Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 September 2018


Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:04 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I note that I am resuming from just prior to the adjournment last night.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was 35c for a pack of Escort!

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

You remember the 27c, Senator? As I said last night, I think you probably pay more excise on one smoke now than I paid for that one packet that I bought when I was a lot younger. I was making some remarks around initiatives that have been put in place over a period of time around tobacco and tobacco campaigns and, in particular, responding to a comment made by Senator O'Neill that there weren't any current campaigns running. I did make the point that, when Prime Minister Rudd came to office, one of the things he promised us was a shock and awe campaign around tobacco and tobacco advertising. That didn't come to pass, like many of the other things that Prime Minister Rudd promised—things like 'cash for clunkers', which the minister at the time had to ban his department from using and was such a bad policy that it actually never got off the ground at all. But the important point that I was making was that, over a period of time, it's not just one particular element that's going to help us resolve the issue that we have with smoking.

I did note last night that the rate of decline has slowed; the most recent figures that I had were of a reduction from 13.3 per cent to 12.8 per cent, so it's a very slow and small decline. The fact is: to get that last bit, you need to be very targeted in what you're doing—to target the campaigns on areas of the community where it will have the most impact or where there is the highest incidence of smoking.

The national campaign running at the moment, which is: 'Don't make smokes your story', was developed as part of the National Tobacco Campaign but targets specifically Indigenous Australians where there's a high incidence of smoking. It provides support services online, including the Quitline. An important element, which is 'Quit for You, Quit for Two', is a particular campaign targeted at pregnant women and their partners, and, at a time when they are making important decisions about their lives, potentially getting them to make another really important decision around the birth of their child that can have an impact over generations. We know from a number of other places, including some of the campaigning that I have seen and heard around alcohol, that kids learn by example from their parents. So a parent making a decision at a time of pregnancy to give up smoking obviously does a lot for the child as a fetus and as it develops, but it also means that the example's gone by the time the child is born and growing up. That's a way to break the cycle, and that's important.

Just to reinforce the currency of that campaign, the latest phase of that campaign was launched on 27 May this year across television, print, radio, digital and out-of-home formats. So, contrary to what Senator O'Neill was saying, there are ongoing programs, they continue to be operated, and they are targeted at areas of need. I think that's very, very important.

Obviously, we've seen in recent times the government working very hard to manage illicit tobacco, noting that, once a product gets to a certain price point, there's an incentive to trade the product illegally. Disappointingly, we've seen a significant increase in that. We do continue the growth in excise that was put in place some time ago—that continues—but, in the context of other tobacco products, including loose tobacco and roll your own, the government announced in the '17-'18 budget that those other products will be subject to a tax treatment more comparable to manufactured cigarettes. So there is a continuing process that the government is undertaking to discourage people from smoking or taking up smoking.

I said last night that I counted myself very lucky that I'd never taken up the habit. When I think about what that might have meant to me, personally, in financial terms, given the cost of excise these days, the impact on my home budget, if I were a smoker, would be quite significant.

The legislation before us is again taking another step in that multifaceted approach that I've talked about, in managing the current regulatory framework. A number of my colleagues have said that they weren't necessarily supportive of plain packaging for tobacco products but they are supportive of this particular measure, because it's about how the measure works. The opposition might want to have a sideways crack at us over that, but it's about how it works. We're looking to improve how this piece of legislation works. So it's about providing additional resources, through recognising authorised officers under the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, and also about working cooperatively with the states and territories for the appointment of those authorised officers.

Both sides of politics have, over a long time now, taken measures to continue to discourage people from smoking. We know the negative health effects in the economy. Those have been raised a number of times during this debate today. It is important that we continue to improve the way that our legislative frameworks operate. So, in that context, I add my support to the bill.

