News & Current Affairs
03 October 2014
'Thank you for smoking': Leyonhjelm confirms Philip Morris backing
Liberal Democratic senator gives speech praising smokers but it emerges party accepted tens of thousands of dollars from tobacco giant in 2013 election
David Leyonhjelm said politicians who continued to slug smokers with higher taxes had an ‘even filthier habit’
The Liberal Democrat senator, David Leyonhjelm, has confirmed that his party receives funding from the tobacco giant Philip Morris, after giving a speech thanking the nation’s “wonderful, generous” smokers and comparing tobacco control to the “catastrophic” war on drugs.
In a wry speech that veered from quoting Tony Abbott to South Park’s Mr Mackey, the fiercely libertarian Leyonhjelm told the Senate he expressed his gratitude to “the roughly 18% of the Australian population who engage in a despised activity”.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for smoking,” he said. “Your generosity to the nation’s Treasury is truly staggering. The government collects around $8bn in tobacco excise each year.”
The cost imposed on the health system by smokers was far less, about $320m, he said.
“Depending on rainfall, smokers also cost the taxpayers about $150m a year in bushfire control,” he added.
Those politicians who continued to slug smokers with higher taxes had an “even filthier habit”, he said, accusing them of “spending your money and other people’s money on things that are often even sillier than spending too much money on cigarettes and booze”.
He said the “flagrant theft” from smokers by so-called sin taxes had come to resemble the “catastrophic failures” of prohibition and the 40-year “war” against illicit drugs waged by governments.
Leyonhjelm’s office confirmed on Thursday that the party had accepted “tens of thousands” of dollars from the multinational Philip Morris in the lead-up the 2013 election.
The minor party, which unexpectedly won a place into the Senate last year, has disclosed receiving small sums varying from about $7,000 to $20,000 a year since 2007, but has not recorded the names of any donors.
The party’s 2012-13 electoral funding disclosure shows the party received $31,295 that financial year, but does not reveal the source of the money.
A spokesman for the senator said the Philip Morris donations had been fully recorded and would be made public when updated disclosure forms covering the period were released, due in February 2015. “Nothing has been hidden,” he said.
He also denied the money had played a part in influencing Leyonhjelm’s vocal opposition to plain packaging of tobacco products.
“The Liberal Democrats have been around for about 20 years, and freedom of smokers’ rights was the first issue, and the party only got its first donation [from Philip Morris] last year,” he said. “So it’s not like anyone’s mind was changed or anything.”
About 19,000 Australians a year die from diseases related to tobacco, and smoking is considered the country’s largest cause of preventable deaths.