Why won’t the Department of Health correct its false statement?

So last week we reported on Senator David Leyonhjelm’s questioning of the Health Department, today we report back on his questioning of the Treasury.

From Hansard:

Senator LEYONHJELM: I have some questions about estimates of tobacco clearance data and the use of that data by the health department. At the estimates in October last year I asked for some calculations based on publicly available tobacco clearance data. I only received your response this morning, which worries me a bit. When had anyone in the Treasury done the calculations?

Mr Heferen : I might need some assistance there from my colleague Ms Horvat.

Mr Horvat : I would have to take on notice the date that we actually did those calculations.

Senator LEYONHJELM: All right. You may have to take this on notice too, but maybe not. Between then and now—from October to February—what were the stages that took up so much time? What were the steps that you had to go through that occupied so much time?

Mr Heferen : In doing a question on notice?

Senator LEYONHJELM: No, I am coming to the question on notice, because that also only got answered this morning and I am not going to ask the same questions about it. I am interested in knowing why it took until this morning to get an answer and what was involved in it.

Mr Heferen : There are essentially two ports of call. One is that, when we take the question on notice, given that we are here—not now—in a capacity representing the minister, we first do the work internally and are comfortable that it answers the questions that have been asked. Then we have to provide it to the relevant minister to have that forwarded to the committee. So there are two places where it could be delayed. One, of course, is in the department, and one is for the minister to turn his or her mind to it to have it released. I am afraid I do not know the time line on this one.

Mr Horvat : The only thing I would add is that your question involved questions that were partly for the Department of Health. The numbers you were referring to were matters for the Department of Health, so in answering your question we also consulted with the Department of Health. That also added time to the process.

Senator LEYONHJELM: You consulted the department, did you?

Mr Heferen : And I think the Department of Immigration and Border Protection—

Mr Horvat : Correct.

Mr Heferen : for all the customs clearances that are done through there. When we go to other departments, that takes time.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Understood. Was there anybody else you consulted?

Mr Horvat : That is all I am aware of.

Senator LEYONHJELM: In your answer you confirmed that, from the year prior to the full implementation of plain packaging to the year after, tobacco clearances fell 0.8 per cent excluding the tobacco refund scheme. That is the same calculation that we came to. The health department website still includes a paragraph that refers to the introduction of plain packaging in 2012 and refers to a 3.4 per cent fall from 2012 to 2013 instead of this 0.8 per cent fall. They state that the 3.4 per cent fall is Treasury’s advice. Have you advised the health department that that 3.4 per cent fall is not your best advice about tobacco clearances before and after the full implementation of plain packaging?

Mr Horvat : All I can say is we discussed your questions on notice with the Department of Health, so they are aware of your concerns.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Okay. I also got a reply to my written question about whether the 3.4 per cent fall or 0.8 per cent fall is a more defensible indicator of the change in tobacco consumption from the year prior to plain packaging to the year after plain packaging. As I said, I got your reply this morning. You did not give a direct answer but you noted the lags between tobacco clearances and tobacco consumption. I think your response seems to suggest that you agree that 0.8 per cent is a more accurate reflection given the other data that led to the 3.4 per cent calculation. Is that accurate?

Mr Horvat : I guess this might come to the timing of those refunds.

Senator LEYONHJELM: You said to leave out the refunds, so I am not bringing them into the discussion. The point about it is that plain packaging commenced 1 December 2012 and, if you took in the calendar year 2012, that would include one year of plain packaging. If you then compared it to the calendar year 2013, in December 2013 there was an excise increase. If you are actually comparing calendar year to calendar year, it gives you a result of 3.4 per cent but it is not a perfect comparison.

Mr Horvat : I think you will note in our response that the reason we used calendar year was that initially the purpose of Treasury providing data was to respond to an article published in The Australian on 6 June. That is the basis on which we did our calculation.

Senator LEYONHJELM: In which year?

Mr Horvat : 2014.

Senator LEYONHJELM: All right. I understand your response to mean that, if you remove those contaminating effects of December 2012—you count 12 months prior to the introduction of plain packaging and then compare that to the subsequent 12 months—the reduction in tobacco clearances is in fact 0.8 per cent. Would that be an accurate interpretation?

Mr Horvat : I cannot directly respond to your question. I do not feel confident enough. I am happy to take the wording of that question on notice.

Senator LEYONHJELM: All right. There is no other interpretation I can place on it but that the implementation of plain packaging in December 2012 and then the increase in excise in December 2013 were both contaminating factors in comparing the prior 12 months to the subsequent 12 months of the implementation of plain packaging. If you do compare those two periods without those two contaminating factors, the change is 0.8 per cent. That is the question on notice. Could you please confirm that I have not made some egregious error?

