Minister for Health and Aged Care's doorstop in Adelaide on 2 January 2024

Read Minister Butler's doorstop on vaping.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks for coming out Happy New Year to everyone. Yesterday, the first phase of the Government's fight against vaping kicked in - that is a ban on disposable vapes being imported into this country. Loopholes in existing laws has allowed millions and millions of these disposable vapes to flood into Australia, vapes that are particularly and deliberately marketed at our children. They are often brightly coloured, with flavours like bubblegum, cherry, with stickers on them like pink unicorns and deliberately intended to entice young kids who are using them. It is all part of a big tobacco’s plan to recruit a new generation to nicotine addiction. Tragically, over the last few years, we've seen big tobaccos plan start to work with huge numbers of young Australian kids and young Australian adults vaping on a very regular basis and becoming addicted to nicotine.

This first phase took effect yesterday, it is now illegal to import disposable vapes into this country and we hope that that will start to wind down the supply of vapes that are particularly marketed to Australian kids. Further phases of our fight against vaping will take effect over the coming months. Some of them on the 1st of March, others dependent upon legislation will be introduced very shortly to the Australian Parliament. We hope we'll get the Opposition's support for that legislation. Now this fight is not going to be easy but we are determined to win because ultimately this fight against vaping, this latest fight against Big Tobacco, is all about ensuring Australian kids live long healthy lives that are not blighted by nicotine addiction and tobacco. Happy to take questions on that or other news of the day.

JOURNALIST: Former Australian Federal Police officer, Rohan Pike, says that the new regulations will only stop about 1 in 4 products coming into the country. Do you think he’s right in saying that?

BUTLER: We've worked very closely, particularly with the Australian Border Force, but we're working with state police agencies as well to ensure that there's a comprehensive enforcement framework in place to support this fight against vaping. As I've said on a number of occasions before, in the May Budget, there were substantial additional resources put in place to enable the Australian Border Force to do their job. They're very keen to do this because they recognise the public health menace that is posed by vaping as well. Very late in 2023, the Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and I had a meeting with all of the state and territory police ministers and their health ministers, at the direction of the Prime Minister and premiers, to ensure that there is that comprehensive enforcement framework and we're very confident that we are going to make a very, very big difference. Now, I've said it's not going to be easy. You know, we've had laws in place for many, many years now to prohibit the import of illicit drugs like cocaine and other things like that and some of it gets into the country by hook or by crook. But what I'm determined to do is to stop a situation where Australia kids, including, frankly, primary school kids, find it so easy to get vapes at their local convenience store, or vaping stores that are deliberately, cynically actually opening and setting up right down the road from schools because they know that is the target market. You will have heard report after report of school communities, parent groups try to stop the establishment of vape stores down the road from their school or from their local school because they know what a threat that is to kids. I don't pretend it's going to be easy. Border Force hasn't pretended it's going to be easy. We've given them the resources that they've said they need to do the best possible job. We're going to be working with local policing agencies and local health authorities to ensure that on the ground, there's also a strong enforcement regime to protect Australian kids.

JOURNALIST: What penalties do you think will be put in place for those caught with illegal vapes?
 
BUTLER: I want to be very clear that that the laws that will pass through the Australian Parliament will have no penalties for users. This is not about going after people who are using vapes, whether they're adults or kids. Our focus is on people selling them, manufacturing them, or importing them. I've said to businesses that are making money out of this trade, you're going to have to find another way to make money. This is something that is that is posing a very significant public health threat to the youngest Australians, as part of a cynical campaign to recruitment them to nicotine addiction. We're not willing to stand for it. The exact penalties will be contained in legislation that I'll be introducing into the parliament early this year. It'll be the subject of a vigorous parliamentary debate.
 
JOURNALIST: An Australian has been killed while fighting in Gaza. Has the government reached out to his family?
 
BUTLER: We're trying to confirm the reports that we've read about this death, an Australia man, born in Australia who has moved to Israel, as we understand from reports, killed fighting as part of the Israeli Defence Forces, which is it must be said, not against the law. It is legal for Australians to fight as part of the formal armed forces of a foreign nation, which is we understand this young man has been doing. I want to send our deepest condolences to his family, and to his loved ones. And obviously indicate that we stand ready to provide whatever consular assistance his family might need. But as I said, we're seeking to confirm the reports that we’ve read about this death.
 
