No plans for Australian tax on sugary drinks, says Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King

FEDERAL opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King says Labor has no plans to introduce tax on sugary drinks.

The Ballarat MP said broader preventative health measures needed to be the basis for national talk on tackling obesity and chronic disease, rather than one method.

Ms King’s comments follow an Four Corners report on the “big flaw” in Australia’s federal health system when it came to sugar. The report outlined the influence of major food and beverage companies sitting on committees setting industry regulations and the power of ‘sugar’ seats in tight federal elections.

Media has also reported the Australian Beverages Council’s 2016 annual report named Ms King with then-Regional Health minister Fiona Nash and then- independent senator Nick Xenophon and Labor's Health spokeswoman Catherine King as "key politicians" it had lobbied.

Ms King did not respond directly to a query from The Courier about the Four Corners report, but said preventative health would remain a focus for Labor in the lead up and beyond the next election.

“Labor believes obesity is a critical public health problem. To fix it, we certainly have to address how Australians eat,” Ms King said.

“But we have no plans to introduce a sugar tax. A sugar tax is only one of many possible ways to tackle this problem.

“The experts say this is a collective issue - rather than an individual one - and it requires a government response.

“...The first step is putting preventative health at the core of our national discussion on health. Prevention is better than cure – both for our own health and for our overall health system.”

Ballarat’s thirst for sugary drinks is well-documented with almost one in seven adults consuming high-sugar beverages daily, according to a study last year.

In parts of regional Victoria, one in four adults is quenching their sweet tooth daily.

Popular sports drinks contain about nine teaspoons of sugar each bottle while a can of Coca Cola contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, according to Australian health campaign Rethink Sugary Drink.

Community organisations like YMCA Ballarat and Grampians, Ballarat Community Health and Ballarat Health Services have been trying to change thirst culture with a stronger focus on promoting water.

Cancer Council Victoria chief executive officer Todd Harper last week applauded the work of YMCA in putting water first at Pyrenees pools they operate in the summer. Mr Harper said empowering people to make healthier choices, via education and awareness, was vital to shifting culture. He supported a sugar tax in the view to reinvest money raised into prevention awareness.

Ms King said preventative health would remain a focus for Labor in the lead-up and beyond the next election.

Labor made a $300 million pledge to tackle obesity and chronic disease in the last election. This included introducing a national nutrition framework to work with food producers and retailers on expanding the Health Star Rating, and introducing a national physical activity strategy.

Ms King said Labor had been calling on the government to act but the Liberals had abolished a national partnership agreement on preventative health.