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Nationals bitter on sugar tax ahead of election

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Nationals Deputy Leader Senator Bridget McKenzie, whose portfolio responsibilities include Rural Health and Sport, has spoken out strongly against the introduction of an Australian tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs).

“We know a sugar tax won’t address obesity, because other countries have tried it,” Senator McKenzie said in a statement.

Her Nationals colleague, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud MP, also said in the jointly issued statement: “Let’s not hurt our cane growers, who are already hurting due to low prices, with a government intervention which won’t help solve the problem.”

However, a June report published by the Medical Journal of Australia argues: Australia can no longer afford to wait for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The report was co-authored by Dr Alessandro Demaio, CEO for EAT and Alexandra Jones from the George Institute for Global Health.

The report reasons: “Governments worldwide are drawing on growing evidence to implement effective pricing policies for SSBs as one cornerstone of a comprehensive policy response.”

At least 30 countries, the Spanish Catalan region and seven cities in the United States have adopted SSB taxes. The World Health Assembly also says there is now sufficient evidence that effective taxation of SSBs are working as intended to reduce purchasing and consumption to support further uptake.

Demaio and Jones also cite in their article new evidence that suggests an agriculture sector will not suffer an adverse employment effect from an SSB introduction and sought to: “reminded governments to pair implementation with robust independent evaluation and to remain vigilant to policy interference by conflicted interests.”

The Australian Medical Association continues to call for a tax on SSBs to be introduced as a matter of priority. AMA President Dr Tony Bartone says the strong position on sugar is because doctors see the direct consequences of obesity every day.

“One of the best ways to achieve a change in consumer behaviour is with a sugar tax. The evidence is in. Price signals work,” Dr Bartone said.

“The AMA strongly supports the introduction of a sugar tax in Australia as part of a broad range of policies to combat obesity and improve the health of the population across all age groups.”

At this stage both the Government and Labor reject the AMA’s call for a tax on sugary drinks to reduce Australia’s obesity problem.

MEREDITH HORNE

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