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Tobacco funding: time to quit – The Drum Opinion (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Clear the Air says : Hong Kong SAR (sub China)  is a ratified party to the FCTC Treaty.

The FCTC Treaty  Article 5.3  Section 4.11 states ”Taking into account national law and constitutional principles, Parties should have effective measures to prohibit contributions from the tobacco industry or any entity working to further its interests to political parties, candidates or campaigns, or to require full disclosure of such contributions.”  Hong Kong remains in contravention of this International  Treaty section and has no law to prohibit such contributions nor to force political parties or front organisations to disclose their sources of contribution funding.       This needs to change.

14 June 2011

Abbott can’t shake the stink of the tobacco lobby

Michael Danby

As every smoker knows, one of the worst things about the tobacco habit is the smell – it clings to you no matter what you do. That’s the problem the Liberal Party now has. They’ve been in the pocket of the tobacco lobby for so long that they can’t shake off the stink, no matter how hard they try.

The Liberal Party’s last-minute turnaround on plain packaging of cigarettes, after much huffing and puffing, won’t help them escape from the clutches of the tobacco companies who fill their party coffers. The question for Mr Abbott is: when will he kick the habit of taking money from the tobacco companies?

The Labor Party announced in 2004 that it would not on principle take money from Big Tobacco. Since then the tobacco companies have lavished more than $1.5 million on the Coalition parties. This does not include donations to individual electorate campaigns who are under the disclosable limit of 10,000.

According to the AEC data, since 1998 the Liberal Party has received $1,618,353 from British American Tobacco (BAT) and $1,440,595 from Phillip Morris. During last year’s election the Liberal Party received $145,035 from British American Tobacco and $147,035 from Phillip Morris.

Source: Assembled from Donor Returns published in the website of the Australian Electoral Commission (Prepared: 31 May 2011)

As Health Minister Nicola Roxon stated in parliament last week, BAT makes political donations to political parties in only three countries in the world, and Australia accounts for nearly all that spending – 97% of BAT’s donations go to the Liberal Party and the National Party.

During last year’s election, the tobacco companies funded a $5.5 million anti-Labor ad blitz with the help of Liberal strategists, headed by Jason Aldsworth of the Civic Group – a former Liberal parliamentary candidate – and including former Howard government adviser Mark Domitrak (now head of corporate affairs at BAT) and former Howard adviser Chris Argent (now corporate affairs director at Phillip Morris).

Phillip Morris International and BAT spent $2.2 million each, and Imperial Tobacco Australia spent $1.1 million.

This funded campaign was coordinated under the sham organisation, The Alliance of Australian retailers, who are controlled by tobacco companies under the guise of representing retailers. It was brought into existence solely as a medium for tobacco companies to influence public opinion, and was payed $200,000 a month retainer. In emails to and from the parties involved, entitled “Your Commission”, Jason Aldsworth of the Civic Group was asked  whether he would like the commission to be transferred “to your bank, or hold it for drinks in Barbados?” Mr. Aldsworth responded “…Maybe the bank for this one – we’ll use the next one for the drinks tab in Barbados” and provided the account details for the Civic Group.

Nothing illustrates the persistent stink of tobacco that haunts the Liberal Party than the unanswered questions about the Member for Indi, Sophie Mirabella, and the secret donation that BAT made to her in 2007 via a group called “Friends of Indi.”

The Friends of Indi failed to lodge a return for two financial years (2005-07), keeping its receipts and donations a secret. It wasn’t until BAT lodged its return form that the Friends of Indi cover was blown. Two receipts were received by the AEC for 2005-06 from British Tobacco Australia Ltd to the value of $7,500 each that was donated to the Friends of Indi.

Ms Mirabella – a member of Mr Abbott’s shadow ministry – was a direct beneficiary of donations made to the Friends of Indi, including the $15,000 donation from BAT. She refused to answer questions at the time on this secret donation. This wasn’t the first time BAT donated to Ms Mirabella. In 2004-05, Friends of Indi received $5,000 from BAT. Only last year, Friends of Indi received $35,000 dollars although the AEC notes no individual receipts were declared by this associated entity.

Mr Abbott is increasingly isolated on this issue. Even the state Liberal parties are coming around to banning donations from the tobacco industry. In 2008 research published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health shows that approximately 61.6% of smokers and 78.4% of non-smokers were against political parties accepting donations from the tobacco industry. WA Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has stated his opposition to tobacco donations.

