Transcript of Press Conference – Canberra - Plain Packaging of Tobacco
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31 May 2011
Topics: Plain Packaging of Tobacco
Professor Mike Daube: It's my special pleasure to acknowledge here the Honourable Nicola Roxon, Minister for Health and Ageing, her ministerial colleague Mark Butler, the Regional Director for the Western-Pacific region of the World Health Organisation, Dr Shin, distinguished Members of Parliament, and colleagues from a really inspiring array of health organisations; cancer, heart, public health association, Quit, ASH, and other distinguished campaigners.
Today's World No Tobacco Day. That's a date to remind ourselves and the community that smoking kills five million people a year around the world, including 15,000 Australians. That it kills one in two regular users. That cigarettes have caused the death of a million Australians since we learned about the dangers of smoking in 1950, and that we must do all we can to protect present and future generations from the harms of smoking.
This morning's short event is in two parts. First, the presentation of the leading international and national awards for tobacco control. And second, a call to action by health organisations, especially in support of this vital plain packaging measure.
The first presentation will by made by Dr Nigel Gray. Dr Gray is a former president of the International Union Against Cancer. He's Australia's most distinguished figure, and probably the world's most distinguished figure in terms of campaigning on tobacco.
He's been doing that since 1968. He ran the first anti-smoking ads in Australia in 1971. And the Nigel Gray medal is awarded every two years by the Australian Tobacco Control Community, to recognise an individual who's made an outstanding contribution to tobacco control. And it's my pleasure to invite Nigel Gray to present the Nigel Gray medal.
Nigel Gray: Minister, it's a great pleasure to be here and to give you an award for what has always been the most important target - plain packaging.
I never thought it would be on our agenda and it's a great honour for me to give you this award, which regrettably has my photograph on it.
Nigel Gray: If you come forward [indistinct].
Nicola Roxon: Thank you.
Nigel Gray: I would really like to present - present you with that. Thank you.
Nicola Roxon: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Mike Daube: You'll be aware that the Minister was presented with an award towards the end of last week by the Australian Medical Association, and I think it must be some kind of world record that a Minister is presented with three awards within the space of a week.
The WHO - the World Health Organisation - makes awards every year on World No Tobacco Day, but there is a special award which I think has only been awarded once before, and that is the Director General's special award, and we're delighted to welcome here Dr Shin who has come form Manilla, the Regional Director of the World Health Organisation to present this award to Minister Roxon.
Dr Shin: Good morning.
Minister Roxon, leaders of Parliament, and leaders of public health Australia, and distinguished guests.
I'm here to present the WHO, World No Tobacco Day 2011 award, and WHO Director General's special recognition certificate, to the Honourable Nicola Roxon, the Minister of Health and Ageing of Australia.
The citation recognises Minister Roxon's unwavering leadership in the field of health, and describes the proposal to introduce plain packaging as a bold and breakthrough approach.
Her action has inspired political leaders in many, many other countries to take strong, calibrated and decisive action against the tobacco industry's most noxious weapon; seductive brand advertising.
Minister, your leadership speaks of a coming victory for public health and irreversible gain for tobacco control in Australia.
Your pioneering spirit is an inspiration to leaders all around the world. What you have started in Australia will impact on tobacco control policies in many, many other countries.
The WHO stands firmly with you in your fight for a tobacco free world.
Mike Daube: Thank you very much Dr Shin. We do appreciate your being here in this extraordinary recognition of extraordinary achievements by Minister Roxon.
Before we go to questions and further photographs, I'd [indistinct] this is a crucial time for tobacco control.
Australia's the world's leader in terms of action on tobacco, but a crucial further piece in the jigsaw, as we've heard, is plain packaging. It's a vital measure recommended by all the key health organisations and even further recommended by the tobacco industry's absolutely desperate opposition to it.
We're today calling on both health organisations and members of the community and Members of Parliament from all parties to show their concern for the public health by supporting plain packaging and to speak briefly to that I will invite first Todd Harper the Chief Executive Officer of the Cancer Council of Victoria and then Dr Lyn Roberts, Chief Executive Officer of the National Heart Foundation.
Todd Harper: Thank you Mike.
It's my great pleasure to be here today on behalf of the Cancer Council to pledge our support for this most important piece of legislation.
As we've heard, 15,000 deaths in Australia every year caused by smoking. We think that this has the best prospects we've had in a long time to seriously change the culture of tobacco use in our community.
