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Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 16 Nov 2010

In Committee

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (6.38 pm)—As I articulated in my speech on the second reading of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill 2010, the Greens do not support these amendments. That probably comes as no surprise, because we did not support them in the House of Representatives either. We believe that an industry representative on the advisory council would be inappropriate and have the potential to undermine the work of the agency. Industry is keen to sell its products and promote its products, and in some cases that is contrary to the outcomes that we are trying to achieve. Not that long ago we were in here debating the alcopops legislation. I sat through two Senate inquiries—one broadly on alcohol and the other on the legislation itself—and there was a massive lobbying exercise to the point where, as one of my staff reminded me today, alcopops were delivered to our Senate suites. I remember telling the Senate how I collected all of those from the Greens senators and made sure we gave them back. We again gave back the alcopops that were delivered on the second day, and on the third day all they left us was the message.

Senator Xenophon—Did you give them the passion pops?

Senator SIEWERT—We gave back all the alcopops. I have a real concern that industry representation on this advisory council—and I am not slagging off industry in general—could undermine the effectiveness of the council. We need very clear advice from this agency. As I articulated in my speech on the second reading of this bill, the agency has a big job. We believe that the marketing of alcohol and junk food is one of the big problems we are facing in promoting healthier lifestyles and acting on preventative health. It is no secret to those in this place that the Greens are very concerned about alcohol advertising and junk food advertising during inappropriate viewing times. Not long ago I heard one of the latest arguments, which says, ‘It is okay to have junk food advertising during children’s viewing hours because we are not actually aiming it at the kids; we are aiming it at the parents.’ We have strong concerns about that.

We believe there is nothing in the bill as it stands to prevent the minister’s appointing someone with industry expertise to the advisory council. Having said that, the minister will be able do that anyway if it is appropriate. But enshrining it in legislation will make the council look like it is promoting the in-terests of the junk food and alcohol industries and that they have special requirements to be listed above those of other parties.

The alcohol and junk food industries in Australia spend millions of dollars between them promoting their products. They spend far more money than this agency will be able to target at healthier lifestyles and other social marketing programs. The alcohol industry strenuously opposes measures designed to make its products—for example, alcopops—less attractive to young people, and I really do not see how the advisory council and the alcohol industry fit together. The alcohol industry deliberately undermined the impact of the alcopops tax through its big promotion of the drinking of spirits through the giving away of free soft drinks or the sale of two for one soft drinks. All sorts of mechanisms were used to undermine the effectiveness of the alcopops tax. So when the council talks about specific measures, I am not convinced that industry representatives will have at heart the preventative health message, because they will still want to sell their products. As I said previously, it is the marketing of their products that can add to the problems that we are trying to address.

We have indicated our support for consumer representation on the advisory council, and we have accepted the government’s commitment to appoint appropriate consumer representatives. During the debate on the Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill 2009, which did not go through during the previous parliament, we were strong advocates for consumer representation. But we do not agree with the philosophy of not having a given sector represented just because you do not have another given sector represented. For all those reasons, we do not believe it is appropriate to mandate in the bill industry representation. If it is decided that it is appropriate to have them there, there is nothing in the legislation to say that they cannot be there, but we do not think their representation should be mandated in the legislation, and therefore we do not support these amendments.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia)

(6.43 pm)—I do not support these amendments. You do not put Dracula in charge of the blood bank, and I think that—

Senator Siewert—I was going to use that one.

Senator XENOPHON—Did you use it?

Senator Siewert—No, I was going to.

Senator XENOPHON—I did not steal your thunder then. I do not think it is appropriate that we have industry representatives on a body whose reason for existence is to ensure that practical, sensible recommendations are made on preventive health. My concern is that, as Senator Siewert suggested, industry will not have at heart the interests of Australian consumers and their health. If you look at the history of the tobacco industry in this country and overseas, the tobacco industry stalled and stalled about the medical evidence about tobacco for some 50 years, and we know what the consequences of that were: literally millions of lives were cut short because of the damage caused by cigarettes.


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