12:12 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to oppose the Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018. This bill broadens the range of people who can be authorised to ensure that the government's plain packaging rules are being complied with—more people to measure the font on cigarette packets; more people to check that the dark green colour on cigarette packs is the right dark green; and, of course, more people to make sure that nothing about cigarettes is bright and colourful, in case it stimulates non-smokers into becoming smokers. Nobody has ever met anyone like that, but the government just knows for sure that they are out there, just sitting there, ready to become nicotine addicts at the first sign of colour on a cigarette packet. The fact that the government knows they are out there gives them a reason to go around the world congratulating themselves on their wonderful tobacco control initiatives and encouraging other countries to do the same, because, if the government knows there are such people in Australia, it also knows that they must also be present in other countries.

The bill widens the categories of people who may be appointed as authorised officers under the act. So now they will include Commonwealth officers not appointed under the Public Service Act, state or territory government officers, state and territory police officers and local government officials. All those people will be authorised to run around checking that the plain packaging policy is being complied with.

The problem is: plain packaging is a failed policy. As everyone except the government seems to know, there are no people out there ready to become nicotine addicts at the first sign of colour on a cigarette packet. There never were any. When you think about it, there was never any reason to believe there were. The legislated purpose of plain packaging is to:

(a) to improve public health by:

  (i) discouraging people from taking up smoking, or using tobacco products; and

  (ii) encouraging people to give up smoking, and to stop using tobacco products; and

  (iii) discouraging people who have given up smoking, or who have stopped using tobacco products, from relapsing; and

  (iv) reducing people’s exposure to smoke from tobacco products; …

These are all logical objectives, but has plain packaging improved public health by discouraging smoking and encouraging quitting?

The answer is, clearly, no. The latest data shows there was no statistically significant decline in the smoking rate over the most recent three-year period. This is the first time in years that we haven't seen such a decline, and this during a period when tobacco taxes were raised through the roof. Professor Sinclair Davidson from RMIT University also points out that the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has reported an increase over a similar time frame in the amount of nicotine in its national wastewater survey, and a paper in the Tobacco Prevention & Cessation journal found no statistically significant reduction in youth smoking in the first year after the introduction of plain packaging. Very simply and plainly, plain packaging has clearly failed to improve public health by discouraging smoking and encouraging quitting.

The government knows this. Its own report on plain packaging studiously avoided the requirement in its terms of reference to analyse whether plain packaging had actually achieved the legislated purpose of improving public health. Instead, the report focuses on perceptions of graphic health warnings, which is a requirement that preceded and is quite separate from plain packaging.

Not only has plain packaging failed to achieve its purpose of improving human health, it has also done considerable damage. Consumers are no longer drawn to high-cost brands but have shifted to lower-cost brands, so the lower cost has helped to sustain their habit. And consumers are no longer drawn by branding and marketing to buy legal cigarettes, so the shift to the far cheaper illegal tobacco has accelerated. This has helped organised crime and cross-subsidised their other operations, such as their trade in illegal drugs and guns.

And, all the while, quoting false information about the cost of smoking: the Collins and Lapsley paper on the costs of smoking has to be the most discredited economic study ever, and yet the Department of Health quotes it on every occasion. Smoking does not cost $31.5 billion. It has never been anywhere close to that. It's not even a tenth of that. It's true, though, that smoking is a leading cause of health problems, and it would be preferable if people stopped smoking. That is not in question. But the government should not be telling lies about its cost and it shouldn't be sticking with policies that are clearly failing. The truth is that government policy is sustaining the smoking habit by denying smokers the much less harmful option of e-cigarettes. In countries where e-cigarettes are available, smoking is declining. And they don't have plain packaging or sky-high taxes on tobacco.

Government tobacco policy is sinking like the Titanic. Yet with the bill before us today the government is merely rearranging the deckchairs by tweaking the administration of the failed plain-packaging rules. Government tax policy is driving smokers deeper into financial hardship, and government tax and plain-packaging policy is putting smokers into contact with organised criminals pushing a range of other drugs. Smoking is a public health issue, but the government's cack-handed policy response is a joke—a farce—and this bill is evidence of that. Indeed, the government is fiddling while Australians continue to burn their cigarettes. This is bill is immoral, and I will not be voting for it.

