What next? We ban Oz Day sausages?
WITH Australia Day nearly upon us, we look forward to celebrating this feast of sun, bangers and beer. But before reaching for the budgie smugglers, it seems we must first obey Dr Michael Gannon of the Australian Medical Association, chief sermoniser of the New Puritanism, who seems to believe everything bad for us must be taxed to save us from ourselves.
Now, being a bloke I never thought I would need the advice of a gynaecologist. But that was before Dr Gannon began advising the government on matters of taxation and public policy.
Once again he has raised the idea of an additional tax on sugary drinks, on top of the existing 10 per cent GST (which incidentally does not apply to fruit juice drinks).
There are two aspects to this. One is whether the AMA should be taken seriously.
Then there is the question of whether the proposal has merit. The answer to the first question is no; the AMA is not a research organisation and has no special expertise in either nutrition or epidemiology. Its role is to represent its members (comprising a minority of doctors) to government and employers, similar to a trade union.
To the extent that the AMA has any special skills, they lie in treating patients for what has already occurred. Obviously that includes treating obese patients, which may be relevant.
A recent study by the Rudd Centre found more than half of the 620 doctors questioned described obese patients as "awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment". Perhaps the doctors think shouting at them collectively through taxation might work better.
There's a sugar-coated irony to this, though: a 2015 Australian Health Survey published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed nearly 60 per cent of Australian doctors were overweight or obese, while more than 13 per cent of doctors drink more alcohol than the recommended daily intake. If I were tempted to sermonise to the AMA, I might quote Luke 4:23 to the good doctors: "Physician, heal thyself". As to the proposal itself, international experience suggests making sugary drinks more expensive will make no difference to our girths.
Wherever it has been tried, consumers have either maintained consumption or switched to equally unhealthy alternatives. Consumption of the taxed drinks sometimes declined, but nowhere has obesity fallen. In a recent address to the Centre for Independent Studies, Professor Stephen Schwartz advised that busybodies hate being laughed at. His advice: "So, let us resolve to ridicule tyrants, meddlers and nosy parkers wherever we find them."
With that in mind, perhaps I could suggest some additions to the AMA's nanny policy department for Australia Day 2018.
First, let's increase the tax on sausages. Everyone knows that they are riddled with compounds that cause bowel and stomach cancer, heart disease and pulmonary disease. In fact, the government should immediately tax the entire activity of barbecuing; it's the only way to protect the public from the hydrocarbons that are giving us all breast, colon and prostate cancer.
Next, there should be a skin tax. A 20 per cent levy on melanoma-causing budgie smugglers and bikinis is a small price to pay for protection against the sun's cancer-causing rays. With a tax break for the very sensible burkini, of course.
We should also raise the tax on alcohol. Yes, it's already taxed to the gills, but since people keep drinking it, clearly it's not high enough.
There's no merit in wondering whether it will ever have the intended effect; it's sure to eventually. And sorry doctors, your alcohol enjoyment can't be ring-fenced.
Australia should also tax water-based activities. The number of drownings grows each year - 291 in 2017 compared with 266 in 2015.
Water poses a serious threat to our health. If people are going to be irresponsible enough to go near the stuff, they should pay for the costs of being rescued and resuscitated.
In fact, we probably need excise men at the shoreline to prevent the public from sneaking on to beaches and avoiding the levy.
And above all we should pay homage to doctors, who are wise beyond their expertise. Clearly they deserve to be paid far more than those irresponsible fools who would bear the burden of a sugar tax.
Alternatively, we could make 2018 the year when doctors and other nanny-staters stop minding our business and start minding their own.
David Leyonhjelm is a senator for the Liberal Democrats