BILLS – Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023, Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2023 – Second Reading, Monday December 4th, 2023

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (11:18): I never thought I would agree with anything that ever came out of the Greens, but I’ve got to say that I agree with Senator Whish-Wilson. We’re going to have to do more to protect our oceans from plastic pollution. I definitely agree with that one. Who would have thought it? Hell must have frozen over. That’s what must have happened.

Anyway, I rise here today to speak on yet more tobacco legislation, the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) Bill 2023 and the Public Health (Tobacco and Other Products) (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2023—more regulation, more red tape, more complexity, more pressure from unelected globalists. The government says that these reforms are necessary to ensure that Australia meets its obligations under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. If the WHO asked the government to jump off a cliff, I dare say that the government would probably comply. If they didn’t comply, the WHO would just amend their regulations to include a mandate on cliff jumping, and then they would comply; I’m sure of it.

I ask just one simple question to this government: is there an area, just one area, of a grown adult’s life that you would be prepared to leave alone? Is there an act, a habit, a private comfort, that this government can allow private citizens without trying to legislate it or control it or just ban it outright?

This continual war on smokers is a classic example of nanny state overreach. That’s what it is. Now, it’s true that smoking is not good for your health. It’s also true that many sensible citizens choose to smoke anyway, knowing full well the risks, and that’s their right. They’re grown adults. The desire by legislators to continually berate and penalise free people at every turn for making choices about their own lives is antiliberty and, ultimately, counterproductive. The government should be focused on safeguarding people’s freedoms, not on monitoring them through every minute of the day lest they do, say or think something untoward. At the rate that we are going, free citizens will soon need permission from the state to get out of bed in the morning.

The more we tax tobacco, the more we regulate tobacco, the more we restrict the advertising of tobacco and the more we treat the community as infants, the more we create disdain for government and drive good people underground. Nowhere in the country is this more obvious than in my home state of Victoria. In Melbourne, as a result of the thriving black market, we’ve seen dozens of fire bombings in the past year alone. The road to black-market activity and the inevitable rise in crime is paved with good intentions.

The six words that Australians want to hear least from their government are ‘but it’s for your own good’. Daily smoking rates in Australia are among the lowest in OECD countries. As a nation we have communicated well the inherent risk in smoking and the undesirability of smoking, and as a result the number of smokers has fallen sharply over the past number of decades. According to the ABS, just one in 10 Australians smoke daily. Now, the antismoking message is clear, but in a free nation—if it’s still a free nation—people must have the liberty to make their own choices without constant harassment from the government.

Gone are the days of ‘more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette’. Today when you buy a packet you’re bombarded with messages like, ‘Smoking causes lung cancer,’ ‘Smoking causes mouth cancer,’ ‘Smoking causes blindness,’ and everything else. We all know that smoking kills. We’re told this whenever we purchase or consume these products. Cigarette packets must already display a statement and graphic that covers at least 75 per cent of the front; display a statement, graphic and explanatory message that covers at least 90 per cent per cent of the back; display an information message on one side; and use two sets of health warnings on rotation every 12 months.

This bill obviously goes even further: apparently a package insert and warnings on individual cigarettes. That’s going to make all the difference! I’m sure that, once someone opens a packet, lights up a cigarette and puts it in their mouth, they’re going to glance down and see ‘smoking kills’ written on that cigarette and immediately get the urge to quit smoking. That’s what they’re going to do—sure; no worries! I’m sorry to break it to you, guys: if a picture of mouth cancer or lung cancer on the front of a packet does not convince a smoker to quit, a little label on an individual cigarette will not convince them. The Australian people are not stupid. They can read. As adults—I’ll keep saying it—they can make their own decisions.

Our nation would be far better off if the government focused attention where it’s actually needed. How about this? How about we scrap the proposed IR changes and look to deregulate and loosen the pressure on small businesses and households, who are struggling to make ends meet? How about we drastically reduce the size of government and the bureaucracy which it supports? How about we scrap the unscientific ideology of net zero and unleash Australian coal and gas? Why don’t you as a government remove the prohibition on nuclear energy? I’d support that. Why don’t you cut all subsidies on so-called renewable energy and let the free market decide what the cheapest form of energy really is?

Why don’t you spend less money and focus on reducing taxes, duties and levies? Why don’t you implement policies designed to benefit hardworking nuclear families, like income splitting? Why don’t you renegotiate bad international agreements that no longer benefit Australia and her interests? Scrap your high-taxing, overregulating agenda and get back to basics. Uphold the inalienable rights of an individual to live their life free of interference from the state.