12:19 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to give a brief contribution on this Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018. It is in light of recent decisions made by this government and, indeed, by the opposition to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership arrangements, which of course include the ISDS clauses—those investor state dispute settlement provisions. Those reasons are exactly why we are debating this bill.

This is why we have a problem: big corporations want to fundamentally undermine the sovereignty of governments and nations to put in place legislation or to make rules to represent the desires of their community and their citizens. If we weren't in a situation where big multinational companies could come and sue governments and challenge decisions that elected representatives made then we wouldn't be here.

We know that we had in the House just yesterday the Labor Party cuddling up with the Morrison government to vote through the TPP legislation. That TPP legislation comes to this House in the next month, and it will lock Australia into a raft of rules which say that if companies like Philip Morris or companies like Adani—big multinational companies—want to challenge the decisions made by a national government or a state government or a local government then they can.

We know it created a problem here when it came to the plain-packaging legislation. We know that Philip Morris and others got very stroppy with Australia. We know that hundreds of millions of dollars were spent defending the right of this parliament to implement rules and laws that the Australian people wanted. But we're just about to sign up to a TPP, a free trade agreement, that allows these companies to do this again and to continue to do this. It beggars belief that in 2018, when we've seen what these big multinational companies will do when they can get away with it, why on earth we would have the Labor Party selling out not just Australian workers but the sovereignty of the nation and undermining democracy.

It should be that if a government—whether it is a state, federal or local government—with the support of their people, their communities and their electors, wishes to implement laws in the best interests of the public that they should be able to do it. This should not be at behest of whether it suits a big multinational company overseas or not. Why on earth the Labor Party are rolling over on this is beyond me. But, let's just be really clear about this: the Labor Party are continuing to speak out both sides of their mouths on this issue. On one hand, we hear that they understand the insidious nature of those ISDS clauses and that when they win government they'll just change it, 'So don't worry about it now, flick it all through; it'll all be okay.'

We know that's not true. That is absolute bollocks! The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, knows full well that once the TPP legislation passes this place there will be no reversing of these insidious rules that give more power to corporations than to the Australian people. Australia would have to withdraw from the TPP—that is the only way out of it. So it's time that the Leader of the Opposition fronted up and was honest with the Australian people, Australian workers and this parliament. You can't just tweak it afterwards. You either have to withdraw from the TPP or vote it down in this place when the legislation gets here in a couple of weeks.

I understand that the Leader of the Opposition thinks that he's got a home run to the election now: 'The Morrison government are in disarray, eating themselves, tearing themselves apart, so we don't need to worry about what's passing this place, because, in a couple of months time, Bill Shorten will be Prime Minister and everything is going to be A-OK.' Wrong. This is absolute bollocks. The truth is you cannot change the TPP once it gets through this place. The time to stand up for the sovereignty of Australia, for the rights of workers, for the protection of the planet, is now, not when it suits the Leader of the Opposition, when he gets to government, if indeed he gets to government. It is a hollow promise from the Labor Party. Of course, members on the opposition benches know this full well because they had a fight in their own caucus room about this. They know that what the Leader of the Opposition is putting to the Australian people is nothing more than a hollow promise. The Labor Party are speaking out of both sides of their mouths, hoping that no-one picks up on what's going on here.

Why on earth would we lock ourselves into a set of rules that allows the Australian people to be sued by big multinational companies? In the European Union, they have realised very quickly that these ISDS clauses, these rules that allow big corporations to sue governments, are a bad idea, which is why they have upheld the recent decisions of the European Court of Justice which said that ISDS clauses are fundamentally incompatible with national sovereignty. They have decided, as the European Union, that no more trade deals will include ISDS clauses. Australia is in the midst of negotiating free trade agreements with the EU, and ISDS clauses are not allowed to be included, because the European Union have worked out that they are bad for their people, bad for government and bad for democracy. These clauses are all about strengthening the arms of big multinational corporations. They have nothing to do with looking after the interests of the Australian people.

