By Pippa Starr
December 5, 2020
"the utilization of government funds for projects designed to please voters or legislators and win votes."
It's a commonly coined term around Australian politics where industries can be created and dreams realized on the back of the public purse. I am not talking about a few coins in a jar either. Those who feed from the pork barrel can have their greasy fingers blessed with millions upon millions of dollars over time.
Generally speaking, pork barreling is often associated simply by seeing governments dishing out money in marginal seats to help firm up it's position. There is no greater example of this in recent Australian politics, than the sports rorts scandal where the Liberal party were allegedly caught out funding sporting organisations in marginal electorates over ones that were in safe seats.
Pork Barreling isn't only restricted to government attempts to sure up marginal areas though. They also like to sure up populist statements they make so they can say things like "we have dedicated X amount of dollars to that issue because we know how important it is to our constituents. Quite often they are are obvious popular issues and for the last few years there's nothing more popular than health and climate change.
When it comes to health, who stands to gain the most from this reliable political tactic? Let's look into part of that.
Smoking is clearly a massive issue that is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia and the government of the day will always wish to be seen as being proactive around this. The government will say populist things like "we continue to reduce smoking figures for a healthier Australia, we are currently spending
$X millions per year to make this happen".
Where do the millions go?
How are those funds allocated?
The government will put out grants and tenders ripe for the picking for those who can be seen to be helping the government achieve their agenda and promises.
The "quit smoking Pork Barrel" stock has been reliable fodder for the select few that have appeased the Australian Government for decades now, to the point where it's fair to say, there is a whole multi-million dollar industry that relies on this source of funding.
What happens when the "Quit industry" doesn't appear to do the job for the government? They will lose funding of course.
What happens if there is a market interrupter that could do a way better job?
It could not only threaten those who have fed out of the pork barrel, it could destroy them!
For example, e-cigarettes have been hugely successful in countries that have adopted this quit method. In Australia letting this newer technology loose has the massive potential to disrupt the pork and gravy train that has fed the "Quit industry" for decades. According to the last AIHW survey 2.5% of Australians are trying to quit smoking with the use of e-cigarettes. That is up from 1.2% in 2016. Keeping in mind that the use of nicotine in vapor products is Australia is not only stifled by laws that are not relative to risk, but is also illegal in most states of Australia.
Ecigarettes containing nicotine could attract up to a $45k fine or jail for possession.
Yet 100's of thousands of Australian's have found a way to get off the highly addictive combustible cigarettes in this risky environment.
If Australia followed the lead of countries like the UK (where eCigs with nicotine are legal) the figures of Ecigarette use would likely jump significantly and we would also likely see smoking figures decrease in a massive way. Over the last 3 years smoking rates have declined at least 2.5 times slower than the UK for example. Why?
It appears there isn't a hardened "Quit industry" affirmed by the pork barreling of money from the public purse that tolerates smoking rates stagnating as they relatively have in Australia.
Would you believe the biggest push back in Australia to the interruptive technology (ie. eCigs with nicotine) is driven by those who stand to lose a "Quit Industry" built on the reliance of the pork barrel?
Indeed that is exactly what is happening, millions upon millions of dollars are at stake in being able to access the public purse in the name of "Quitting Smoking".
Now don't get me wrong there has been some great initiatives and campaigns that have certainly assisted to reduce Australia's smoking rates over recent decades but we are now at a relative standstill to try and reduce the >14% of smokers rate.
In November 2018, the UN unanimously supported the decriminalisation of possession and use of drugs, nicotine is a drug, yet Australian's are being criminalized for the use of nicotine in Ecigarettes.
Meanwhile nicotine in a deadly combustible cigarette is legal and available in abundance.
Australia is also a party to Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which aims to protect strong tobacco control policies from the harmful influence of the tobacco industry.
It is designed to prevent tobacco-related conflicts of interest in all branches and levels of government. However when the fourth highest form of revenue in Australia comes from and is relied on the sales of combustible tobacco, that means a significant proportion of that $17 billion per year is naturally attributed to those who feed from the "Quit Industry" pork barrel.
How can there NOT be a fundamental conflict of tobacco industry interest when the very revenue stream that feeds the "Quit Industry" is pork barreled on the back of funding that is reliant on a growing supply of public money that comes from the sales of combustible tobacco products?
There in lies the motive of the push back to market interrupting technology that are Ecigarettes with nicotine. The UK's own Royal College Of Physicians, the same institution that called out the harms of smoking the loudest, endorses the use of Ecigarettes as a 95% safer way to quit smoking.
Yet here in Australia the government spends millions upon millions of dollars, year on year on a "Quit Industry" that is clearly losing traction in this field.
This is why you see scare tactics around the use of Ecigarettes. They conflate and distort "scientific findings" to baffle you with proverbial bovine excrement, generate teenage prevalence figures that are designed to mislead the public and even say things like "Public Health England Lies".
Seriously? One of the most respected world authorities on smoking would lie about the harms of Ecigarettes?
"It's just feeding a new generation for Big Tobacco", really?
Ecigarettes have helped reduce stock prices of Big Tobacco so much so that they have had no choice but to invest in the Ecigarette industry, it's inconvenient but should tobacco companies be merchants of death forever?
They are just some examples of those who stand to lose the most from a government that will eventually remove the blinkers on this issue. Meanwhile there is little doubt that those who enjoy the pork will do all they can to keep hoodwinking the current government.
Some members of the current Australian government and opposition are starting to see a clearer picture now as they are finally beginning to hear and see the real story and are taking the blinkers off.
More than 28 members of the current LNP government oppose health minister Greg Hunt's direction on this issue. This was on exhibition when his party forced the health minister to back flip on an extremely punitive ban on nicotine imports that he was about to put past the Governor General's office in June this year.
As voters, how long will we allow a select few to keep rolling in the glory of taxpayers money at the cruel expense of people's premature death?
Pork barreling always starts with a political motive.
Saving lives from premature death should never be political or a waste of taxpayers money.
That is why I suggest not only thinking about but also acting upon this issue that not only effects the Australian "Quit Industry, but also other industries that also have pork on their fork!