Mr Horvat : Certainly.

I think the good Senator is getting a tad annoyed by the poor quality answers he has been receiving to his rather excellent questions. We covered the Treasury response to his last set of questions on notice here.

Notice how Treasury try to deflect questioning by bringing up the timing of the excise refunds – but Senator Leyonhjelm is having none of that. Treasury are now tied into the -0.8% figure. The 3.4% decline claim is simply not credible any more. The Health Department, however, are going to brazen it out. Their strategy is as follows: they were simply responding to a news article in The Australian. Health mentioned the article:

Ms Davies : Yes. The information on our website, which is quite old now, was in direct response to an article that appeared in The Australian some time ago which quoted a particular figure for the 2012 calendar year. We, at the time, engaged with Treasury and they provided the 3.4 per cent figure as the calendar year response. So that information is directly referable and responsive to an article that was in The Australian some time ago.

as did Treasury:

Mr Horvat : I think you will note in our response that the reason we used calendar year was that initially the purpose of Treasury providing data was to respond to an article published in The Australian on 6 June. That is the basis on which we did our calculation.

I remember the article well, written by our good friend Christian Kerr.

LABOR’S nanny state push to kill off the country’s addiction to cigarettes with plain packaging has backfired, with new sales figures showing tobacco consumption growing during the first full year of the new laws.

Plain packaging laws, which came into force in December 2012, have instead boosted demand for cheaper cigarettes, with reports of a more than 50 per cent rise in the market for lower cost cigarettes.

I’ve added the emphasis to highlight what Christian Kerr actually wrote – the full year after the laws came into effect in December. That is different to what both Health and Treasury have claimed. Responding to that article cannot be the reason they have shifted the dates in the analysis that produced the now discredited 3.4% figure or even the disputed 0.8% figure.

If you haven’t yet watched this clip – please do.

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18 Responses to Why won’t the Department of Health correct its false statement?

  1. stackja

    Why should they? False statements in a good cause. /sarc

  2. Driftforge

    Is any of this change significant against the background trend?

    Either number seems like a damnably small effect for such a major change.

  3. Some History

    The hearing should be titled “Is it possible to get a straight answer from government bureaucrats concerning tobacco?”

    So far it’s a resounding “NO”.

    How’s this for responses [after considerable “consultation” time]:

    “All I can say is we discussed your questions on notice with the Department of Health, so they are aware of your concerns.”

    “I guess this might come to the timing of those refunds.”

    “I cannot directly respond to your question. I do not feel confident enough. I am happy to take the wording of that question on notice.”

    “Certainly.”

    The only “certainly” concerns further “consultation” because these bureaubrats can’t(incompetent)/won’t(contempt) answer a straight question; it’s just stalling and deflection……. a Monty Python-esque “Let’s take a vote to vote on that”.

    DL, keep probing at the government “prohibition” racket.

  4. Cannibal

    Even if the higher number was correct, better questions would be :
    1. how much did it cost to draft and obtain sufficient consensus for the legislation to pass,
    2. how much did it cost to pulp existing stocks of cigarette packaging, and get the plain stuff manufactured,
    3. how much in pubic servant time does it cost to enforce this change
    4. what are the estimated cost savings to the health budget given even the most fanciful estimate of reduction of tobacco use
    5. when this legislation was introduced, what was the size of the forecast reduction that convinced the pollies that this was sooooo excellent.

  5. Some History

    3. how much in pubic servant time does it cost to enforce this change

    That’s an interesting and probably very pertinent question. 🙂

  6. C.L.

    Yesterday in the Sunday Mail it was reported that the Queensland government is about to launch the most severe crackdown ever on public smoking. It included the claim that a person died of second-hand smoke every week. I had to laugh. The newspaper ran photographs of people smoking on the perimeter of Royal Brisbane Hospital – which was, we’re meant to believe, deeply shocking and outrageous. These smokers (who looked like patients) were endangering the patients in the hospital, we were solemnly told. Once again, I laughed aloud. This is on a par with belief in UFOs.

  7. Some History

    His “highness”, Lord Crapman of Dunceshire, is an expert on all things tobacco. Is it possible to get his eminence before the Senate hearing? Lord Crapman could clear up all these niggling questions in a few moments. He would most likely point out that any questioning of him, his Tobacco Control buddies, antismoking disciples, or any of a number of “charitable” groups profiting financially from the State-sponsored prohibition crusade is a waste of time and resources. What comes from Tobacco Control – statistics, claims – is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.