The reason we need to debate this here in relation to this piece of legislation is that we have lived the experience of what it is like when a big multinational company decides to sue our government. We shouldn't be allowing it to happen again. In that scenario, it was tobacco. Next time it will be something else. If the Australian people want laws that protect them, their communities and their environment, and this place implements those laws, those laws should be able to be upheld and not undermined at the behest of big corporate interests.

The Labor Party know that they are weak on this. They know that they've rolled over. They know that they're playing both sides of the fence. What happens when you play both sides of the fence? It's not a pretty sight. The Leader of the Opposition needs to be exposed for the hollow promise that is being made. The TPP legislation gives multinational corporations the right to sue governments and allows Australian workers to be put out of work because companies can just bring in as many foreign workers as they want, without having to look at whether there is anyone in the community who could do the job. The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, either needs to front up and be honest that he thinks this is okay or do something about it now. It won't matter if he becomes Prime Minister in four or six months time, it won't be able to be fixed. It has to be done now. It has to be done swiftly. If it isn't, it just shows what a furphy the Labor Party are when they decide to cuddle up with the coalition to do the bidding of big business at the expense of Australian workers, the community and the environment.

In a couple of weeks time we're going to be debating the legislation here in the Senate and we're going to hear members on the opposition benches promising: 'When we're in government we will try to fix this. We think this is terrible. We'll try to fix it.' Fix it then. Do something about it now. There are enough members on the crossbench here to work with the Labor Party to fix this. The proof will be in the pudding if this legislation passes this place because the Labor Party decide to vote with the government, selling out workers, selling out democracy and selling out the environment.

12:31 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Regional Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I really appreciated listening to the Senate chamber last night and this morning when it was debating the Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018. Senator O'Neill contributed. Senator Abetz talked about the importance of decreasing tobacco use and cigarette smoking. There has been such a great bipartisan approach over nearly 40 years across all levels of government in this country. He also spoke in favour of legalising e-cigarettes as an additional method to decrease cigarette smoking. Senator Bushby contributed.

Senator Hume last night regaled us with her quite colourful description of her struggle. I identified with many of the depictions as she walked her way through the late 1980s and beyond in Melbourne. She spoke about different cigarette brands in different moments of her life and the struggle to give up what is a powerful drug. I've also struggled for 20 years to end my relationship with cigarettes. I succeeded about a decade ago. Any measures to decrease tobacco use and smoking are to be welcomed.

I also recall Senator Colbeck's contribution last night about being a Tas AFL footballer, the role of smoking in football clubs back in the day, how he passively ingested a lot of harmful smoke and how occasionally after a big game and a big celebration he'd participate in the odd dart and that wasn't necessarily a positive thing for him to do as an athlete back then.

Senator Hanson-Young just used her contribution to attack the Labor Party in the trench warfare that is the streets of Brunswick, the streets of Northcote and the streets of Darlinghurst.

Senator Bushby interjecting

And, as Senator Bushby reminds me, it is a sense of the streets of west Hobart. It is guerrilla warfare with leftie against leftie. She spent her entire contribution not on actually decreasing smoking rates. She couldn't care less. Her real opponent and enemy is the Labor Party. She spent her time wanting the Leader of the Opposition exposed. Well, that's not something we on this side want.

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable and premature death and disability in Australia. We are recognised as a world leader in tobacco control. We were the first country to introduce tobacco plain packaging. The plain packaging measure remains an important element of our tobacco control measures. The government is committed to reduce the number of people taking up smoking and to assist those already smoking to quit. While progress has been made, 12.8 per cent of Australians aged 14 years or older still smoke daily, and every year smoking kills an estimated 19,000 Australians and costs our community $31.5 billion.