We've now seen more than 20 studies published on this issue, confirming the evidence that this is a very sensible, pragmatic and landmark piece of health legislation.
We've also seen repeatedly this initiative attracts the majority of support in the Australian community. So the Cancer Council stands ready to support this legislation and urge other health organisations in our community to also take a stand. There's never been, I suspect, a more important time for us to take a stand for the benefit of public health on such an important issue.
Thank you very much.
Lyn Roberts: Minister, firstly congratulations in outstanding award. I'm absolutely delighted to be here on behalf of the Heart Foundation and I'm sure I speak on behalf of many other health organisations to say how committed we are to supporting the introduction of plain packaging here in Australia.
We need to do everything that we can to stop and encourage the next generation to not take up smoking. The pack, we believe, is a fundamental ploy that's used to encourage children to take up smoking. We know that this has got strong community support and we urge all Members of Parliament to support this.
It would just be fantastic to see this get bipartisan support and demonstrate Australia's strong leadership, not only to the region, but right across the world.
So thank you. And please, please provide your support.
Mike Daube: Thank you Lyn and as you heard, we will be asking health organisations and all Members of Parliament to pledge their support for this vital public health measure.
And now having received these two awards, a unique occasion, I'm delighted to invite the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Honourable Nicola Roxon to address you.
Nicola Roxon: Well thank you very much Mike and thank you to Dr Nigel Gray and to Dr Shin.
It's not very often that Members of Parliament, or Ministers for that matter, get humbled by presentations that are made to them, but in this occasion I have to say I truly am.
To have someone like Dr Gray, upon whose shoulders we are standing when we take this next step in tobacco control, is wonderful.
And, of course, to have Dr Shin who is working so hard to encourage other countries to take more stringent measures for tobacco control, this is a very important occasion.
And I take these awards as a great compliment; that as recognition that our Government is doing something that will really make a difference to many, many thousands of lives. And if the flow-on works, as we hope it might, in other countries around the world, that it will have an impact beyond just Australia, but into the region.
There are many, many people here today who also have worked - spent all their lives working towards better tobacco control. I'm not going to name each of them. I'm glad that many of you will be at dinner tonight when we get a chance to. And it's really wonderful that you have laid the fertile ground for a Government that has the political will to take this decision, to be able to come into a public that you have already garnered so much support for in terms of tobacco control, without the work and the environment that public health organisations in Australia had done, this would not be possible.
So can I please, in front of all my colleagues in the media, pass on those very public thanks to people who have committed a significant part of their lives - some, since before I was born, but I won't talk about their ages - to this important cause.
What you see here today, as well, is many colleagues - and I'm pleased to see there are some from the Opposition here as well - who are here, I hope, to consider signing on a pledge to pass plain packaging through our Parliament.
It's a great opportunity for us to show, no matter what our history - I know that Steve Georganas, the chair of the Health Committee used to smoke two packs a day, gave up seven years ago - as an ex-smoker says this is something I proudly want to be part of. That pack I used to take out of my pocket 20 times a day, 30 times a day, showed my friends, showed my colleagues, and it was a form of advertising. And I don't want to be part of seeing people using their pack as a way of advertising a product which we know is a killer.
So there's going to be an opportunity, in a very short time, for this Parliament to vote on this legislation. I am looking forward to the strong support that we're receiving from the public and even stronger support that I hope we will receive from health organisations, to ensure that this legislation is indeed, passed. We are breaking new ground, but we know that we are on strong ground when we take this action, because of the work of so many people before us.
So I want to just encourage people to show their support. Some members who are juggling a lot of different things will need to be in and out pretty quickly. Please feel free to come and sign on up here. I would like to acknowledge that people will be able to contact their Local Members to sign on and provide support that the Cancer Council, I understand, will shortly have its website available that people can do that online.
This is an opportunity - smokers, non-smokers, people who have been touched by cancer and others can all support making sure that this lethal habit is not one that's taken up by the next generation of Australians.
And I know there are people, I know there are some smokers who are worried about this issue. I know there are people in the community who fear what this change means.
But I have never met a smoker who hopes that his or her child will take up smoking.
Everyone knows it's a habit that will kill you and this is an opportunity for us to be united in our determination to get this legislation through, and for Australia to lead the world.
