Sweet news for Australian industry as both major parties rule out a sugar tax

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Catherine King, federal opposition health spokeswoman and member of the Australian Labor Party, declared there are no plans to introduce an SSB tax. ©GettyImages
Catherine King, federal opposition health spokeswoman and member of the Australian Labor Party, declared there are no plans to introduce an SSB tax. ©GettyImages
Australia's two main political parties are set to go into the next federal elections without policies likely to lead to a sugar tax.

The latest statements from the coalition government — encompassing the Liberal Party of Australia, National Party of Australia, Liberal National Party and Country Liberal Party — as well as the main opposition Australia Labor Party have made reassurances that there would not be a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) after the next election.

The next Australian federal election must be held between August 4 and May 18 next year for the state senators, and by 2 November 2019 for the House of Representatives and the territorial senators.

Catherine King, federal opposition health spokeswoman and member of the Australian Labor Party, recently declared that the party currently had no plans to introduce an SSB tax.

She said that preventative health would remain the focus for the party, beyond the next election.

“The first step is putting preventative health at the core of our national discussion on health. Prevention is better than cure — both for our own health and for our overall health system,” ​said King.

According to the Fairfield City Champion​, Labor had made a AU$300 million pledge to tackle obesity and chronic disease in the last election in July 2016, including in introducing a national nutrition framework to work with food producers and retailers on expanding the Health Star Rating, as well as introducing a national physical activity strategy.

However, King put the blame on the ruling Liberals, saying they had abolished a national partnership agreement on preventative health.

Member of Parliament and Katter’s Australian Party Queensland state leader Robbie Katter, also in the opposition camp, recently lent weight to North Queensland cane growers’ protests against a possible sugar tax, saying such a measure would be a “crushing blow”​ to the industry.

He claimed that they had been hit hard by the global downturn in prices due to increases in sugar production, specifically in South Asia and Thailand.

He reiterated the ‘party line’ about greater health education being likely to have more impact than “oversimplifying”​ sweeping taxes.

Recent developments

In January, the Australian Medical Association attempted to reignite the call for a sugar tax, having said that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was a “matter of priority” to overcome obesity and related cardiovascular illnesses plaguing Australia.

Cane growers had reacted to this call saying it was “irrational”​ and that sugar had been “demonised”​ in light of other causes of overweightness and related illnesses.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud had agreed with them that such a tax would not solve these issues, while former leader of the National Party and former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce had also called the proposal of an SSB tax “bonkers mad”​ and said that his party — part of the coalition government — would never support the idea.

Lone Greens

So far, The Greens appear to be the only party who vocally support the tax, having proposed a 20% increase in SSB prices.

The party said it believes that prevention is central to good public health policy and SSBs are driving obesity and “the raft of preventable disease that often comes with it”​.

“The Greens are signalling our intent to bring forward a sugar-sweetened beverages tax bill next year because we are the only party with the courage and commitment to use this measure to tackle childhood obesity,”​ it said in a statement.

The party said the proposed price increase would result in a 12% drop in consumption of SSBs.

Dire situation

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2015, more than two-thirds of Australians over the age of 18 were obese. It is estimated that, by 2025, the condition will encompass 80% of the population.

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has maintained that a health levy on sugar-sweetened beverages would be an effective tool to reduce sugar consumption and tackle overweightness and obesity.

Meanwhile, a recent ABC “Four Corners” current affairs programme recently called into question the influence of major food and beverage firms sitting on committees on industry regulations.

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