One of the additional measures that I'd just like to briefly mention is part of our National Tobacco Campaign. Part of that 12.8 per cent of Australians is, significantly, Indigenous Australians, who are over-represented in that particular cohort. That's why, as a federal government, we've prioritised phase 4 of the National Tobacco Campaign to Indigenous communities around the 'Don't make smokes your story' campaign, which was a privilege for me to be able to launch in Alice Springs earlier this year as part of the AFL's reconciliation round.

The campaign aims to empower Indigenous Australians to quit smoking and highlights the support services available, including the Quitline, the My QuitBuddy and Quit for You Quit for Two mobile applications and the Quit Now website. Three consecutive phases of the campaign have been undertaken from 2016 focusing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers and recent quitters aged 18 to 40, because it's not just the first time you give up; you often have to keep trying and trying again, so having those strategies in place in the weeks following for people who quit smoking is incredibly important. The Quit for You Quit for Two campaign is targeted at pregnant women and their partners and complemented the campaign.

The latest phase of the campaign was launched on 27 May 2018 across television, print, radio, digital and out-of-home formats. Evaluation reports for phases 1 and 2 are available now at the Quit Now website, and phase 3 results will be made available over coming months.

Under the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, plain-packaging compliance and enforcement activities are undertaken by authorised officers. Authorised officers must be persons appointed or engaged under the Public Service Act 1999 or a member or special member of the Australian Federal Police. A person is appointed as an authorised officer in writing by the Secretary of the Department of Health, who must be satisfied that the person has suitable qualifications, training or experience.

The bill proposes to expand the range of persons who can be appointed as authorised officers for the purpose of undertaking compliance and enforcement activities. Right now, states have laws around what can be sold where, but I think we've all been down main streets where we've seen certain shops operating. It's not always police officers who have the time or the resources available to actually do the additional compliance activities around ensuring tobacco control, so we want to expand the number of people who are able to undertake those duties. State, territory and local government officers with the responsibilities for health or tobacco control matters will be able to be appointed as authorised officers. The secretary must still be satisfied that any person appointed as an authorised officer has suitable qualifications, training and experience.

The government is greatly concerned about the serious health risks of smoking, including cancers, and has continued the efforts of previous governments to support and build on Australia's great success in tobacco control. On 6 May 2018, the government announced new budget measures to tackle the illicit tobacco trade. The government has introduced a comprehensive new framework to provide the Australian Border Force and the Australian Taxation Office with strengthened enforcement measures and additional resources to deter those who profit from illicit tobacco.

The excise increases announced in the 2015-16 budget were firmly based on the evidence that this would further help reduce smoking. The announcement in the 2017-18 budget to harmonise taxation of roll-your-own and manufactured cigarettes is also intended to ensure fairness and efficiencies in tobacco taxes.

As I said, tobacco is the leading cause of preventable and premature death and disability in Australia. Tobacco use is the only risk factor shared by all four main categories of non-communicable diseases, namely cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. The most recent available estimates show that the socioeconomic cost of smoking in Australia was $31.5 billion.

In 2011 tobacco use killed almost 19,000 Australians and was responsible for nine per cent of our total burden of disease and injury, making it the most burdensome risk factor. On 1 June 2017 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016's key findings, which showed that the decline in smoking prevalence rates amongst daily smokers aged 14 years and over slowed in 2016. It decreased from 12.8 per cent in 2013 to 12.2 per cent. In 2016, those living in remote or very remote areas were approximately twice as likely to report as being daily smokers, at 20.7 per cent, compared to those living in major cities, at 10.6 per cent. Daily smoking rates amongst those living in regional areas were also 40 to 70 per cent higher compared to those living in major cities over the same period. The 2014-15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey shows that the proportion of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over who were daily smokers was 38.9 per cent in 2014-15, down from 44.6 per cent in 2008 and an incredible 48.6 per cent in 2002. Nearly half of that population was smoking over 15 years ago.

