Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has rubbished a Grattan Institute proposal to introduce a soft drink tax in Australia, saying it is a “bonkers mad” idea that would restrict individual freedom and harm the local sugar industry.
In a report released on Wednesday former Department of Health head Stephen Duckett called for the government to introduce an excise tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar on all non-alcoholic, water-based drinks.
Personal responsibility, not the Australian Tax Office, should determine how much sugar Australians consume, says Barnaby Joyce.
The tax, based on those implemented in countries such as the United Kingdom and Belgium, would raise an estimated $500 million a year and generate a fall of about 15 per cent in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Mr Joyce said the proposal was a “moralistic tax” that would cause “massive problems” for the local sugar industry in Queensland and NSW.
“If you want to deal with being overweight, here’s a suggestion: stop eating so much and do a bit of exercise,” Mr Joyce said.
“This is one of these suggestions right from the start we always thought was bonkers mad but now it’s getting more and more momentum so we have to say, ‘We are not going to be supporting a sugar tax’.”
“Take responsibility for yourself; the Australian Taxation Office is not going to save you,” he said. “The ATO is not a better solution than jumping in the pool and going for a swim.
“I believe in the freedom of the individual … We the government are not going to moralise about what you take out of the fridge.”
Citing data he said had been provided to him by the sugar industry, Mr Joyce said sugar consumption had been declining in Australia. Academic studies have found little to no change in sugar consumption over recent decades and that more than half of Australians exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily intake of added sugars.
The Grattan Institute found that the soft drink tax would not significantly harm local sugar growers as most of the sugar they produce is exported.
David Gillespie, Assistant Minister for Rural Health and a former gastroenterologist, said he regularly told his patients to lose weight by going on the ELF (East Less Food) and the DME (Do More Exercise) program.
“You are what you eat but also a result of how often and how much you eat,” he said.
“We are not food fascists, we let people choose what they eat. We are trying to help people make better, wiser, more nutritious choices.
“Cherry-picking one source of calories over all others just doesn’t make sense.”