The public health lobby has been influential in Australian public policy advocating for a whole suite of nanny state policies. Not only is tobacco taxed to the extent it has created a black market, but smokers are banished to smoking outdoors and are even restricted from attempting to substitute smoking through less harmful nicotine vaping. Some anti-smoking advocates have even flirted with the idea of outright prohibition. Meanwhile, the aim of such taxes and restrictions is not being fulfilled, the smoking rate actually went up in Australia in 2017.
Alcohol despite the fact it is enjoyed throughout Australia is also heavily taxed. We are considered so irresponsible with it that alcohol bans apply in public places and Sydney has seen its nightlife killed through restrictive lockout laws. Then there is the constant lobby to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21 which would only push alcohol related anti-social behavior underground and cost more to enforce.
Despite the influence they have, the public health lobby still tries to portray itself as the underdog fighting against big evil corporate interests taking advantage of the ignorant lay consumer. After their successes against big tobacco and big alcohol they are now after big sugar. A long-term policy goal in this field has been a sugar tax which is argued would help fight rising obesity levels in Australia.
Last night the ABC’s Four Corners program decided to restart the push for a sugar tax with the episode Tipping the Scales by reporter Michael Brissenden. With the tagline being that 60% of Australian adults are classified as overweight or obese with the figure is expected to rise to 80% by 2025 it openly proposes a sugar tax as being part of a broader national obesity strategy.
The episode squarely puts the blame at our obesity levels not at choices of the individual, but at the food and beverage industry (big sugar). Featured in the episode is Dr Ahmad Aly, a bariatric surgeons who claims it is not as simple as blaming individual choice and makes the audacious claim that once you are obese it is almost impossible to lose weight.
Federal Nationals MP George Christensen was interviewed for the episode and made the case for personal responsibility. As a self described “fat bloke” who once weighted 176 kilos and had 85% of his stomach surgely removed, Christensen put the blame at himself “I don’t blame Coca-Cola. I don’t blame XXXX or Bundaberg rum I don’t blame them. I blame myself for putting that product down my gob. That’s what caused it, me myself and I”.
However Brissenden implied that Christensen took his position of personal responsibility not out principle but because his Central Queensland seat of Dawson is home to Australia’s sugar cane industry (ie he is more interested in shoring up votes). This is the theme of the episode, vested interests, lobbying and marginal sugar cane seats have stopped us introducing a much needed public policy.
As is so often the case with Four Corners episodes it has had a flow on effect in the news media cycle. Peter FitzSimons in the Fairfax Press after viewing the episode deemed it was time for us to introduce a sugar tax to both fund obesity’s health costs and to deter consumption of sugary products.
But the reality of what a sugar tax would do in practice is put up the cost of living for the poor, who the left and those at the ABC would claim to care about most. They keep telling us how real wages are not rising, but they are proposing that more their wages be consumed by the grocery bill. What is also overlooked in this program is we already have a defacto sugar tax in the GST exemptions on fresh food.
In Denmark they scrapped their fat tax after one year and cancelled the introduction of a subsequent sugar tax after they found the fat tax had only caused inflation, cross-border shopping, job losses and huge administrative costs. Worst of all it failed to significantly reduce the consumption of saturated fat as consumers simply switched to cheaper brands.
The episode also overlooks the fact we now have a big diet and big fitness industry. Organizations such as Jenny Craig, Lite n Easy and WeightWatchers would demonstrate that many Australians know they are overweight and want to do something about it. Gym franchises such as Fitness First and Anytime Fitness are popping up all across Australia’s suburbs, three have opened up in my local area in the past year.
Plus as is always the case with the left, this panic about obesity levels flies in the face of their opposition to fat shaming people and support for the fat acceptance movement. Also if obesity is such a public health emergency then surely it would mean that our life expectancy would be decreasing when in Australia it is consistently gradually rising.
Let’s hope that this renewed sugar tax push slowly patters away as the sound political reality of how the public would respond to increase in tax kicks in. Australia’s nanny state is already overreaching, let’s not take it even further.