It’s time that Mr Abbott and the Liberal party gave up their river of gold from the tobacco companies. About 20% of Australians are currently addicted to cigarettes. Of the total cost of drug abuse in 2004-05 of $55 billion, tobacco accounted for $31.5 billion. The cost of tobacco addiction is a “great big tax” on all Australians, one which Mr Abbott doesn’t seem to care about.

But it seems that Mr Abbott won’t be parting company with big tobacco any time soon. Last April he was asked directly whether he would stop taking donations from the tobacco industry. He said: “It is legal to smoke, it is not the mafia. I don’t see why if they want to make a donation we shouldn’t accept.”

So long as he takes this line, the stink of the tobacco lobby will cling to the Liberal Party.
Michael Danby is the Federal Labor member for Melbourne Ports.

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10 May 2010

Tobacco funding: time to quit

Mike Daube

Tobacco companies are not philanthropic institutions. As long ago as 1967 the late Senator Robert Kennedy said, “the cigarette industry is peddling a deadly weapon. It is dealing in people’s lives for financial gain”.

The Australian tobacco industry is dominated by three big companies (or in modern political parlance, three “great big” companies), British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco – all overseas-owned, with decisions made not in Sydney or Melbourne but in London and New York.

These are tough and ruthless multinational corporations, promoting and selling a product that kills one in two of its regular users. They have known for sixty years that their product is lethal. During this time almost one million Australians have died because they smoked – while the tobacco companies have denied and downplayed the evidence, doing their utmost to oppose and delay any action that might be effective in reducing smoking. Around the world their products cause five million deaths a year – a figure which will only increase as their drive into developing countries bears lethal fruit.

The new Chief Executive of Imperial Tobacco, Alison Cooper, was recently reported in the UK media as still refusing to accept that smoking causes cancer. Small wonder that only last week a survey of the reputations of the UK’s largest 150 companies had Imperial Tobacco at 147 and British American Tobacco at a rock bottom 150.

There is massive evidence from once-confidential industry documents now available following litigation in the US that for decades tobacco companies have acted more cynically than even tobacco campaigners might have thought – summarised by a quote from an industry executive – “We don’t smoke this shit, we just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and the stupid.”

And as if all this were not enough, the industry has been found guilty of racketeering in the US.

Tobacco companies have only one aim, in London, New York or Canberra. In line with their responsibility to their shareholders, they spend money with the sole purpose of benefiting their interests.

So why would anybody want to take money from this pariah industry?

The Australian Electoral Commission website reports that in recent years both the Philip Morris company and British American Tobacco have been generous donors to the Liberal Party and the National Party. During the year 2008/9 Philip Morris contributed $158,000 to the Liberal and National parties around Australia.

No doubt in addition to direct contributions there is also much indirect funding from groups supporting and representing tobacco companies, but this is much harder to pin down.

The only reason for these contributions is to further the interests of tobacco companies. The website of the British American Tobacco company is quite explicit about political donations: “Such payments can only be made for the purpose of influencing the debate on issues affecting the company or Group…”

A review of tobacco industry political donations in the US, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, concluded that, “tobacco industry monetary contributions are closely related to the way a legislator votes on tobacco issues”, and “The more campaign contributions received by a Congress member, the more likely he/she votes pro-tobacco on tobacco-related bills”.

Political donations are not simply about an intention to buy direct support: they are also about much less tangible benefits gained through indirect support, influence, contacts, access and credibility.

The Greens and Democrats took the lead in refusing tobacco industry funding, followed by the ALP. The other major parties understand the dangers of smoking; they know exactly why tobacco companies want to give them money; it is hard to imagine that they would knowingly take money from drug dealers – and yet they seem content to accept contributions from an industry whose products cause more than 80 per cent of Australia’s drug deaths. Surely there is something awry with the moral radar of anyone who accepts this kind of blood money.

The argument we sometimes hear that this is a “legitimate industry” is old and tired. If cigarettes were a new product they would not be allowed on the market. Our parliaments have decreed that the product is so harmful that it should not be sold to children and adolescents, should not be advertised, and that its sales should be subject to ever-increasing controls. This is no ordinary product, no ordinary industry.

The Australian government now leads the world in action to reduce smoking, complementing strong action in most jurisdictions (other than the Northern Territory, whose lack of interest in tobacco remains a mystery).

It is time for all political parties to refuse tobacco funding, or for legislation that forbids such contributions from companies that still seek to oppose the work and recommendations of governments and health authorities, and whose products cause 15,000 Australian deaths each year when used precisely as intended. Then we can be assured that all parties are making policy on this vital public health issue free of the taint of association with tobacco companies, and free of any suspicion that their policies might be influenced by these disreputable, lethal donors.

Mike Daube is Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University.

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