So thank you very much for these awards. Our Government is very honoured by the recognition that we've been given. We feel the weight of responsibility, of ensuring that this measure is able to pass our Parliament and be implemented into law, and I am very confident with your ongoing support and effort we, indeed, will be able to make that happen.
So thank you very much. Please colleagues, join me here to be able to sign onto this wonderful campaign that is being launched by the Cancer Council and the Public Health Organisation, the Heart Foundation and others. It's a way for you to be able to show your support and for us to continue to develop even stronger support within the community.
Thank you again for these wonderful awards.
Mike Daube: Minister, thank you, again, very much.
People can either sign here, or they can log into www.plainfacts.org.au and sign online.
We're enormously grateful to everybody here for participating. Minister, we applaud the works that you have done and we are proud of the recognition that you've gained for Australia as the global leader in tobacco control.
For the media I would say that I think people want to take photographs now, so I suggest that we move to that and then any questions to the minister or the health leaders after that.
Minister, congratulations again and thanks to you all, the health organisations, and all others for attending.
Nicola Roxon: Thank you very much for coming, obviously today the alliance of health organisations are calling on the public and parliamentarians to sign a pledge to do all they can to get our plain packaging legislation through the Parliament.
We know that this is a measure which will help save lives, we know that anything we can do to reduce the harm caused by tobacco is worth doing, and what you've seen today is that internationally Australia is being recognised for the ground-breaking work that we are doing, and it's an opportunity of course for Mr Abbott to make a decision, he can decide to stop taking donations from tobacco companies, he can decide that it's time to support this measure.
I did notice that there were one or two Opposition members at this event today, I hope that this is a sign that there's a growing number of members of the Opposition who want to support the government, and ultimately I hope that the Liberal Party makes a decision to join us, in leading the world.
Journalist: So we are actually hearing out of the Coalition party room that they will now support plain packaging, would you welcome that decision?
Nicola Roxon: I would absolutely welcome anybody's support for this measure, I hope that Mr Abbott and the Liberal Opposition will support this measure, I have been saying for months that this is a good public health measure, that we should have bipartisan support for, and I've made it absolutely clear that if Mr Abbott wants to prove that tobacco companies don't control or shape their policies by their donations, then he can easily prove that by supporting this measure.
And if Mr Abbott has kicked his habit, I will be the first person to welcome him.
Journalist: The World Health Organisation mentioned that you're a pioneer in this area of tobacco control, are you finding pioneering in the health reforms for Australia somewhat harder now?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I'm very humbled by this award being given by the World Health Organisation, it is not often that politicians or Governments indeed receive these awards, and I think its good encouragement to others, that this is a measure where Australia should proudly lead the world.
It won't be an easy thing to do, we know that big tobacco companies will continue to fight this measure, and in the same way with our broader health reforms, that our government has been determined to make sure we put health reform on to a sustainable footing into the future.
We may get some people that are reticent, we may get some states that want to continue to hide information about their hospitals or their services, we don't think that that is acceptable any longer, and of course we'll be prosecuting our reforms with the states and territories, and continue to deliver to the community more doctors, more investments in our hospitals, more beds, and of course these sorts of world-leading initiatives in prevention.
Journalist: Do you expect to have the agreement done by July 1?
Nicola Roxon: Well, there's a range of different pieces, our health reform has probably more than 40 different components to it, some commence on 1 July, some commence later than that, some have already commenced. We are working very hard to make sure that we can deliver on our health reforms, when you have such a complex measure and initiative, you would expect that some will run very smoothly on time, and some won't, that's the reality of implementing a very expansive health reform agenda.
But I'm confident that it's going well, I'm confident that people are working hard to deliver better outcomes, I'm concerned that some states look like they want to go back to the old days of hiding results, and hiding performance in their health services, we don't agree that that is a good step backwards, and we will continue to prosecute that argument.
Journalist: Just back to plain packaging, we're hearing also the Coalition may want some amendments without actually any of us knowing what those amendments are, generally speaking, is there room to move with the plain packaging?
Nicola Roxon: Well look, I think it's very hypothetical, the best news that we could receive today is that the Liberal Party has changed its position, if it has succumbed to the inevitable, and supported the government's sensible public health measure, that will be big news, and I will be the first to congratulate Mr Abbott, for kicking his habit.
But I am not going to get into speculating about some amendments that they may want, I haven't been advised that they've changed their position, I haven't been advised that they have particular amendments, of course our government will work sensibly with any constructive proposals that are put forward.
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