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Flavell: Customs and Excise Bill (No 3)

Customs and Excise Bill (No 3)

Friday 5 September 2008; 11.00am

Te Ururoa Flavell, Member for Waiariki

Tena koe Mr Speaker i tenei ata.

There is always the risk with the rush of urgency that some minor, technical amendment will slip in under the radar which has wide-ranging repercussions.

We have seen this in the last twenty-four hours with the reaction from employers about the changes made regarding Kiwisaver in the employment relations bill.

Employers are saying that the amendment to the Employment Relations Act, represents a major change to employment law; which means they will have to now review their pay arrangements to ensure they are not in breach of the law, and potentially be exposed to a personal grievance claim from one of their staff.

We need to be far more careful when the Bill under examination has received, as in the case of this Bill, only one submission at the select committee stage.

So with all these warnings in place, we have examined carefully the potential impact that this Customs and Excise Bill could have.

As far as the Maori Party can see this bill makes a number of amendments to the Customs and Excise Act 1996 to enhance the statutory appeal and review rights in relation to the forfeiture and seizure regime.

A particular issue of interest to us in the Maori Party in the examination of this bill was the personal use exemption on the growth and manufacture of tobacco.

The amendments in this Bill will give Customs area better control over illegal tobacco manufacturing operations. And that’s all good.

But the bigger picture however is one of banning the sale, manufacture of importation of cigarettes so that there is no industry or government incentive for smoking.

The Maori Party has stood strong in our vision to end the sale of cigarettes and smoking tobacco.

We say that vision without an action is but a dream.

In our case, it is more like a nightmare.

Smoking kills one in three Maori for goodness sake. Why in the heck would we support a Bill which kills Maori? “First class legislation”?!!! I don’t think so.

Perhaps the Minister should have separated the parts of the Bill out.

The tyranny of tobacco over the lives of tangata whenua has had a long history.

Any knowledgeable historian will point out that tobacco was gifted from Pakeha settlers as a tradeable commodity to purchase food and land. We are told that some of our tupuna rangatira who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi were treated to tobacco.

The archives are bursting with picture postcards of our men, our women, and to our horror even children being shot (with a camera I had better say) with a cigarette in hand.

I was shocked to find recently that during the passage of defending this nation in war, Maori and Pakeha were routinely allocated cigarettes and tobacco along with food as part of their rations.

So does the Crown bear any responsibility to take action to end sales of cigarettes and smoking tobacco? Hell yeah, of course it should.

A ban on cigarette sales would save 4000 lives, and $22 billion annually.

Of course we welcomed the graphic health warnings that now appear on all tobacco products. If anyone could be persuaded to give up, surely one would think the prospect of ending up with gangrenous toes, diseased lungs, damaged hearts and rotting teeth, big pukus and gums must have some influence.

And although of course it is early days yet in the course of that campaign about getting rid of smoking, we are mindful that the number of cigarettes available for sale has not changed in three years.

In fact, even worse, the number of cigarettes available for sale has actually risen 2.8 percent over the previous year – and here’s the horror statistic - the number of cigarettes available for sale has risen an astronomical 83.3 percent since 1985.

It is a weak excuse, we say Mr Speaker, to say these figures are rising just because there’s more outlets for sale. The figures are rising because cigarettes are being sold; cigarettes are being smoked.

The other issue to bear in mind, is that although the officials will tell us that smoking rates have been steadily decreasing, the importation and sale of cigarettes is actually increasing – so the tobacco industry remains rich.

In effect then, the proportion of smokers is not decreasing as the population grows.

Mr Speaker, does this Bill do much to address the bigger picture? NO.

We see a new clause was recommended by the Select Committee so that the ‘personal use’ exemption being introduced by the Bill is now part of primary and not delegated legislation.

What this means is that rather than illegal tobacco manufacture coming under the stronger regulation making powers that were originally suggested, there is less flexibility to be able to control the black-market tobacco trade. Putting the personal use exemption into the Bill is, as the Labour minority report itself acknowledged, inconsistent with the other control arrangements.

We believe, with Labour, that the stronger regulation-making powers are more effective in controlling the illegal tobacco trade.

The flexibility and speed with which delegated legislation can be amended is, we believe, likely to be more effective in addressing the growth of the tobacco industry.

We should not be, we say, fiddling around, passing laws which allow governments and industry to collect revenue from tobacco, when the bigger picture of tobacco use and abuse is still prevalent.

And if there was one thing which really put the nail in the coffin for this Bill, it was the very fact that the only submission received was of support from British American Tobacco NZ Ltd.

British American Tobacco NZ Ltd supported the Bill, particularly in respect to amending customs and excise tax 1996 in relation to the illegal manufacture of tobacco.

Mr Speaker, let me make it clear that all that this Bill will really do, is to ensure that governments get their excise duty pay out.

Over the eleven month period to May 2008, the Government received an incredible $775 million in customs duty on tobacco; and there is a forecast $144 million in tobacco excise duty over the year to June 2008.

While Government is happily receiving the pricely sum of $919 million; there is another group of figures I want to leave with this House.

This morning, Mr Speaker, I was presented with a table reporting the prevalence of cigarette smoking for New Zealanders, of fifteen years of age and over, between the years 1976 to 2005.

Although there has been a decline from the all-out high of 58% in 1976; the results for Maori have been consistently alarming.

Over the last two decades, the numbers of Maori over fifteen years of age, have hovered steadily on or around fifty percent mark. Fifty percent for goodness sake.

Those figures provide a compelling reason to do everything that we can to stem the tobacco tidal wave that our people are submerged under.

And for that reason, we will not be supporting this Bill.


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