Denmark has decided in recent days that it will repeal the fat tax introduced over a year ago that is levied on foods with a certain level of fat and above. The Danes have also decided not to go ahead with their planned ‘sugar tax’, an extension of the chocolate tax. The move is a victory for common sense, even though it actually took until the tax was operational for the Danish Government to realise that it was a silly idea that was never going to work.
The Danes love their taxation, they are one of the world’s top taxing nations so of course it was almost inevitable, with a worldwide obesity crisis continuing to grow, that they, or another European nation would be the first country in the world to put a tax on high-fat foods. In the end, the Danes went first with a tax adding 16 kroner per kilogram of saturated fat.
In looking at the results of the tax the Danish political establishment found that their world-leading tax was costly to business, but more importantly, failed to change the eating habit’s of Danes. The levy on saturated fats was also a bureaucratic nightmare, having being levied on all food products containing saturated fats.
The government of Denmark found that part of the reason the tax did not work was because Danes travelled across the border to purchase foods high in fat once the tax was introduced.
The Australian Government and others around the world contemplating placing a tax on saturated fats and high-sugar products must learn from the Danish example. Governments must realise both that a fat or sugar tax will not work in combating obesity and that because such a tax will not work, they would be asking business to take on extra costs for no benefit.
There are a few things that government needs to know about introducing a fat tax and the Danish example might finally make politicians realise those facts.
First and foremost, taxing to change behaviour is a stupid concept. In fact, what a tax attempting to change behaviour is doing a lot of the time is actually taxing stupidity. Common sense cannot and should not be legislated for unless it is in order to prevent harm to others. Eating fatty foods is not a crime against your friend, your neighbours or strangers. Having an unhealthy
A tax on saturated fats or fast food just increases the price of fast food. A tax put on foods that are bad for us will not ever magically make healthy foods more accessible than poor food choices.
Not only that but increasing the cost of foods with saturated fats on any level would make it difficult for low-income earners to be able to afford food. People that are on low incomes are already struggling and do not need to be struggling to eat.
Government also needs to think about why foods high in fat, salt or sugar are increasingly the choice made by Australians in their day-to-day lives. In some cases it is not quite as simple as people willingly choosing the worst food option.
First and foremost, unhealthy foods are cheaper. Fast food and more generally, all foods high in fat, salt and sugar cost much less than fast foods and that has been a reality for a long time,
It must also be recognised that we are getting busier as a nation. People are working longer hours and getting more tired. Consequently, fast and convenient food is an increasingly sought after product and again, that is usually processed, high in fat, salt and sugar.
Subsidising healthy food is an option but it would prove extremely costly and would still not work. Subsidising anything is also something that a government should avoid at any cost.
There is a role for educating people about healthy food choices, starting at an early age to instil the benefits of good food choices. Again though, this is a part solution.
The problem is a difficult one, but as Denmark has shown, taxing eating habits is not the answer.
In one of a string of highly anticipated High Court judgements this year the Canberra-based court ruled by a majority of 6-1 that the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) is unconstitutional because it goes beyond the powers of the commonwealth enshrined in the Constitution. The court reached this decision despite the commonwealth arguing that it was able to provide the funding for the policy under s61 of the Constitution which says that executive power “extends to the execution and maintenance” of the foundation document as well as “the laws of the commonwealth”.
There was no legislation governing the agreement.
On the other hand, the court ruled against the plaintiff based on s116 of the Australian Constitution which deals with religious freedom, saying that the program was not an affront to the freedom to practise, or not practise religion.
The court said that while there was a religious test involved in the hiring of school chaplains, a test not required by the commonwealth to hold a government position, the state was not involved in the direct provision of these services and so that section of the Constitution was not breached by the chaplaincy program.
The High Court ruled that the program, delivered in Queensland by the Scripture Union of Queensland did not constitute holding a commonwealth office under s116 as the state was not a party to contractual agreements with the school chaplains employed under the program.
The first major thing to point out is that it is a potentially very positive decision for the devolution of power from the executive branch of government, the ministry, which made the decision on the National School Chaplaincy Program under former Prime Minister John Howard.
The future of the program as a whole is unsure though it would seem quite likely that legislation could be put through which gives either the commonwealth or the states the power and funding to provide for the continuation of the chaplaincy services, though legal experts have said that it is far from clear that accompanying legislation would properly remedy the constitutionality of the NSCP.
But arguments against the pr0gram as it stands also go well beyond the legal and constitutional aspects as judged today by the High Court of Australia and common sense rather than legal argument should lead to a determination that the idea as it stands does not give students real choice when needing to seek the assistance and counsel of suitably qualified adults.
Changes to alter the NSCP which were put forward by the Labor Government to amend the policy had been inserted to give schools a choice as to whether or not they provided a religious or a non-religious chaplain to offer counselling services to students.
What any good program should do in the counselling area is to provide the parents, not the school with the choice of whether or not their sons or daughters are able to seek the confidence of a chaplain or a counsellor. That is, the programs should give the opportunity to provide both, rather than one or the other at the very least.
An even better option would be to provide students, particularly the older ones with the ability to decide what is best for themselves the opportunity to choose who they seek to get advice from.
The High Court judgement in this way is half good at least as far as power concentration goes but where the court did not judge in favour of choice there should be common sense moves to allow greater choice for the students or their families in all cases with a preference towards offering professional counsel above and beyond that which religion provides.
It is my argument that these major proposals from the Abbott-led Coalition go two ways, one consistent with Liberal Party ideology and one not so much.
First, we start with the proposal of a voluntary pre-commitment scheme. This is a scheme where the gambler will volunteer freely as to whether or not they sign up to putting a limit to their gambling on poker machines.
The idea of voluntary pre-commitment technology is based on giving the consumer a choice in their activities, to decide for themselves whether or not they are causing themselves harm. This is arguably very consistent with the ideology of the Coalition which believes in a free market and choice.
The proposal of a voluntary pre-commitment scheme also comes with an increased level of targetted psychological support and better education about the issue of gambling.
Then we have the proposal to ban live-odds being broadcast on the television during sporting events. This is where odds for sporting matches are displayed on the television in graphic or oral form throughout the match, where the odds fluctuate according to the score and status of the game.
This proposal, unlike voluntary pre-commitment is not based on the ideology of choice, but may be able to be argued as preventing harm to others. In any case it advocates a ban of a market created mechanism and therefore is not entirely consistent with the ideology.
However, the idea does seem like a very smart and perceptive proposal in the gambling debate occurring in Australia at present. I cannot remember the last person I encountered not to visibly or indeed verbally cringe at the incessant broadcast of live odds, particularly during recent football matches.
This indicates to me, along with the fact that the Coalition have put it up for discussion, that it would be a very popular idea to put forward with likely widespread community support throughout Australia.
The Coalition proposals for gambling are an interesting mix, some of which will come under consistent fire from opponents and potentially there own side of politics and some which will be welcomed by fellow politicians and the broader Australian community. It is worth reminding ourselves that these are just proposals, but in any case they are positive policy responses being put into the political sphere for debate.