Addressing the AFR Tax Reform summit Chris Bowen has cited the diabetes and obesity epidemic as a reason for not broadening the base of the GST to include fresh food.
“We’ve got a diabetes and obesity epidemic in Australia. My electorate is the epicentre of it, we have the highest diabetes rates I metropolitan Australia. I see this every day. About the stupidest thing you could do in public policy terms is make fresh food more expensive. Yes you can compensate low income earners, but the relative impact is still to make fresh food more expensive and public health officials will tell you that is really poor policy”.
Yet in response to a question as whether Government should place an excise on high calorie sugar drinks Bowen’s response was that he did not support such a measure. Instead he said that parents needed to take greater responsibility for the food and drink that children consume.
This echoed the approach of Tony Abbott, when Health Minister in the Howard Government. Abbott also framed the obesity problem as being about individuals, including parents, exercising more responsibility. Government’s should not step in because parents are “weak willed” said Abbott.
But ultimately either one supports sending a price signal to the community on food and drink or one does not.
It is hard to fathom the logic of opposing the GST extending to fresh food on health grounds but baulking at other tax based price signals. Citing the views of public health officials opposing extension of GST to fresh food is not wrong. But it ignores their support for price incentives for healthier food and exercise, regulation of trans-fat, salt and sugar in food, curbs on advertising of energy dense foods and better food labelling. These recommendations were included in the Preventative Health Taskforce recommendations on obesity.
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