Plain packaging consensus up in smoke

Plain packaging consensus up in smoke

August 17, 2011

Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the federal coalition is walking away from its pledge to support Labor’s move to force all cigarettes to be sold in plain packages from mid-2012. But the opposition says that suggestion is “laughable and desperate”.

The Liberal and Nationals joint party room yesterday voted to back the government’s world-first move to require the sale of cigarettes in olive-brown packets only from July 1.

But it vowed to oppose a related bill that aims to ensure plain packaging “will not affect trademark owners’ ability to protect their trademarks from use by other persons”. Ms Roxon says Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has his “wrecking ball sights” set firmly on plain packaging. “If you don’t support both bills, then you don’t support plain packaging,” she said in a statement. “It’s as simple as that. Mr Abbott needs to prove he’s not in the pockets of big tobacco and support both bills.”

But opposition junior health spokesman Andrew Southcott disagrees. He says the second trademarks bill is “completely unnecessary”.

“The coalition supports the initiative of plain packaging,” Dr Southcott told AAP. “(But) we believe the initial bill is satisfactory to implement plain packaging.

“If there are defects in the bill, the minister needs to amend the bill or any other bills, but not try and do it by way of regulation and subvert the parliament.” Dr Southcott said the “extreme” second bill was not sighted until Ms Roxon unexpectedly introduced it to parliament in early July. The opposition argues it will allow regulations made by the minister to prevail over any contrary provision in the Trade Marks Act.

“The coalition is of the view it is completely wrong to enable acts of parliament to be, in effect, amended through regulation by ministerial diktat,” a spokesman said.

Under Labor’s plan, manufacturers would have to produce plain packets from May 20, 2012 while retailers would be banned from selling any branded stock from July 1, 2012. Manufacturer British American Tobacco Australia says it is impossible to produce the olive-brown packs devoid of branding by May. But the health department does not believe big tobacco needs extra time to prepare. BATA plans to challenge the legislation in the courts on the grounds that it unlawfully acquires the company’s intellectual property rights.

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