Nationals party leader Barnaby Joyce has directly opposed a proposed sugar tax, citing negative impacts on farmers and saying problems around sugar consumption can be solved with self-driven solutions instead.
The idea of a national sugar tax was raised once more by health program director at the Grattan Institute Stephen Duckett on Tuesday, who believes a tax of 40c per 100 grams of sugar would be suitable.
Duckett says that the tax would raise $500 million for the government each year, and would act to curb growing obesity rates in Australia.
“Obesity is one of the great public health challenges of modern Australia, and so this is a reform whose time has come,” Duckett said in a release.
“Australia should introduce this tax because it offers twin benefits: it will reduce the number of people who become obese and it will ensure fewer taxpayer dollars have to be spent on the damage done by obesity.”
Party leaders have spoken for or against the idea this week, with Greens leader Richard Di Natale telling Fairfax that his party would introduce a similar bill to parliament if the Grattan Institute’s proposal is ignored.
Joyce, meanwhile, told the media yesterday that the concept of a sugar tax was “bonkers mad”, and his party was not going to be supporting a sugar tax.
“Now it’s getting more and more momentum so we have got to come out straight away and say, ‘we are not going to be supporting a sugar tax’,” he said.
Joyce believes that the tax would result in a “lot of angry farmers”, who already pay higher taxes and electricity prices due to other government policies.
“I think it’s important that we understand that for so many people, especially in Queensland, especially in New South Wales, this would cause massive problems,” Joyce said.
“We have basically another moralistic tax coming in on food production, sugar production, the industry that’s responsible for the development of North Queensland, the development of northern New South Wales.”
He then labelled the proposal a “moral assessment”, believing that farmers should have the right to grow what products they want without the government “taxing some and not taxing others”.
When it comes to how the proposal would affect Australian SMEs, Council of Small Business Australian chief executive Peter Strong told SmartCompany that big retailers would seek to take advantage of a potential sugar tax.
“Coles and Woolworths will see this as an opportunity to pick up a bigger share of the sugar market,” he says.
“It would have a huge impact on smaller food retailers, as the bigger players would just wear the tax and benefit from it.”
“The ATO is not a better solution”
Joyce has been keen to offer other ideas for tackling Australia’s problems with sugar consumption, saying that the Australian Taxation Office “is not a better solution than jumping in the pool and going for a swim”.
“Take the responsibly upon yourself, the ATO is not going to save your health,” he said.
“Do not go to the ATO as opposed to going to your doctor, or putting on a pair of sandshoes and walk around the block.”
“Get yourself a robust chair and a heavy table, and halfway through the meal put both hands on the table and just push back. That will help you lose weight.”
Strong agrees with Joyce, believing sugar consumption is not a problem for the ATO.
“Every time there’s something happening, people want problems to be taxed or put in the Fair Work Act, and it does not solve the problem,” Strong said.
“We’ve got obesity happening, and it’s not due to sugary drinks. It’s built around food and built around diets. Australia’s sedentary culture needs addressing.”
However, Duckett told SmartCompany that the advice Joyce was offering was similar to advice offered to the Australian people “regularly” over the past two decades, to little effect.
“It has had no impact on obesity rates, which are continuing to increase. A sugary beverages tax will both help to offset the costs to taxpayers of obesity and lead to a slight reduction in obesity,” Duckett says.
As a fix, Strong believes that the government should be consulting business and farming communities for a solution.
“Rather than the “Big Brother” approach, the Government needs to be seeking community input,” he says.
“Get the industries together, get the retailers together, and look at the way people buy things. That is the perfect solution.”