Senator David Leyonhjelm has been pursuing this is the Parliament. Most recently he asked:
Senator LEYONHJELM: I might ask you to take on notice why the calendar year data was released rather than data for the applicable period for the policy implementation. Professor Sinclair Davidson published an article entitled ‘Department of Health telling porkies on plain packaging’ on the Catallaxy Files website on 19 August this year and in the IPA’s FreedomWatch on 20 August this year. In that article, Professor Davidson takes the monthly data on your freedom of information disclosure log to replicate your figures for the 2012 and 2013 calendar years and your calculation of a 3.4 per cent decline between these periods. He also calculates figures for the period starting 1 December 2012 and the year prior to 1 December 2012, and the change from one period to the other is negative 0.8 per cent. Have you done this calculation yourselves? Could you confirm that the 0.8 per cent decline between the periods is correct?
Mr French: I have not seen the reports you are referring to. We are happy to have a look at them.
Senator LEYONHJELM: It is not so much the report; it is doing the calculations yourself.
Mr Heferen: We will take it on notice.
Treasury have now responded:
There was a 0.8 per cent decline in tobacco clearances between the 12 months ended 30 November 2013 and the 12 months ended 30 November 2012 excluding Tobacco Refund Scheme refunds which cannot be allocated to the month when the related clearance was originally processed.
So now Treasury admit that the 3.4% figure is wrong and has reported, at least, the 0.8% decline to be the more correct number. How long will it take the Health Department to update their misleading statement? What about those pesky refunds?
Senator Leyonhjelm also tabled additional questions:
In the context of those tobacco-related questions taken on notice, further questions are as follows:
61. Professor Davidson used the data released on the Treasury FOI log to calculate that tobacco clearances, after accounting for refunds arising from plain-packaging-related product destruction, increased by 0.5 per cent from the year prior to plain packaging becoming fully operational on 1 December 2012, to the year immediately after.
o Can you confirm that this result can be calculated from the data released on the Treasury FOI log?
o Can you advise of any errors in Professor Davidson’s use of the data?
62. Please rank the defensibility of Professor Davidson’s three calculations — a 3.4 per cent decline, a 0.8 per cent decline, and a 0.5 per cent increase — as indicators of the change in legal tobacco consumption from the year prior to plain packaging becoming fully operational, to the year immediately after.
Reasonable questions, I would have thought, yet notice how Treasury doesn’t actually answer then. Of course, they have already conceded that the 3.4% figure is wrong – but watch how they try to avoid revealing that tobacco clearances actually rose in the first 12 months of plain packaging:
61. It is not correct to attribute all plain packaging related refunds to clearances processed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (Formerly the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service) between December 2011 and November 2012.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (formerly the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service) has advised Treasury that refunds paid under the Tobacco Refund Scheme cannot be linked back to original clearances which in some cases may have occurred before December 2011. This is why the information is disclosed separately in the document released under FOI request 1703.
62. While tobacco clearances are an indicator of tobacco volumes in the Australian market, there will be lags between clearances, entry into the market, purchase by consumers and eventual consumption.
In English: “Somebody somewhere told us something vague and we’re just repeating it here”.
Again we are being invited to believe that the federal government wrote a cheque to refund excess tobacco excise that had been paid and the government doesn’t know why that refund cheque was issued? That it can’t determine where and when the tobacco excise was over-paid? Strange then that it does know how much to refund. Surprising that the federal government doesn’t employ double entry book keeping techniques.
Notice how the questions haven’t actually been answered. Lots of waffle. We’ve known for a long time that the 3.4% figure is wrong, Treasury should simply come clean and admit the error. Effectively they have already thrown the Health Department under the proverbial bus so why prolong the agony?