Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Inquiry into the funding of political parties and election campaigns, Monday 8 August 2011
Adjunct Professor Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer, Public Health Association of Australia
Partial transcript. Full transcript available here.
Senator RHIANNON: Professor Moore, you spoke about inequitable influence. Can you give us some examples where, in recent times, tobacco industry and pharmaceutical industry interests have dominated in terms of decisions coming out of this place?
Prof. Moore: The industry decision that I noted most was on alcohol, during the alcopops debate. It is true that when there was a change in the Liberal Party leadership from Dr Brendan Nelson to Malcolm Turnbull it actually turned that vote around. At the time, under the leadership of Brendan Nelson, there was a very strong opposition to the alcopops legislation. I do not suggest that that was the only issue. This is never black and white, but the influence of industry at that time seemed to me to be quite significant.
Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I find that offensive and I want—
CHAIR: Bronwyn, you will get your go later on. The witness is entitled to give his evidence without gratuitous comments.
Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: But not to slur.
CHAIR: It is his evidence.
Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: Yes, good. I find it offensive.
CHAIR: Let him go, and you will get a go later on.
Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: It is absolutely offensive.
CHAIR: It is not offensive. It might be to you but it is not some others.
Senator RHIANNON: Some of our witnesses have already spoken about the perception that there is a corrupting influence of donations. People have also been asking, 'Where is the evidence for this?' But you have been very clear that there is not just a clear line drawn here but also a damaging influence in the way this plays out in the democratic process. As somebody who works in an area of public health, could you elaborate on your understanding of this impact?
Prof. Moore: Let me move to the area of food and junk food, in particular. We do know that there are significant issues associated with obesity and some commentators are suggesting that obesity is already becoming a greater public health issue than tobacco. Some of that is because we have done so well on tobacco. It seems to us that the access and influence of the industry, including the Food and Grocery Council—and I am a good friend of the CEO of the Food and the Grocery Council—is not just through donations, about which I have no idea, but through their access to members of parliament. This is the difficult part. We are trying to make sure that the perceptions are also clear and separate from the amount of energy and drive that they can put into visiting members of parliament and so on. We know that that actually has more influence than donations.
Senator RHIANNON: You spoke about the New South Wales model that could be useful for our considerations. In your submission and also your comments, you talked about the level of influence with regard to pharmaceutical companies, gambling, alcohol and junk food businesses. Considering that we have seen the model both in Victoria and New South Wales, where specific industries have had a ban applied to them, do you think a ban on corporations and other organisations giving donations is preferable or do you think going for these bans on certain sectors is a way to go, or neither of those?
Prof. Moore: What we are looking at is the broad health of the community in terms of prevention of disease and the other things that I mentioned. With regard to that—whether it is to do with the obesity, alcohol or gambling—there are significant impacts that need to be dealt with. We would like to see the influence of industry in those areas reduced. That is actually the driver for us.
Senator RHIANNON: We could achieve that just by having tighter disclosure or we should be moving to something like a New South Wales model where there are strict restrictions and bans in some sectors. Have you developed a view in that area?
Prof. Moore: The Public Health Association believes that the New South Wales model is an appropriate starting point and it does use the combination of those two things. We believe the declarations are absolutely critical and closing the loopholes in terms of declarations and ensuring that there is a timely declaration prior to elections—as I believe is the case in Canada, for example—are also important. So it is a combination of those factors, but we have a clear recommendation that we see the New South Wales model as a positive starting point.
Senator RHIANNON: It is interesting that you are here. Your prime objective in your organisation is about preventing disease and promoting healthy lifestyles. We are here talking about political donations. Your organisation has clearly come to the belief that there is a link here. I must admit that I am not aware of previous work that you have undertaken in this area. So what I am actually asking is how this has evolved within your organisation and how you have come to the conclusion that you need to come in on this public debate.
Prof. Moore: Actually, the discussion started between us, ASH and the Heart Foundation, where we were discussing these sorts of issues.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you explain what ASH is, please.
Prof. Moore: It is Action on Smoking and Health, an organisation specifically focused on tobacco and the tobacco industry. They will be appearing after me. The early discussions were around that and I was asked, because of my political background, whether I had a view on that. That is how the Public Health Association became involved. Then we went through our processes to develop this submission because we thought it was appropriate that we put a perspective.