THE outcome of the tobacco plain-packaging legislation was fantastic – fewer people will die from using this putrid product – but the debate was atrocious.
Tony Abbott’s leadership has taken Opposition politics to a new low. It flabbergasts me that the person who slipped the political knife into the back of Malcolm Turnbull, to win the Liberal leadership by the narrowest of margins, has been able to change the party dynamic so fundamentally.
Even when the conservatives are supporting an important piece of legislation, they manage to turn everything to a negative. They have picked up on the US Republican approach of mercilessly opposing every possible element whenever they can.
There are exceptions. Liberal Senator Alan Eggleston, from WA, is a true gentleman who put community interest above the party political mantra that is dominating at the moment.
He has been in the Senate since 1996 and his experience shone through. It is a shame that there are not more like him.
Liberal backbencher Mal Washer, who is also a GP, worked with Eggleston and a few others to lead the charge on the tobacco legislation within the party. Abbott had to make the choice between either opposing the legislation or having a divided party. The decision was made on what would be the least-worst political outcome.
If there was any doubt about the “always oppose” approach it is worth remembering that Abbott was a health minister.
Unlike his conservative colleague, Michael Wooldridge, who proved to be a committed and effective health minister and who took considerable action on issues such as tobacco, immunisation and primary health care, Abbott does not have an enviable health record – although he did increase the size of the graphic warnings to 30 per cent of a tobacco pack.
The conservative SA Senator Cory Bernardi had this to say in the debate on tobacco: “Other countries have quite thoroughly examined this issue of plain-paper packaging, and they have invariably rejected it. They have rejected it on the grounds that there is no compelling evidence – no sensible belief – that it will actually decrease smoking rates”.
This is just one example of a pattern from the conservatives who were supposedly supporting the legislation. The truth is they were dragged kicking and screaming from their now ingrained practice of rubbishing everything, opposing the whole shebang and acting in their own interest, rather than that of the community.
Their negativity should come back to bite them. Their strident opposition to a carbon-pricing scheme has included the most outlandish claims suggesting that we will all be much worse off. Abbott has even made a “blood pledge” to repeal the carbon pricing laws. It is pretence!
Even if he wins the election, years will go by before he has adequate control over both Houses of Parliament to be able to achieve this ludicrous promise.
Whether it is tobacco, carbon pricing or a myriad other issues, the question is when can we look to a time where the community interest will come before party and personal political advantage? Not be while Tony Abbott remains Leader of the Opposition.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government.