bearing on manufacturers' rights; they should be the same as for anyone else. Any public health initiative that undermines fundamental rights in society costs far more than it is worth. What needs to be understood is that this amendment is not about smoking. It is about private property, and I urge all senators who believe in its importance to support my amendment on this basis. Thank you.
Labor's world-leading plain packaging laws have helped drive smoking rates down to their current levels. This amendment would effectively abolish the plain packaging regime by handing control back to big tobacco and tobacco retailers. Labor will oppose this amendment.
There were a few words in the middle of Senator Anning's diatribe there which made a lot of sense—that vaping should be legal in this country because it is a deterrent to smoking. The rest of it could've been written by a hack or a flack for Rothmans or Philip Morris. There's no secret about how many millions of dollars the big tobacco companies spent in court cases in London trying to override what the Labor government bravely did. They spent all that money, and our taxpayers' money was also spent. The plain packaging has worked. Smoking is reduced in Australia, and I will certainly be voting against this amendment.
I rise in support of this amendment, not because I'm a shill for Philip Morris or Rothmans, as has been insinuated, Senator Anning, but because I opposed plain packaging when the Liberal Party deliberated on it in the party room, on the basis that tobacco is a legal product, and plain packaging is an expropriation of trademarks, notwithstanding the merits of smoking. I'm anti-smoking. I don't like it. I also don't like pioneering, world-leading social justice legislation, as Senator Polley, I think, described it. Yes, I would prefer people not to smoke, but equally I think there is a principle attached to this. In effect trying to scuttle the plain paper packaging legislation, I think, is a reasonable, worthy amendment, and I will be supporting it.
I am a shill. I'm a shill for property rights and I am shill for free choice. I'm also a shill for good policy. I have to say that this plain packaging is not good policy. I wish everybody would quit smoking. It's not good for you. People would be better off, healthier and have more money in their pockets if they didn't smoke. That would be an excellent outcome. The fact is: it is their choice. Policies like this that take property rights away from people who acquired them legally, built them up legally and invested billions of dollars in them doesn't serve any public purpose. It's not good policy at all.
I keep hearing from Labor and from the government—and I heard it from the minister before, although admittedly the minister is new in this job and was reciting what she was told—that the plain packaging policy is working. As I said in my speech on the second reading, it is not. What is the evidence for that? Rates of smoking are not declining. They were declining up until a few years ago. They are no longer declining now. They are declining in countries that don't have plain packaging. Read my lips. They are falling in countries where there isn't plain packaging. They are not falling in Australia, where there is plain packaging.
I think there is something significant that our government policymakers here—and I don't blame the minister—are missing. Just because they thought of plain packaging—or Labor did, and the government, when it became the government, took it over and embraced it—just because we were the first in the world to have invented plain packaging, does not make it a good policy. The evidence shows it is a failed policy. When are we going to reach the stage when we admit that and we start doing something about actually reducing smoking? Smoking is the issue here, not the tobacco companies and not pretty pictures or colours or whatever on the tobacco packets. That's the issue. Getting people to stop smoking is not going to be helped by plain packaging. We should put our efforts into policies that do reduce smoking.
The government won't be supporting Senator Anning's amendment, as it will undermine the tobacco plain packaging regulatory scheme that has been in place for nearly six years. The plain packaging requirements that have been in for six years for the retail packaging of tobacco products in Australia are mandatory and they apply not just to manufacturers but also to importers, wholesalers and retailers. If the requirements were subject to manufacturer consent, this would cause widespread confusion and cost to parties within the tobacco supply chain.
That is not correct, Chair. I simply repeated something that I said in my speech, 'Wait until we have diseased livers on wine bottles.' I made no reference to anyone and I named no-one, so it would appear to be a case of the guilty fleeing where no man pursueth.
There were other people within the chamber, and the slur was directed specifically against a member of this chamber. I have the quote verbatim, directed against a member of this chamber and I would ask that he withdraw.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Anning, it wasn't audible to me as the Chair or to the clerks. I would ask you to withdraw if you made an unparliamentary comment.
No, I won't be withdrawing it, Chair. Other members on this side heard exactly what I said, and I think they can verify the fact that I named no names. I just repeated something that was already in my speech.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Leyonhjelm, can I clarify this? You're raising a second point of order. On the first point of order, I've invited Senator Anning to withdraw any unparliamentary remarks that he might have made. He has refused to do so. Senator Leyonhjelm, you're raising another point of order. Senator Di Natale, if you've said that someone is cowardly would you care to withdraw that remark?
Sorry, obviously, I just entered the chamber and I'm not sure precisely what was said. But I would invite you, Chair, if Senator Anning has said something which you, as Chair, regard as unparliamentary and he has refused to withdraw it that you report that to the President for his consideration subsequently.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Just to clarify, neither I as Chair nor the clerks heard the comment. I have invited Senator Anning to withdraw any unparliamentary remarks. Senator Anning has refused to do so. But I am happy to report it to the President. Senator Bernardi, do you wish to speak on this point of order?
Just on this point of order, I did hear what Senator Anning said. The words that he used were as Senator Di Natale and Senator Anning both confirm. However, they weren't specifically referred to any particular senator, notwithstanding how some may like to apply that, and whether those words are unparliamentary or not is a matter for the judgement of the Senate or the judgement of the President or the presiding officer. However, if repeating comments that you've made in a speech are then suddenly deemed unparliamentary, I think we do open a can of worms. On balance, I would say that Senator Anning shouldn't be required to withdraw. However, that is ultimately a determination for the presiding officers.
If it's of any assistance, I also heard what Senator Anning said. It was as he related to you in his brief statement just a moment ago. I don't regard that as unparliamentary, and I do consider it the same as what he made in his speech to his amendment. I would be surprised if that constituted unparliamentary language, and I certainly don't see, myself, any grounds for withdrawal. But I would think that if you or the President were to say this does require withdrawal, it would be setting a rather amazing precedent as to what is unparliamentary.