It’s probably pretty indicative of the current state of things in Australia that as the world makes a hard pivot to the right – with populist, anti-elite movements knocking down the established order basically everywhere – we’re still sitting over here chinscratching over a sugar tax.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale, a GP by trade, is very, very keen on a tax on sugar and has been for a long while. His party is making serious moves towards it.
— Peter Martin (@1petermartin) November 22, 2016
It also comes as the Grattan Institute launches a report today calling upon the Government to institute to introduce an excise tax of 40c per 100 grams of sugar – which would boost the price of a two litre bottle of soft drink by about eighty cents or so.
“We recognise that a tax on sugary drinks is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution to the obesity epidemic – that would require numerous interventions at an individual and population-wide level,” the report reads.
“But it will address these third-party costs of obesity by reducing sugar intake from sugar-sweetened beverages.”
Consumption taxes are always a double-edged sword. Yes – they absolutely can work to curtail the consumption in question, as Australia’s tobacco tax has revealed. But it also targets low-income members of the community more than anyone. If you’ve got shitloads of money, your consumption habits probably won’t be affected.
There’s no question that sugary drinks aren’t particularly great for you health-wise, but the question is whether it should be a target for revenue-raising, and whether slapping on a regressive tax is a wise or commendable move.
You’ll probably hear a lot of stuff about NANNY STATE from the usual libertarian suspects on this one, but it’s worth thinking about it from another angle: is this really the issue the Greens want to make their own? We’re in the midst of a global revolt against exactly this kind of thing – moralising from above, and policy written in thinktanks and technocratic enclaves, enacted upon poorer people and breeding resentment.
This isn’t to say the government shouldn’t have a role in promoting public health and dealing with consumption habits like this – it absolutely should. But it’s worth pondering whether a tax is the best way to do it.
There is so, so much that the Coalition is doing or attempting to do that Labor isn’t putting up enough of a fight on. Maybe the Greens should focus on those things first.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald.
Photo: Getty Images.