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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

The Senate acts « Previous | |Next »
March 18, 2009

It's good to see the Senate doing its job properly --using its powers responsibly to improve government legislation and to push the government further down the reform pathway to ensure the public interest or a public good. The crossbench is crucial to a long list of bills the Rudd Government wants passed, and it is far from being recalcitrant or dithering or obstructionist.

A good example is the Allcopops legislation, where the Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon have used their power to persuade Health Minister Nicola Roxon to set aside an additional $50 million from the $1.6 billion raised for measures to tackle alcohol abuse. Why would the Rudd government resist that proposal,when its concern is to stop teens from binge drinking.?

The agreement includes the creation of a $25 million health sponsorship fund to provide support for sporting and cultural activities as an alternative to alcohol sponsorship, mandatory warnings on alcohol advertising, community-level initiatives to tackle binge drinking and enhanced telephone counselling services and alcohol referrals. Alcohol is connected to a health and can cause health problems.

The interpretation of this legislation by Bernard Keane, Crikey's Canberra correspondent, is that:

its lasting political significance will be no more than that of another stunt, Fuelwatch, which fell by the wayside last year after inquiries, theatrics and Parliamentary ranting, and was promptly forgotten
.
Keane does appear to behold the view that the Rudd Government has its agenda ensnared in Senate obstructionism and that the House of Represenatives rules. That how he interprets the Rudd Government needing to negotiate its key legislation through the Senate,

However, he misses the point of the allcopops issue. These may be small reform steps in taxing alcoholic lollywater, but they represent a break with the laissez-faire approach to alcohol advertising that paid no attention to the negative effects of alcohol. Keane misses the political symbolism of this, and the explicit rejection of the libertarian position that holds the "nanny state", or wowsers, or do-gooders are dictating how much people should drink or setting upper limits to drinking for everyone.

The Senate is acting because the full cost of alcoholic lollywater is not borne by the producer (Big Alcohol). This is the negative externality problem in economic language, and it challenges the view that the allcops tax is just the Rudd Government utilizing coercion for a tax grab (plunder) at the expense of individual liberty. What we have with allcopop is a political solution to market failure.

Family First senator Steve Fielding wants to push this issue further: to address alcohol advertising during sports programs on television.He wants the Government to close a loophole that permits television advertising of alcohol during family viewing time in sporting broadcasts. For once, Fielding has adopted a reasonable position. The implication is that the laws covering the banning and other restrictions on grog marketing and sponsorship do need to be tightened progressively.

Economic libertarians (the utilitarian variety) would argue against these government policies on the grounds that they exceed the bounds of the minimal state. They would oppose these laws on the grounds that they prohibit certain types of exchanges as well burdening exchanges by imposing high transaction costs. Some would argue that today's market failures will provide the opportunities for tomorrow's entrepreneurs to profit by new innovation. What they need to argue is that such policies to prevent market failure will not produce greater utility than a policy of laissez-faire.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:01 AM | | Comments (10)
Comments

Comments

taxing alcoholic lollywater is a good idea. There are similarities to tobacco re people's health. It is a public health issue as well as lifestyle and choice.

Libertarians rightly place a big emphasis on the classic civil liberties issues - freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, opposition to government intervention in private decisions such as sexual activity and drug use etc.

They argue that it is important to maintain as much scope for individual choice as possible, and to seek to use the power of the state as lightly as possible to achieve policy goals.

However, free markets underproduce public goods such as public health. That is why they need to be regulated.

I can't agree that this means the senate is working well. Fielding is just as likely to demand the banning of condom machines in public buildings or the compulsory reading of prayers on public transport.

Lyn,
that is true. Fielding could demand the banning of condom machines in public buildings or the compulsory reading of prayers on public transport.

But he would have to argue that these were in the public interest (addressed market failure or strengthened a public good).

I am not sure that banning alcohol ads during sports events is valid. Is there any conclusive evidence that banning tobacco ads in sports reduced the number of smokers?
I think people quit smoking generally because A. They were educated by advertising that smoking was bad for them. B. Smokes became very expensive.
I'd like to see all the $1.6 billion put into ad campaigns highlighting the negative sides of alcohol.

"I'd like to see all the $1.6 billion put into ad campaigns highlighting the negative sides of alcohol."
So would the advertising industry and the media. Mind you there is a fair bit spent that way already but they would love to see more, lots more dollars for the drug pushers. Win-win for them, they could have million dollar dialogues.
On the other hand reducing pro alcohol ads by $1.6 billion, or whatver the sum is currently spent, would probably/certiainly [?] lead to a decrease in all the nasty social and health consequences we have to pay for and save our govt. and society billions which could be spent on beneficial stuff like schools and hospitals.

Fred,
Your comment strikes right at the core of advertising and how it works.
For an example take say MacDonald's vs Hungry Jacks. Now if say (example 1)Maccas paid to take Hungry Jacks ads off the tv.
(Example 2) Maccas launch a campaign saying Hungry Jacks was bad for you and had long and short term side effects that would cause death/dementia/suicide/broken families/rape/violence/ and backed it up with scientific evidence.
Now which one would increase revenue to Maccas greater.
Example 2 would and it doesn't matter whether its Grog,burgers, smokes or Slip slop slap.
People don't get it till its drummed into them and visually is the best way to do it.

So Senator Fielding throws the baby out with the bathwater after the Government rejected his demand for a ban on alcohol advertising during sports programs in family viewing hours as a way to break the link between alcohol and sport.

Nan,
Fielding is out of his depth. How does allowing binge drinking of alcoholic lollywater help protect family values? Fielding is claiming he has broken the back of the link between sport and advertising. How so? I cannot follow Family First's reasoning at all.

Laughed my head off when I read Fielding's claim to have broken the back of whatever it was. He's out of his depth all right.

The price of lollygrog will now fall. Yep, you really showed those evil distillers a thing or two Steve.

And the tax collected will have to be given back. That'll learn 'em.

Maybe Fielding has finally cracked.