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Committee: Health Experts at Election Funding Inquiry

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 8 Aug 2011

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

Inquiry into the funding of political parties and election campaigns, Monday 8 August 2011

Professor Mike Daube, President, Australian Council on Smoking and Health Australia; and Director, McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth

Mr Rohan James Greenland, Government Relations Director, National Heart Foundation of Australia

Mr Maurice Gerard Swanson, Honorary Secretary, Australian Council on Smoking and Health Australia 

Partial transcript. Full transcript available here.

Senator RHIANNON: I have a question for the Council on Smoking and Health. In your submission, you indicate support for the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I also read that your organisation covers 39 various organisation, including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the College of General Practitioners and also various organisations that cover both Australia and New Zealand. Does that mean that all of those organisations support this bill being passed?

Prof. Daube: All the organisations involved in our organisation have been involved in this submission and are supportive of it.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. Also, when you were giving evidence you spoke about front organisations that are used by tobacco companies. Could you elaborate on that please?

Prof. Daube: Yes, indeed. Tobacco companies operate directly but have a long history over the past few decades of establishing and working through organisations that may look as though they are independent of the tobacco industry but are in fact run, established and funded by the tobacco industry. That has happened internationally and in this country. One example would be a group that started running media campaigns during the last federal election. It was called the Alliance of Australian Retailers. They were putting literally millions of dollars into advertisements opposing plain packaging. We did not know who they were, because we had never heard of them before. It then turned out, following a media report on ABC television's Lateline, that this was simply a front organisation. Some confidential documents were leaked from a tobacco industry lobbying that made it clear that this organisation had been established by, was being funded by and was being directed by tobacco companies to appear as an independent group of retailers. That is one example. There are many others here and internationally. The tobacco industry is obviously aware that it is a pariah industry. The Global Reputation Institute recently published a report showing that tobacco is the world's least reputable industry. So they establish front organisations to present their case for them. But they are running them, funding them and even directing their tactics.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. When you say 'pariah organisation' you are stating effectively that they believe that they can be more effective by using this front organisation?

Prof. Daube: Exactly. They see that they are an organisation that has no credibility, so they establish other organisations to run their case for them in the hope that people will not realise that they are in fact just the tobacco industry in drag.

Senator RHIANNON: Part of the work of our inquiry is to look at third parties. It sounds like the description that you have given of this front organisation very much fits the description of a third party. Have you looked at this aspect of the work on electoral funding?

Prof. Daube: In this area, no. It is very hard to identify them. We would assume that tobacco companies are using this approach in terms of electoral funding. But, given the limitations in the information that there is—and also the cap, because we do not know where anything under $10,000 or whatever it is is coming from—it is very hard to identify them. My own view—and this is not one that I have taken legal advice on—is that it would be appropriate for there to be some statement which commits a donor to asserting that there has been no tobacco industry involvement in that donation. That would reduce or minimise the need to check back on precisely who the donors are.

Senator RHIANNON: So that is an additional point to your submission. If I understand you correctly, as well as supporting the tobacco industry donations bill, you are saying that we need to go wider and ensure that any donations made have no link to the tobacco industry. Did I understand that correctly?

Prof. Daube: Yes, indeed. We did say that we support an end to all direct and indirect donations, including indirect donations made by third parties acting on behalf of the tobacco industry. That is something that we would be very concerned to see. The tobacco industry, as I am sure that you would be aware, has a long history of getting around restrictions. If you ban advertising, they go into sponsorship. They go on the internet. They find every possible way that they can to get around restrictions. We believe that if there is restriction on donations from tobacco companies, it is important to make sure that it covers both direct and indirect donations.

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