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Call for Sugar Tax on Beverages Ignites Nanny State Debate Down Under

Sugar Tax report

Sugar Tax report – Image courtesy Grattan Institute (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Australians are divided over a proposal by the Grattan Institute to levy a so-called sugar tax on beverages to help tackle obesity. The independent think tank has released a report, ‘A sugary drinks tax – Recovering the community costs of obesity’, recommending that:

Australia should introduce a tax on sugary drinks to recoup some of the costs of obesity to the community.

The best option is an excise tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar, on all non-alcoholic, water-based drinks that contain added sugar.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce immediately rejected the idea, calling it “bonkers mad” — a tautology or saying the same things twice, as bonkers means mad. This didn't please dietitian Miranda Blake:

Joyce is a member of parliament for the Nationals, a party with close ties to the agricultural sector.

To use a football metaphor, some in the media could be accused of ‘playing the man not the ball’ (a personal attack):

There have been the inevitable accusations of hypocrisy over high taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. In response to Joyce's tweet saying the Australian Taxation Office “will not solve your weight problem”, Christian Peterson countered:

The target of Adam Cleave, who works in corporate affairs for Imperial Tobacco, was an old enemy:

Aaron Lane linked to his research for free market think tank The Institute of Public Affairs (@TheIPA), traditional supporters of small government and opponents of the so-called ‘nanny state':

Plenty of Twitter users were cynical about the motivation behind the proposal:

Others like Caitlin Syrett rejected the notion of relying on individual responsibility:

Dental public health expert Matthew Hopcraft had teeth in mind as you would expect:

The economics editor for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper had a strong view about the tax:

Meanwhile, some others have been thinking outside the box:

So, what exactly are the costs of the obesity crisis, and how would a sugar tax make a difference?

The report's co-author, Stephen Duckett, has addressed the issue in this podcast. It is included courtesy of their Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0):

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