Thursday 15 October 2015 
Hansard of the Legislative Council


Public Health - Sugar Consumption



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, a few decades ago we were told by the petroleum and automotive industries that it was economically impossible to take lead additives out of petrol, even though lead in petrol exhaust fumes was hampering the brain development of our children.  But it turned out to be quite feasible, and leaded petrol is a distant memory. 
Later we were told that eliminating billions of plastic bags from our supermarket system would increase food prices.  It turned out to be pretty easy and there are far fewer indestructible plastic bags in our rubbish landfills and in our oceans.
The big tobacco companies - I am sure the member for Windermere would arc up at this - said that plain packaging would not lessen tobacco consumption and the resultant massive health risks.  Well it has. 
Now we are told that it is too hard to reduce the amount of sugar in sugary drinks, even though Australia's obesity problem becomes worse every week.  That is changing.  The best way to bring about these changes is consumer power.  But government backup and education is vital.
As you know, I am not just jumping on an accelerating bandwagon.  I first raised the problem of added sugar, especially fructose, in processed foods in a special interest speech on 29 August 2013.  The thrust of my speech at that time was to persuade authorities to get junk food out of hospitals.  I will go back to a couple of quotes from that speech:
It is generally agreed that one of the big problems with our modem diet is processed foods.  They usually contain substances which our grandmothers would not have dreamt of allowing into the kitchen. 
And this quote:
There is pressure on the big food manufacturers to reduce sugar, salt and fat in their products, but all three are cheap and contribute to their profits.

Good quotes.  Since then things have moved on a little, but not nearly far enough.  We have seen the release of the brilliant and influential That Sugar Film last year.  Public awareness of health and diet continues to grow. 
Things seem to be moving faster across the Tasman.  Every health board in New Zealand has banned the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks in hospitals.  A long-time campaigner against excessive sugar consumption, Launceston orthopaedic surgeon, Gary Fettke, told me:
[The New Zealand] move is a proactive public health decision by the New Zealand government.  It is a stronger stand than what was proposed by the Legislative Council to the Tasmanian government and the Tasmanian Health Minister in 2013.  We have languished.  Added dietary sugars are recognised as having a significant association with oral and dental health, obesity and diabetes.  All of these are major public health issues. 
Tasmania has the second highest rate of child obesity, second only to the Northern Territory in Australia.  There is also in New Zealand growing momentum for a tax on food and beverages with high sugar content.  The New Zealand Heart Foundation and the New Zealand Medical Association have recommended that the government investigate a tax on sugary soft drinks to discourage consumption.
Mr Hall - Does that include fruit juice as well?
Mr FINCH - Yes, it will.  That is being investigated and developed in New Zealand. 
I do not see a sugary drink tax coming any time soon in Tasmania.  It is hoped that improved public education and consumer choices would make the tax unnecessary.  The actor, producer and director of That Sugar Film, Damon Gameau, will present to the Victorian Parliament next week about his film, which has become Australia's most successful documentary ever.  It is being shown around the world as we speak, in Great Britain and America, and it is developing further.
Victoria seems to be taking a lead in educating consumers.  I have a quote here from The Age newspaper of 11 October:
A graphic new TV advertising campaign that warns sugary soft drinks can lead to a deadly build-up of toxic fat around the body's vital organs has been launched to fight the growing obesity problem.  The campaign is the latest shot fired from the public health lobby in its war on sugar as it seeks to reduce waistlines by highlighting the dangers of a sugary diet. … The commentary warns that the sugar is being turned into toxic fat, which can lead to cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

We need to do more of the same in Tasmania.  I call on the Health minister to revisit my speech of 2013 and look again at the growing problem of sugary drinks in Tasmania.  Happy Birthday, Gary Fettke.