We have been following the plain packaging saga quite closely here at the Cat. To remind ourselves, the former Gillard government introduced plain packaging for tobacco products in 2012 and had declared it to be a glorious success. It then funded research into whether the policy was a glorious success, and unsurprisingly found that the policy was a glorious success.
As we have previously reported nobody is quite sure what exactly the purpose of the funded research was; at least, there are conflicting responses to that question when posed in the parliament.
The mystery deepens. Late last year the Health Department was forced to publish the research contract between itself and Cancer Council Victoria (see specifically Document 2 (pdf)).
That is very, very interesting. Ashton de Silva and I wrote a paper investigating the analysis that the Cancer Council Victoria produced, and the government funded, and has been quoted all around the world as the policy having been successful, saying that the analysis did not demonstrate that the policy had been successful. Quite the contrary.
In response to our paper, the Cancer Council Victoria put out a very long press release that made an important concession (emphasis original):
The NTPPS was quite explicitly not designed to assess quitting success or change in smoking prevalence but rather focussed on the immediate impact of the legislation on perceptions of the pack, effects of health warnings and understanding of product harmfulness.
What? The research was specifically not designed to answer the very question (d) that the government was asking to be answered?
Then how about investigating the “independent and combined combined influences of plain packaging, health warnings, mass media campaign exposure and any tobacco pricing and product changes”? In the Post-Implementation Review we read (emphasis added):
Given the timing of these changes, it is not possible to separately identify the effects of tobacco plain packaging from those of updated and enlarged graphic health warnings without making restrictive assumptions.
So here we have the actual researchers claiming in the first instance that they deliberately did not fulfil one of the major research requirements on their brief, and another government document suggesting that the second major research requirement is “not possible” to test (by implication then has not been tested).
So the $3 million question is this:
- Did the Cancer Council Victoria disclose to the government that it had not (indeed perhaps could not) fulfil the requirements of the research contract?
Then there are subsidiary questions:
- If yes – why has that not been disclosed to the public?
- If no – will the Commonwealth government move to recover the $3 084 112.60 (inclusive of GST) that it paid for those questions to be answered?
So the very questions that the government (the Gillard government) thought needed answering are, as yet, unanswered. Yet the government has paid out $3 084 112.60 (inclusive of GST) for the research and declared the policy to be a success. Now I understand that pay-for-performance isn’t the done thing in Canberra, but surely this cries out for some explanation.