Plain Packaging? No, Prime Minister!

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Thursday
Jan032013

Plain packaging: what the Aussies want the Aussies get

The most extraordinary thing has happened.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that on July 5, 2012, three working days before the closing date, the Department of Health and Ageing in Australia sent an email to their counterparts in London requesting an extension to the UK Government's consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco.

Ignoring the fact that they had three months' notice of the closing date, the Aussies wanted their submission to be signed off by their Minister of Health, The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, but she was on a "short absence".

A few hours after the request was sent the Department of Health issued a statement extending the deadline for submissions by four weeks. (I wrote about it here, blissfully ignorant of the Australian Government's remarkable request.)

The full email from the Department of Health and Ageing reads:

Dear [redacted]

We corresponded earlier this year just after I took over from [redacted] – I hope this email finds you well and fully engaged in the plain packaging consultation! We have been watching from a far [sic] with much interest.

My Department has coordinated a whole of government submission to the UK Consultation on Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products which we note is due on 10 July 2012. We are currently going through the clearance process for the submission at a time when several of our key Ministers are absent on leave or work related travel, during a break in the Parliamentary sitting period.

I am sure that our Minister of Health, The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, would welcome the opportunity to personally sign off on the Submission, if at all possible. To achieve this, we will require an extension due to her short absence. Accordingly, would you or the relevant area responsible for the consultation, be willing to approve a two week extension until Tuesday 24 July? Alternatively, can you suggest a timeframe that would be acceptable?

I am most grateful for your consideration [redacted]. Please let me know if it is more appropriate for me to direct my request elsewhere.

Kind regards,

The revelation appears today in The Times under the headline Australian plea delayed submissions on cigarettes.

Anne Milton, then Health Minister, said on July 5 that the Department of Health’s three-month consultation was to be extended until August 10 to “make sure everyone who wants to contribute can”.

That same day an Australian official in the Department of Health and Ageing wrote to the Department of Health requesting a two-week extension to the July 10 deadline so that Australia’s Minister for Health could sign off the submission.

Later that day, an email was sent by the Department of Health’s tobacco programme manager to the Australian Government, and others, explaining that the deadline had been extended.

To put this in perspective, I can't imagine there is an administration anywhere in the world that is as pro-plain packaging as the government that was the first in the world to introduce it – so what the Aussie Government wants the Aussie Government gets.

The DH (but of course!) has denied any suggestion of impropriety (ie bowing to the wishes of a foreign government). According to The Times:

A source at the department yesterday said the decision to extend the consultation had been taken before ministers were made aware of the Australian Government’s request.

This is quite possibly true. Generally I believe things happen because of cock-ups not conspiracies. Nevertheless it's a remarkable coincidence that requires further investigation.

Meanwhile read what my colleague Angela Harbutt has to say, then pop over to Dick Puddlecote for his take on proceedings.

Finally, to paraphrase Alex Ferguson, recite out loud: "Plain packaging, bloody hell!"

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References (2)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: pouch packaging
    Simon Clark - Taking Liberties - Plain packaging: what the Aussies want the Aussies get
  • Response
    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most guys will approve with your blog.

Reader Comments (5)

We seriously need to look at every aspect of the "public consultation" process that HMG purports to undertake before introducing far-reaching legislation.

Am I going stark-raving mad? A UK public consultation process for UK laws affecting UK citizens is delayed at the request of a foreign government. What! I despair at the state of affairs in this country, democracy... my ar*e!

Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 22:10 | Unregistered CommenterBill C

Caught with pants down?

Angela Harbutt has done a good piece on this, well worth reading. I’ve got a couple of points.

‘A source at the department yesterday said the decision to extend the consultation had been taken before ministers were made aware of the Australian Government’s request’.

1. Presumably then, this would have been made clear in the reply from the DOH to the Australian Government. There had to have been a reply informing them that the deadline had already been extended. It would have been a matter of courtesy to reply to the Australian official. So where is this communication to confirm this?

2. Who took this decision, would there not have been more than one meeting to discuss this with all involved participants – since this is a major government consultation. It could not possibly have been a unilateral decision this is completely out of the question, the subject matter is far too important. So, who was involved in this decision?

3. Are there any minutes then from these meetings that sought to extend the consultation?

4. If the Australian government had as they say, followed our process so closely, then why would they request an exstension when they would already be aware the process had been extended - does that make sense to you?

We’re expected to believe that on the day a communication from the Australian Dept of Health has had no influence – our government then simultaneously change the rules of a major consultation which just happens to suit this foreign power, but tell us this decision had been made beforehand.

Prove it!

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:01 | Unregistered CommenterDennis

What business is it of the Aussie government whether or not we introduce plain packaging here? I really don't understand what's going on here - why on earth were they involved at all? I could even understand if it were the interfering EU - at least we're a part of that. But Australia? Why not one of the other anti-smoking countries, like New Zealand, or Canada or the States? What exactly were they thinking of in allowing another government of another country to influence any decision about UK policy, no matter how "sympathetic" they might have been to the "cause?"

Yet another indication as to how UK politicians of all shades simply aren't interested in doing their job of running the country and are happy to let outsiders do it instead, as long as it doesn't interfere with their own pocket-lining ways.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 2:21 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Why are citizens of other nations allowed to participate in consultations concerning UK laws?

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 12:17 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

What this suggests to me is arrogance. It suggests that these people consider themselves to above democratic processes. In fact, it clearly accords with the UN/WHO side-stepping of democratic government. Tobacco Control claims that its costs are worth paying because the financial benefits of conforming to its demands far outweigh its costs. Unfortunately, successive governments have fallen for this confidence trick. In reality, the benefits are ephemeral at best, while the costs are real and NOW.
Simple actions can remove this philosophical lie.
It is too late in the night to go into detail, but, essentially, the answer must lie in the creation of a Government Dept which examines THE STATISTICS. Such a Dept must have access the original data and be absolutely trustworthy.
I am not sure, but I tend to believe that the Office of National Statistics has not been corrupted, but I am not sure. It must be true that any Government which allows such an office to become corrupted is asking for serious trouble, since corrupt national statistics can lead to nothing other than serious trouble.

ASH itself is nothing. It is a balloon which has been blown up by troublemakers and scare-mongers. Indeed, the APPC is nothing more than a balloon either. Prick it and it will burst and disappear.
Our efforts to scratch away the foundations of Tobacco Control are beginning to bear fruit - but there is still a long way to go.

Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 3:52 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

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