Plain packaging is 3 years old today

So how is the Gillard government’s theft of intellectual property working out as a policy to inhibit smoking?

Not well.

Here is a picture based on data collected by states (or in the case of Victoria on behalf of the state).


Here is is a picture that highlights something we’ve been on about at Catallaxy Files:


Here is the ABS data on household expenditure:


So we have state-based data, tax-based data (via Treasury), and ABS data all showing that plain packaging didn’t work as advertised. That is all government data – not industry data or private sector estimates of smuggling etc. The Australian governments (federal and state) own data.

By contrast the Nanny State has produced evidence that people don’t like the packaging. Well, yes. Given that the packaging was deliberately engineered to be unattractive that is hardly surprising.

This post first appeared at Catallaxy Files.



Department of Health telling porkies on Plain Packaging


Remember this statement on the Department of Health website?

Treasury has advised that tobacco clearances (including excise and customs duty) fell by 3.4% in 2013 relative to 2012 and fell a further 7.7% in 2014. Tobacco clearances have fallen a total of 10.8% since 2012 when tobacco plain packaging was introduced.

Well it’s still there.

That is a very interesting claim – because Treasury has the data that can clear up the issue as to whether plain packaging worked or not. Fairfax Media, for example, thought the case was done and dusted.

The federal Treasury has entered the debate over cigarette sales, publishing previously secret information that shows sales falling since the introduction of graphic health warnings and plain packaging.

The Treasury collects data on sales per stick in order to levy tobacco excise, but has until now withheld it from publication to protect commercially sensitive information.

I rubbished that argument here.

David Leyonhjelm followed up with questions at Senate Estimates:

The Health Department website states that ‘The Treasury has advised that tobacco clearances (including excise and customs duty) fell by 3.4% in 2013 relative to 2012 when tobacco plain packaging was introduced’.

Further to other questions taken on notice on this issue:

a) What was the entirety of the Treasury advice?
b) Who requested the Treasury to provide the advice?
c) Was any Minister or party outside of Government involved in the request?
d) To whom (in addition to the Health Department) did Treasury provide the advice?

Treasury provided a very waffly answer:

a) The Department of Health asked Treasury whether Treasury had any data to support the release of Australian Bureau of Statistics data on tobacco consumption. Treasury advised that clearances of tobacco fell by 3.4 per cent in the 2013 calendar year relative to the 2012 calendar year. Treasury also advised that publication of more detailed data related to tobacco excise was limited by concerns regarding taxpayer confidentiality.
b) The advice was requested by the Population Health Division, Australian Government Department of Health.
c) To Treasury’s knowledge, no other Minister or party outside of Government was involved in the request.
d) To Treasury’s knowledge, the advice was provided only to the Population Health Division, Australian Government Department of Health.

Very vague as to who actually did what. Like who actually calculated the 3.4 per cent fall in tobacco clearances.

Last night I discovered that Treasury had actually published that previously secret information on its website.

Well. This isn’t the first time I’ve caught Treasury generating dodgy numbers. It isn’t even the second time.

So this is what they have done:

Continue Reading →


Tim Wilson’s professionalism bewilders Fairfax journalist

It used to be that reasonable people could disagree about issues, and agree to disagree. Unfortunately it looks like those days are long gone. There are so few reasonable people left to disagree with. Consider the case of Jenna Price – senior lecturer at UTS in the Journalism School. She is a columnist for the Canberra Times. This week she suggested that former IPA Senior Fellow and current Freedom Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission be sacked.

To be entirely fair there are very good reasons why Tim Wilson should be sacked. Having highly intelligent policy entrepreneurs working for the government rather than in the private sector is a massive misallocation of scarce societal resources. Tim Wilson could and should be deploying his vast talent to making the world a better place, rather than doing … well, whatever it is he does for the government. Then there is the argument for simply shutting down the entire organisation – after all it isn’t clear what any of them do.

Those sorts of arguments were not what Ms Price had in mind. Rather it was a hysterical tirade against Tim Wilson because he had answered his phone on a Sunday but then declined to be drawn into a political dispute.

Now, I rang Wilson on Sunday because I wanted to ask exactly what involvement he had in The Forgotten Children report. I rang him because I thought he helped write it.  In the report, it says: “The Inquiry was led by Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Commission, with assistance from Megan Mitchell, the National Children’s Commissioner and Tim Wilson, the Human Rights Commissioner.”

Seems rather strange that Ms Price didn’t call Professor Triggs – who did write the report if she wanted any clarification on the report itself. So having phoned Tim Wilson on the pretext of his having written the report – he didn’t – she then proceeded to ask him about the on-going political stoush between Gillian Triggs and the federal government.

Unsurprisingly Tim didn’t want to comment on that matter, neither on the record nor off the record.

It is entirely inappropriate for Tim Wilson to comment on that matter. In the Australian Human Rights Commission hierarchy he would become the acting President should Gillian Triggs stand down from her position. Further it is not his place to comment on why the government may be displeased with Professor Triggs’ performance – Ms Price should have phoned the Attorney-General, or even Professor Triggs herself for commentary on that issue.

As a public servant Tim Wilson could only comment on the report – I would be surprised if he approved of children being in detention and I hope he said so. But for his trouble, Jenna Price launched on an ad hominem attack:

… the person who should be removed from the job is Tim Wilson … Mr Wilson’s appointment to the Australian Human Rights Commission last year was really just a way for the Attorney-General, George Bigot (sic), (and it’s on the record that he and Wilson are friends) to have someone from the right deep inside the Commission, with the ability to chat to other neoconjobbers. … Tim Wilson, who could show some leadership among conservatives by standing up for what’s right, rather than what’s Right, is strangely silent.

Hardly strangely quiet at all. It’s called “professionalism”, it’s called “avoiding conflict of interest”, it’s called “staying out of political conflict when you’re a public servant”.


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