QUEENSLAND Independent Senator Glenn Lazarus has been gang-tackled by Queensland LNP Senators for backing the introduction of a broad sugar tax in Australia, beyond just soft drinks.
The former rugby league star first entered the federal Senate via the Palmer United Party and supported calls for government taxes or other interventions, to help combat obesity, in his maiden speech.
A tax on sugary drinks was introduced by the UK government last month and led to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver urging the Australian government and others to replicate the move.
“Australia pull your finger out – it’s about time your governments got onto this,” he said.
Last night on ABC television’s The Drum program, Senator Lazarus sparked a head on collision with rural Queensland LNP Senators after supporting introducing a sugar tax in Australia, without considering broader industry impacts.
He said, “I really like the idea of a sugar tax - I think it’s got a lot to answer to”.
“Childhood obesity is going through the roof, obesity in general is going through the roof and I think that they (sugar products) should be contributing to our ever climbing health budget,” he said.
“I really think we should look at this and I do like the idea of a sugar tax.”
Senator Lazarus said a sugar tax could also help provide a government subsidy on expensive gluten free food products for Celiac sufferers.
“There are a lot of things that have sugar in it,” he said.
“We joke about it but people have put hamburgers from certain takeaway outlets on the top of a computer screen and left it there for years and it hasn’t moved - it hasn’t changed anything - and that’s because of the amount of sugar in it.
“I think it needs to be broad absolutely - not just on soft drink.”
But Queensland LNP Senators Barry O’Sullivan, Matthew Canavan and Ian Macdonald stood shoulder to shoulder in attacking the Senator’s comments branding them naive and damaging to the livelihoods of sugar producers and the broader industry.
Senator Canavan – also the Minister for Northern Australia – said he wasn’t astounded or surprised by Senator Lazarus's stance on the sugar tax issue as it was becoming a pattern of behaviour for him to “sell out Queensland jobs without thinking it through”.
He said like a recent stance against the live cattle export industry, Senator Lazarus did not understand the potential damage his remarks caused and had failed to consult industry – in this case Queensland canegrowers – before speaking.
“These are farming families who have their whole livelihoods in this industry and Senator Lazarus has launched an attack on them this evening without even bothering to pick up the phone and talk to them first,” he said.
“The cane growing industry provides around 40,000 indirect jobs through 24 mills throughout this country.
“What Senator Lazarus has done this evening is undermine confidence in that sector and put those jobs at risk - he should, I hope, reflect on his comments.”
Senator O'Sullivan criticised Senator Lazarus for his sugar tax comments and supporting a Senate motion raised by the Greens yesterday rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, “to protect South Australian jobs”.
“Let me repeat that: a Queensland Senator supported a motion to protect South Australian jobs,” he said.
“Senator Lazarus makes a habit of moving around our State, telling people he is the farmers' friend.
“My message to you tonight, Senator Lazarus, is that there are a lot fewer farmers in Queensland who think you are their friend as we start to expose your attitudes to matters of agriculture. “
Senator O’Sullivan also said the Queensland independent Senator had supported the TPP motion having done a preference deal with the Greens for the upcoming election.
“I intend to devote the entire election to making sure that, line by line, every farmer in Queensland knows exactly his voting history with the Greens in anti-agricultural motions,” he said.
“I will stand up and defend our agricultural industries right across my home State and I do not care whether it is Senator Lazarus or another Lazarus, who comes from biblical times.”
Senator Macdonald said he was “absolutely dumbfounded” to hear by Senator Lazarus’ sugar tax comments and his voting stance against the TPP.
He said his rival did not quite understand that he was supposed to be supporting Queenslanders and the State’s industries.
“He (Senator Lazarus) supported the idea of a sugar tax, which would create unquantifiable problems for the sugar industry in Queensland, for those cane farmers and cane farming entities who are supported by the industry, and for the 16,000 Queenslanders who work in that area,” he said.
“The Queensland industry produces something like 30 million tonnes of sugar, and even Senator Lazarus's home State of NSW produces some 1.5 million tonnes of sugar.
“I know Senator Lazarus wanders around the north telling everyone what a great Queenslander he is and how supportive he is of Queensland industries and mum-and-dad farming operators.
“But I will join Senator O'Sullivan - and I know my other Queensland Senate colleagues - in pointing out to Queenslanders that it would seem that one of their Senators is totally bent on decimating the sugar industry and the beef industry by his support for a sugar tax and for getting rid of the TPP.”