    From back in 2014:

    A dramatic decline in smoking rates has coincided with the introduction of plain-packaging laws.
    The daily smoking rate plunged from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent between 2010 and 2013, according to the largest and longest-running national survey on drug statistics.
    Most people are now 16 before they smoke their first full cigarette, up from 14 in 2010, and 95 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have never smoked.
    Public health experts say the findings of the National Drugs Strategy Household Survey vindicate plain-packaging laws, which tobacco companies recently claimed to have boosted cigarette sales by leading to a price war.
    “It’s almost like finding a vaccine that works very well against lung cancer,” said Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney.
    “It’s that big. This will give enormous momentum to the international push for plain packaging right around the world.”

    http://m.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/plunge-in-smoking-attributed-to-plain-packaging-20140716-ztqht.html?skin=dumb-phone

  8. Some History

    His “highness”, Lord Crapman of Dunceshire, is an expert on all things tobacco. Is it possible to get his eminence before the Senate hearing? Lord Crapman could clear up all these niggling questions in a few moments.

    Or maybe Lord Crapman could send his emissary of effluence, the Marquis Daube of Ponceville. Please stand and bow as his effluence the Marquis Daube addresses the “mortals”.

  9. Simon/other

    Your raining on their last parade Professor. If they can be publicly wrong about the health benefits of their signature cause then the inference is that they have probably smudged the data on just about every other social change dressed as health initiative too. It’s the whole cult mentality, no practise should receive scrutiny and no member seen to be questioning.

  10. Alex Davidson

    I’m sure this whole episode will one day be used as an example of why high taxes and big government are so dangerous to society.

    Armed with bucket-loads of other people’s money, anti-smoking zealots have become drunk with power. It wasn’t enough that they had already forced tobacco companies to remove any imagery that promoted smoking; nor was it enough to force them to place ‘health warnings’ on their packaging: now they demand that the entire pack is covered in grotesque propaganda, then to add insult to injury, refer to it as ‘plain packaging’, which it clearly isn’t, and subject it to extortionate levels of taxation.

    What they are doing follows in the footsteps of Joseph Goebbels, and while we still have the ability to criticise, we should do so in the strongest possible terms. For a start, we should refuse to go along with their Orwellian ‘plain packaging’ description, and call it for what it is – compulsory anti-smoking propaganda. That is sure to get a rise from them, and may serve the useful purpose of turning attention onto the general argument about whether it is appropriate for the government to engage in such overt social engineering and denial of freedom.

  11. Ren Durham

    Again with the fag-obsessed theme – are the nicotine patches not doing the job this week? What is the point getting worked up about “unfairness” in the regulation/taxing/advertising etc of cigarettes? So the plain packaging experiment did not produce the results claimed – honestly, who cares (aside from nicotine addicts) – is the ordinary tax payer worse off because of this “error”? For decades now tobacco is something that politicians of any stripe have treated as an easy target for taxation and regulation especially as these days smokers linger for years with copd at public expense (my father was a two packet a day addict courtesy of the Red Cross in New Guinea during the war and in his 50s he got a quadruple by-pass out of it and (by managing to give up the fags because his surgeon wouldn’t do the bypass if he didn’t) managed to live for nearly 3 decades in and out of hospital and on oxygen at home – all at taxpayers expense, thanks very much). Maybe if the cigs had been a little less cheap and readily available for most of the time he smoked (1940s to the 1980s) he might have lived a similar life-span but perhaps more comfortably and in better health. That is speculation but what is not speculation is that all the imposts and regulations and inconveniences visited on smokers are little more than a down payment (that falls well short) of actual future expenses incurred by the long suffering tax payer to care for people like my Dad (as a TPI he was grateful for all that but the war wreaked considerable damage – both physical and psychological – so the treatment was small consolation for a life-time of problems). Nanny state my arse.

  12. Some History

    Ren, you’re a brainwashed nitwit spouting the standard antismoking effluent. As a son/daughter you don’t make it above the crap heap either. What a vulgar piece of work you are, although typical of a misocapnist and a shallow tosser all round.

  13. Ren Durham

    Personal abuse as a substitute for reason. Alas the only thing that doesn’t rise above “the crap heap” is your tedious ad hominem attack. So everything they say about nicotine withdrawal is evidently true then? Time for a bex and a good lie down Sunshine

  14. Some History

    Personal abuse as a substitute for reason. Alas the only thing that doesn’t rise above “the crap heap” is your tedious ad hominem attack. So everything they say about nicotine withdrawal is evidently true then? Time for a bex and a good lie down Sunshine

    Please see previous reply.

  15. ella

    Ren Durham
    #1953991, posted on February 22, 2016 at 7:41 pm
    “Again with the fag-obsessed theme – are the nicotine patches not doing the job this week? What is the point...”

