in General

Speech – Plain Tobacco Packaging

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (13:26): I support the comments of my colleague, Dr Southcott, the member for Boothby. In his remarks, he touched on the consideration being afforded to businesses, particularly smaller businesses, in the transitional arrangements in the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill. As Dr Southcott outlined, the coalition has at times been portrayed as not being as supportive as we in fact have been of the measures in this bill, and that is unfortunate. However, the particular concern which has exercised my mind is the way that small retailers are so often caught at the pointy end of changes such as those that will result from this bill. If we look at a range of earlier measures—for example, the graphic health warnings introduced a retail level on 1 March 2006 and the reduced fire risk cigarettes which were phased in from 23 March 2006—and at the available lead-in periods of four and six months respectively, we see that the small business community was able to make the required transitions during its nonpeak periods. But the revised date for the implementation of the new arrangements in this bill creates quite a narrow window in which the manufacturers, and in turn the retailers, must comply with the new arrangements. In fact, the revised date is 1 December, which is right in the middle of the peak period for many retailers.

We are not of a mind to amend the bill—it has had a rather interesting journey thus far—but we are very concerned about the narrow window of time and that it will fall in a peak period for many small retailers. I urge the minister to reassure the opposition and the small retailers that there will be a collaborative and facilitative approach to the transition period rather than a punitive and strict compliance regime. I ask this in good faith and in the spirit in which the opposition has been supportive of what the government has been doing on plain packaging. Also, in consideration of the very real-life workplace responsibilities that smaller retailers would face at the coalface, I ask the minister to consider a moratorium of prosecution during the first three months of the transitional period. That is not to say that the minister’s enforcement activities would be completely truncated but rather to remind her that, where an inadvertent error may have been identified, the risk of a very heavy $220,000 fine would bankrupt most small retailers.

There is an opportunity to be supportive and collaborative in this transition period. There is an opportunity to facilitate the handling of inappropriate stock and its return. There is an opportunity to realise that the time around 1 December is a Christmas and summer peak period for retailers with much on their plate and that this is a difficult and unprecedented time to ask them to make a transition of the kind demanded by this bill, especially given that they are faced with a very heavy penalty if they get it wrong. I ask the minister to consider making a declaration or providing this House with some reassurance that the real-life challenges which small business retailers are facing are understood by the government and that—where an error is identified—guidance, coaching and facilitation will be the order of the day for the first three-month period. Frankly, Minister, small retailers are absolutely terrified. They have been subjected to local councils sending in people who are probably a good foot taller than me and who might well be a third of my age!