JOURNALIST: Is there anymore information that the government can provide of the two brothers that were killed fighting in Lebanon and are you able to confirm if one of  them was fighting for Hezbollah?
 
BUTLER: Again, we've read claims by Hezbollah, that one of these Australians, who was apparently killed in southern Lebanon, was associated with fighting for Hezbollah, we're seeking to establish the exact facts about that. I want to be very clear and remind Australians Hezbollah is a listed terrorist organisation. It is a criminal offence for Australians to engage in hostile activities overseas, other than, as I just said, as part of the formal forces of a foreign nation. There are very clear penalties in Australian law, there have been for a long time, which include sanctions like the possible cancellation of passports. I just want to take this opportunity to remind Australia visa holders, residents or citizens it is a criminal offence to engage in those sorts of hostile activities. But as to this particular claim by Hezbollah, a listed terror organisation, the government is seeking to establish the facts about that.
 
JOURNALIST: The Opposition wants to look at considering banning the travel to parts of Lebanon where Hezbollah is present, is that something that you guys would consider?
 
BUTLER: Since October, we’ve urged Australians not to travel to Lebanon, given the risk involved there, and I wanted today to continue to urge Australians who are in Lebanon to leave Lebanon at the earliest possible opportunity. If it's not safe to remain there, we urge you to leave Lebanon at the earliest possible opportunity.
 
JOURNALIST: US security analysis have also warned that sending nuclear submarines on the current timelines will be crazy. Do you have any response to these comments?
 
BUTLER: AUKUS is obviously a really important agreement between the three nations: Australia, UK and the US for our collective security and the security of the world and particularly in the region. It's also important for jobs here in South Australia and in my own electorate of the western suburbs of Adelaide. The Government remains very confident of strong, cross partisan support in all three countries for the AUKUS arrangements. In relation to the US that was only recently seen through the passage of enabling legislation through the US Congress only in the last couple of months and enjoyed very broad support from Republican and Democrat Congressman alike.
 
JOURNALIST: That legislation that was passed, though, does have out clauses for future administration's if the sale of subs to Australia doesn't a line with US national interests. Considering that these analysts will play a part in a future Republican administration is that I guess, putting a bit of concern out there that the future administration members of administration are already questioning that AUKUS timeline?
 
BUTLER: I think as you would have seen from the Prime Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister down there's been very strong engagement between Australia, the US and the UK to ensure that these AUKUS arrangements are durable, that they will be a strong support for our collective security across the globe for many generations to come. We remain very confident that there is strong cross partisan support in all three countries for the AUKUS arrangements.

JOURNALIST: Just one more question on Lebanon, does the Government have any figures on Australians in Lebanon?

BUTLER: The latest figures I've seen are around 15,000 Australians remain in Lebanon, we continue to urge them to leave at the earliest possible opportunity. For a number of months now Lebanon has been a do not travel country. There has been very clear government advice not to travel to Lebanon, that advice has been in place since October. We really strongly urge any Australians who remain in Lebanon today to take the earliest possible opportunity to leave that country.

JOURNALIST: Are there any concerns after Joe Biden cancelled plans to attend the meeting later this month?

BUTLER: As I understand it there is no standard meeting dates set for 2024. I think we're realistic about the fact that that certainly two, potentially three of the four members have important elections over the course of 2024. That's likely to impact on dates, But again, this is a really important arrangement between the four like-minded countries, the US, Japan, India and Australia. We’re very confident those arrangements remain very strong.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried with a crack down on vaping there will be an increase in cigarette smoking?

BUTLER: We're very alive to the risk of vaping being a gateway to smoking cigarettes. We've seen research that young vapers are increasingly likely to take up cigarettes than their non-vaping peers. That's a deliberate part of the strategy from big tobacco. This is a strategy to create a new generation to nicotine addiction and then see them take up cigarettes. We know what a disaster it will be for public health. We've also seen that the only cohort in the community right now where smoking rates are actually increasing are the youngest members of our community. We are obviously alive to any potential for people to move from vaping to cigarettes. That's why in addition to the strong action we are taking on vaping we are also taking very strong action against cigarettes. That legislation only passed the parliament in the last week for two of the 2023 sittings. There are significant price increases that will be put in place to make cigarettes less attractive from a from a budgetary point of view, but also updated measures to ensure that some of the new innovative ways the tobacco industry is trying to use to market cigarettes particularly to young Australians are wiped out as well. Thanks, everyone.

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