    The point is that bogus research is error, fraud, and corruption. Every dollar spent on bogus research of this nature has TAXPAYER stamped all over it.

    Any reasonable and professional person would acknowledge that research is pointless if the outcome has been determined in advance. All these con artists are doing is bolstering their own convictions, and spending the contents of the public purse to do it.

    The focus is on the tobacco issue because it is easy to see the corrupt nature of the research and those conducting the research. There is not enough time in the day to look at every piece of research.

    There are other issues involving freedom of choice and the ever increasing involvement of the government in our lives.

    Ren, bogus research carried out in some areas can lead to the death of innocent people.

  16. Jenny

    What is the point getting worked up about “unfairness” in the regulation/taxing/advertising etc of cigarettes?
    The point is that dishonesty is less effective than honesty. Tobacco Control policy has long been about punishment and shaming of smokers. As a fee citizen I appreciate the dissemination of information about the risks of smoking, I don’t appreciate the punishment and shaming. If improved public health was the goal then tobacco control could promote harm reduction products such as Swedish Snus, snuff and electronic cigarettes. Your father’s health may have been saved if he had the choice to switch to Snus like Swedish men did. But in Australia they take away choice and impose a punitive quit or die paradigm. Ok for those who manage to conform, but for many people ‘die’ seems like the only option in the absence of any other choice. Feeling shame, feeling like your are a failure only makes a person feel less deserving of good health and more likely to punish themselves by continuing to smoke. The whole tobacco control model is puritanical and medieval. It’s not about public health, it’s about zealotry and control….punishing the sinners. Smokers are imperfect human beings, just like you, except that their imperfection is singled out as intolerable and they must be punished for it. It’s totally irrational.

  17. Bruce Rogers

    Why am I not surprised by this ?
    Public Health in Australia has mostly been hijacked by self important
    non medically trained has beens that want to run our lives ! Tobacco control has lost all credibility these days in Australia.They refuse to accept that vaping is a viable option for harm reduction even after the UK has given it the green light ! The UK did thorough research before this decision and the usual idiots in Australia tried hard to rubbish this research.They seem to think we are in the dark ages and they think we will believe every lie they utter. In my opinion a Royal Commission on “Public Health” in Australia is long overdue .It would cost a lot but hopefully it would clear out the dead wood and flat earther’s that seem to be so prominent in it. I also hope these same people are held to account for the damage they are doing by continually saying things like vaping is just as harm full as smoking , many smokers now believe this and continue to smoke !

  18. nisakiman

    @Ren Durham

    Indoor air pollution behind COPD, not smoking: study

    http://archive.indianexpress.c

    Out of 3,000 people randomly selected for the study, 210 suffered from COPD. “At least 93 per cent of those who had COPD were non smokers,” says Dr Sundeep Salvi, coordinator of the Chest Research Foundation (CRF).

    Chest Research Foundation in collaboration with the KEM Hospital, Pune, and the Imperial College, London, UK, conducted one of the largest COPD prevalence studies in a span of two and a half years and released the data on the eve of World COPD Day on November 17.

    And

    Those 400,000 Smoking Victims Live Longer Than The Rest of Us!

    http://www.forces.org/evidence

    Incredibly, analysis of the ages of the 400K supposed deaths computed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) SAMMEC (Smoking Attributable Mortality, Morbidity and Economic Costs) program shows that tobacco is not a major health threat at all – the supposed victims did not die early!

    THE SMOKING “VICTIMS” LIVED LONGER THAN THE REST OF US, BY ABOUT 2 YEARS – 71.9 vs. 70.

    OVER 70,000, or about 17%, DIED “PREMATURELY” AT AGES GREATER THAN 85.

    ONLY 1900, OR FEWER THAN O.5 % OF THE SMOKING “VICTIMS” DIED AT AGES LESS THAN 35, WHILE 143.000, OR 8% OF THE REST OF US DIED AT AGES LESS THAN 35

    If so many of the smoking victims are old, and so few young, and if, on the average, they live longer than the rest of us, how are their deaths “premature”? According to the technical definition used by SAMMEC, any “smoking related” death is considered premature. There is no
    upper age limit to the computation.

    So you see, Ren, all is not as it seems in the bizarre, parallel world of Tobacco Control.

    I personally have a deep dislike of being lied to by charlatans posing as ‘experts’ whose interests are furthering their own ideological agenda at the expense of the taxpayer. The modus operandum of Tobacco Control is lies, deceit and relentless propaganda. Health has nothing to do with it, although they use ‘health’ as a front. It is about a vitriolic hatred of smokers and smoking; a desire to punish and humiliate.

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