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MPs say no to tobacco donations

1 June 2011

THREE Liberal backbenchers have called for the party to refuse donations from tobacco companies after Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced the Coalition would not oppose plain packaging.

Dr Mal Washer, who had threatened to cross the floor if the Coalition voted against the bill, said it was bad for the party to be accepting money from companies that cause so many health problems.

He thought a number of Liberals would be embarrassed by the party doing so, and urged that a motion go to the Liberal federal council saying this funding should be rejected.

Liberal MP Alex Somlyay said his party should not take money from tobacco companies because 15,000 Australians a year died from smoking related conditions. Russell Broadbent, from Victoria, said accepting the donations should have been ended during John Howard’s time ”and I’m confident Tony Abbott will end it while he is leader”. Labor already bans funds from tobacco companies.

In 2009-10 British American Tobacco ($147,045) and Philip Morris ($145,035) were among the big business donors to the Coalition, although they split their donations into small parcels of money.

Mr Abbott announced the decision on the packaging legislation at the joint parties meeting – and on World No Tobacco Day. He said the opposition would move to ensure the legislation ”really does bring smoking rates down” but if this failed it would not oppose. Even before announcement the legislation had enough support from the cross benches to pass.

Previously the opposition had said it had to wait for the detail of the legislation – which has been released in draft form – but this position became untenable due to open divisions in the ranks.

The shadow cabinet considered the political damage when it met on Monday. At yesterday’s Coalition party meeting, some attacked the idea of a ”nanny” state while others, in favour of the legislation, focused on public health issues.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon welcomed the opposition decision but said ”they certainly had to be dragged kicking and screaming”. Ms Roxon said the government would consider any ”sensible” amendments.

”The truth is here big tobacco have not won their campaign to try to hijack the debate in the Parliament, and Australia will be world leaders when we introduce this law, to come into effect January 1 next year,” she said.

Cancer Council Victoria and Quit congratulated the Coalition, with Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper saying ”research shows [the reform] will make smoking less desirable, especially to young people”.

British American Tobacco Australia said yesterday it was pleased a full Federal Court would hear its appeal against the government’s refusal to make public its legal advice on plain packaging
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