Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On the one hand, on the other: Labor's cigarette tax v Turnbull on national security

At a time when there are a few minor things going on around the world, Mr Shorten and the Labor Party's signature tune is a progressive increase in the excise on tobacco bringing the price of a packet of cigarettes to more than $40 by 2020. According to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, the policy showed the "stark" difference between Labor and the Government. It does, but perhaps not in the way Mr Shorten intended.

Leaving aside the extremely sanctimonious, smug, we know best tone adopted by Opposition Health spokesperson Catherine King, there are two problems with the policy. The first is its extremely regressive nature. It is quite consciously targeting lower income groups. The second is the conflict between the stated objectives of raising cash on one side and of discouraging smoking on the other.

Now compare this signature policy with Mr Turnbull's measured remarks in response to the Paris bombings. The first seeks to force, to compel, the second to engage Australians in an adult conversation on a major issue that affects the very structure of Australian life now and in the future. I still have reservations about Mr Turnbull. I now have more reservations about Mr Shorten.

12 comments:

2 tanners said...

Lots of brand new thinking there. Does they really think that doubling (?) the cost of a packet of cigarettes is an ELECTION policy, regardless of whether it is a budget policy? Hands up who remembers the timeless (because it happened so often) budget headline from the 70's "BEER, CIGS UP!"

Anonymous said...

2T: I remember!

Winton Bates said...

And I am not anonymous!

Jim Belshaw said...

And so do I. As you say, 2t, lots of brand new thinking there. Leaving aside the arguments for or against the measure, its a pretty sad day when an increase in excise on cigarettes becomes a signature policy. There are other more important things around like the future of the country.

Jim Belshaw said...

But you do remember, Winton?

Evan said...

Good grief. What are they thinking? I guess they were relying on Tony losing and so are just out of ideas.

Jim Belshaw said...

Damned if I know, Evan.

marcellous said...

I doubt if the ALP's cigarette policy is really a signature policy. Suspect that its characterisation as such is an artefact of the news system.

I agree that there is an inconsistency between raising taxes on cigarettes because people should give up smoking and hoping to make a lot of money from it. Then again, it is in a proud Australian tradition, like getting cheap drinks, food and entertainment off the profits from the pokies.

Don't you think that before judging Labor or identifying its signature policies we should wait a bit until Turnbull unveils some signature policies of his own, rather than merely resiling from some of Abbott's less successful captain's picks? (Leaving aside that is, those Abbott policies Turnbull's promised not to change for the time being as the price of leadership.)

Let's wait a bit, for example, for the penalty rates argument to heat up a bit more (I doubt if Turnbull was ever an employee which makes his dismissal of penalty rates as an historical anomaly a cheap shot for him), let alone the question of an increased GST ("the government has no proposal on the table for this" all its ministers are keen to say). That will really put Turnbull's claims to "fairness" to the test.

Still, I agree that things don't look promising for the ALP right now. They rarely are for first-term oppositions - especially Labor ones. Under capitalism the anti-Labor coalition is the natural, status-quo party of government.

Anonymous said...

I agree with marcellous' comments above - particularly his "let's wait" position. Thus far it seems to me that Mr Turnbull has managed to say precisely nothing of substance (granted, he does so quite winningly) about anything. It is all very well to maintain that "everything is on the table" but sooner or later he must clear some policy space for some hard decisions. Perhaps the myefo due shortly will clear some of the comfy fog? Where is our Treasurer these days?

As to ALP ciggie 'policy' - why $40 - and not $50 or $60? There is a level (but I don't know where) at which punitive taxation becomes the starting point for wholesale disregard of laws; already the illicit tobacco trade is making a dent in duties collected. This will only increase.

And, from both sides, since when did 'fairness' come to mean that the raising of any taxes will result in nobody being worse off, but the government having more money? This new form of arithmetic is beyong my understanding.

kvd

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi marcellous and kvd. Just to put my own biases/judgments up front. I really complained about the way that the previous NSW Labor administration substituted certain types of actions for real policy. Then I complained about the transmission of this approach to the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Labour Governments. marcellous. I haven't checked properly, but from memory, the use of the word signature policy actually came from Labor. Even if it did not, the rhetoric used had that effect.

I really, really want Labor to engage intellectually rather than just short term point scoring politically. I agree that Mr Turnbull has had something of a free kick and that we don't yet know what he really stands for. I made the point here about the importance of waiting.

kvd, take your point on fairness.

Bill Pilgram said...

Why don't we just adopt a user pays approach to smokers. You want to smoke that's your business, but any smoking related diseases are not covered by Medicare. Let the smokers cough up (excuse the pun) for their own tobacco related expenses. To go a step further if tobacco is a poison then make users (ie smokers) have a license. They would not be able to purchase cigarettes without the license and would be subject to checks when smoking in public. Drop the price of cigarettes to counter any illegal sales and create a national register of smokers, from the licenses to ensure they don access any of the medical benefits available to others. And while we are at it lets ban chewing gum. This disgusting product has no value what so ever if you have ever had the misfortune to get other peoples gum on your shoes or clothes then you would know what I mean.

Jim Belshaw said...

My apologies for my incredibly slow response, Bill. Leaving aside things such as tobacco tax, the principle adopted in the smoking case does require broader application. For every activity that may have an adverse health outcome, medicare should not apply to the adverse result. This would apply to drinking, obesity or just riding a bike.