The measures that we have put in, that the previous government has put in and that our state and territory governments have initiated are working, and we must continue to push forward in this regard. The AIHW report Burden of cancer in Australia: Australian burden of disease study 2011 shows that tobacco was the largest risk factor that contributed to the burden of cancer. Tobacco was attributed to 11 different types of cancer and was responsible for almost twice as many cancer DALY—disability adjusted life years—in males and females. Almost one-quarter of the total cancer burden can be attributed to tobacco use. In 2016 it was estimated that lung cancer will be the leading cause of cancer death in both females and males—over 3,700 females and 5,000 males.

The Department of Health has policy responsibility for illicit tobacco in relation to its work under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the development of the National Tobacco Strategy and, broadly, in its work to reduce smoking prevalence rates. Although the department takes a significant interest in illicit tobacco and the market drivers that influence the illicit trade, it does so from a health perspective, ensuring that consumers are provided with the full suite of government strategies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption rates in Australia. The department is proactively engaging with other agencies on the issue of illicit tobacco to increase cooperation and collaboration. The department is concerned about illicit trade in tobacco products because (a) it impacts directly on the effectiveness of price based public health policies aimed at decreasing smoking rates, and (b) smokers accessing illicit products may not benefit from other public health messages, including tobacco plain packaging and graphic health warnings.

Essence Communications is undertaking a market research evaluation for the department of the current graphic health warnings on tobacco products that are prescribed under the competition and consumer law. The market research evaluation will assess the effectiveness of the current graphic health warnings and provide advice to inform further work in that area. The final report is expected to be delivered to the department in September 2018, so by the end of this month.

I've already mentioned the National Tobacco Campaign. To see our health workers combining with community organisations, not-for-profit organisations, sporting organisations and Indigenous communities to stand together to reduce tobacco use in the Indigenous community is absolutely something we want to see as a government. I know a couple of senators who have spoken against this particular bill say the bill's not required. It's primarily intended to allow for the ongoing appointment of National Measurement Institute officers as authorised officers and the inclusion of relevant state and territory health officers, state and territory police officers and local government officers to provide future flexibility and increased cooperation to respond to noncompliance with the act should it be needed and agreed to in the future.

Sometimes we wonder that the implications may be for the state and territory health departments or local governments. The bill doesn't place any obligation on state and territory agencies or local government entities to be appointed as authorised officers unless and until there's a desire to enter into an agreement. So this is not a case of the Commonwealth coming in over the top; it is a case of us providing the framework in which states and territories can ensure that their health officers, their police officers and their local government officers that deal in this space are adequately considered under the federal legislation to assist us with compliance measures. I want to make that very, very clear. The bill is intended to ensure that National Measurement Institute officers are still able to be appointed as authorised officers should that agency undergo organisational changes. This bill will allow the appointment, as I have already mentioned, of local government officials, state and territory police officers and those with responsibilities for ensuring healthy communities within local governments.

In terms of who was consulted, the initial consultation was undertaken within jurisdictional representatives. A follow-up consultation with each state and territory health department, police force and local government representative body occurred from October 2017 to March 2018. In New South Wales, comment was also sought from the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet, as requested by that state's department of health. Some agencies initially expressed concern in relation to the potential for their officers to be appointed as authorised officers either because their view was that it did not fall within their remit or due to resourcing concerns. After further discussion, these agencies were able to support the amendment on the basis that any appointment of authorised officers would be after a formal agreement was made, and the bill reflects the requirement for an agreement to be in place. In terms of financial impact, the amendment will not result in any further financial impact on the Commonwealth above the current costs associated with tobacco plain packaging compliance and enforcement activities.

The bill does not change our packaging requirements and will not impact the obligations of tobacco manufacturers, distributors or retailers. Consultation, as I said, was broad. After further discussion, there is agreement. The bill will improve plain packaging compliance and enhance enforcement capabilities to support the control measures.

I thank senators for their contribution and for their brief insight into their own individual struggles with smoking and with tobacco control. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Bill 2018 be read a second time.