Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:22): I can assure Senator Bernardi that I will not be going into any emotive arguments in my contribution. In terms of emotive arguments, it is not emotive to actually put before the Australian community the cost to the individual and to the community of smoking in our country. I know that the AMA has done significant work in this area, as have public health organisations, and it is clear that the impact of smoking on our community is strong. People's lives are impacted. I do take Senator Leyonhjelm's point-macabre as it was, Senator Leyonhjelm-that people who abuse their bodies in different ways, including smoking, end up dying earlier and costing the community less. It is an interesting point, and possibly accurate, but not one that I think any responsible government would build into their plan for the future.

Our position is very clear: we announced last year that we have a policy around increasing the tax on tobacco, for a number of reasons. One is for the health of the community, but also we are looking at a way of raising funds. It is true: there is a double incentive for what we are doing. But in terms of the process, the core argument is to ensure that we have the healthiest possible nation so our people will have informed choice. There is nothing about the policy that actually takes away individual choice on whether people choose to smoke or not. Basically, though, we mean that this choice must be informed. It must be informed on the level of knowing what the health risks are and what the impact of smoking will be. Part of our argument around that, as a Labor government, was introducing the plain packaging process, which was an attempt to show people-when, with free will, they purchase a product that is not illegal-what the consequences would be of taking up smoking and of buying that packet of cigarettes. That is an informed choice about what the health impact will be.

A second informed choice is the economic cost of choosing to smoke. Senator Leyonhjelm said our tobacco taxes are one of the highest in the world. The evidence I have is the evidence from the World Health Organization that says our tobacco taxes are not one of the highest in the world. There is always a graph; it does not matter what the topic is, you can always find someone to put things in some kind of linear form. But, at this stage, the World Health Organization currently considers that raising tobacco taxes to more than 75 per cent of the retail price for tobacco products is amongst the most effective and cost-effective tobacco control interventions. This is an interventionist policy. I know that is something with which Senator Leyonhjelm does not agree, but it is factual. We have a different belief in this area. Having a tobacco tax is an interventionist policy, and it is interventionist because, again, we want to ensure that people who make the choice to smoke are clear about the impacts of doing so.

As you know, Labor introduced a series of excise raises during our government. The proposal that we have put forward, should we be elected, is an introduction of four annual 12.5 per cent increases in excise. Following the four 12.5 per cent increases in excise, taxation as the proportion of the retail price of a packet of cigarettes would sit around the World Health Organisation's target of 75 per cent. So, should this particular policy come into being, when you see a graph in the next round of our government you will see that we will be above where we currently are in terms of the impact of taxation on cigarettes. That is an important element; we have not shied away from the fact that the current Labor policy position has been costed by the PBO to raise about $3.8 billion over the current forward estimates period and $47 million over the medium term. With this increase, into the future people will be contributing more to the Australian economy.

That is the taxation impact of the choice that they make to smoke, but, in terms of the overall policy, we believe that the tax impost is but one element of the changes we want the Australian government to make for the community to ensure that their choices will be informed. I have mentioned the plain packaging process, and, of course, the evaluation of that process will continue. No change should be allowed just to sit there without evaluation, so we will continue to evaluate the impact of the plain packaging process. We know that other nations have been looking at what Australia did in that area and looking to see whether they could introduce it in their countries as well. We know also that under Labor we put the nicotine processes that you could use to wean yourself off the smoking habit on the PBS. So there is that element: you can get support with medication that you will be able to use if you make the choice that you want to stop smoking.

Most importantly, linked to this economic change, we need to ensure the availability of education programs, which were funded under Labor and which gave particular support to people who were wanting to try to stop smoking. Senator Bernardi graphically described that choice to us. In terms of supporting those choices amongst the population, we think that that counselling and support program should be available across the board and, in particular, to those groups of the population who have been identified as smoking more heavily than others. There has been considerable research done in that area, and one of the areas that I am most concerned about are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where, at this stage, according to the statistics that we have, they would be most likely to be the victims of the statistics Senator Leyonhjelm described about the fact that their lives are cut short by a range of choices that they make. We need to offer support in those communities to see that there are options and there are ways that you can make personal choices that are stronger for you and your health. To ensure this support is available, we are very concerned that those programs that have been introduced must continue to be funded. At the moment there is some uncertainty about that, as you know, with the funding processes.

In terms of the overall argument, it is clear that we need to ensure that our community is as healthy and as strong as it can be. Our figures indicate that each year in Australia tobacco still kills more than 15,000 people and has more than $31.5 billion in health and economic costs. That does not mean just because you light up a cigarette you will immediately be killed. Some people try and make the stats way too direct and build up fear. We believe, as does the AMA work, that smoking is a contributing factor to the deaths of that large number of people in Australia. We as a nation should be taking that really seriously and looking at any way we can to ensure that our country is stronger and that we are able to, clearly, define what is in the best interests of our community and what is not.

It is a highly contested space, the argument about whether increasing the price will reduce the numbers of people using a particular product. It has been looked at in the area of alcohol. We have heard about sugar this afternoon. It is one of those things where you have to weigh up the evidence. So much of it is in front of you. Senator Bernardi's comment that some of it could be swayed in a particular direction is quite real. Any evaluation of any program should be as independent as possible. But the bulk of the evidence we have, over many years of research, indicates that the price mechanism is one aspect of the decision. If you increase the price of a particular product, whether it be tobacco or housing or anything else, it impacts on the choice that someone makes.

The measure we have in front of us about taxation around tobacco is one the Labor Party strongly supports. We believe we should use this as an interventionist policy along the lines of ensuring that there is an informed choice by people in the community on whether they wish to continue to smoke or not. It has a double impact. If people choose not to smoke, we believe, that would be beneficial to their health. It would also impact on the figures that could be saved in this particular program.

We have built up a policy that looks at the health of a nation as well as a way of increasing taxation in our budget so that we will be able to get income as a result of a measure that we are taking for the double purpose. When we introduced this particular tax in our policy, last year, the government decided it was an outrageous grab on citizens' money. We believe, now, that they are supporting that as an economic issue. (Time expired)