Plain packaging cigarettes:

Dr Brendan Shaw, chief executive, Medicines Australia, writes: Re. “Big pharma, big tobacco and opposition to plain packs” (Wednesday, item 10). Wednesday’s article completely misrepresented the pharmaceutical industry’s attitude towards plain packaging of tobacco products and to smoking more broadly.

This misrepresentation was grounded in the assumption that companies supporting a lobby organisation — in this case the American Legislative Exchange Council — are obliged to support every policy position taken by that group.

ALEC’s advocacy platform spans myriad policy issues covering many sectors and it is unlikely that every one of its members supports every one of its policy positions. Certainly, the suggestion that a healthcare industry such as the medicines industry is opposed to a public policy measure that will encourage consumers to stop smoking is counter-intuitive, inherently contradictory and patently wrong.

In fact, two of Australia’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers laid out very clearly their position on this issue in Wednesday’s article and are quoted: “Pfizer fully supports plain packaging in the spirit of preventing future generations of smokers.”

And GSK said: “If ALEC is lobbying the Australian government as you have suggested, they are not doing this on behalf of GSK and we do not support it.”

Furthermore, GSK has a statement posted on the homepage of its website, which reads, in part: “We absolutely do not endorse or support the views of organisations that campaign on behalf of the tobacco industry against anti-smoking measures.”

These two companies could hardly have made their position clearer and the suggestion in the article that they have a different position is disingenuous. For the record, Medicines Australia supports the Australian government’s legislation to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products and has no issue with it.

The business of the pharmaceutical industry is to develop medicines and vaccines that save lives, reduce pain and prevent disease. If companies were to depart from this ethos, the commercial basis for their existence and their value proposition to the community would disintegrate.

Companies invest billions of dollars in medical research to develop smoking cessation medicines that are designed to help smokers quit.

So the conspiracy theorists have it very wrong. Two of Australia’s leading medicines companies indicated in Wednesday’s Crikey article that they support plain packaging of tobacco products.

The suggestion that pharmaceutical companies would deliberately promote smoking to boost sales of smoking cessation medicines is ridiculous and, frankly, insulting to all those people working in those companies who invest their time and energy every day in improving peoples’ health.

Medicines Australia supports plain packaging of tobacco products because it will discourage people from smoking, reduce smoking rates at a population level, improve health outcomes and ultimately save lives. And that’s the business we’re in. I can’t put it plainer than that.

Amnesty International:

Eleanor Hogan writes: Re. “Bess Price v Amnesty Int: inside the NT election storm” (yesterday, item 3).  The Northern Territory is the currently the only jurisdiction on track to reach its goals in closing the gap in Indigenous and non-Indigenous death rates by 2031. Between 1998 and 2010, Indigenous death rates decreased significantly by an average annual rate of 45.9 deaths per 100,000. The only other state to come close was Queensland, with a decrease of 18 deaths per 100,000 during this period. But I suspect this is good news about the NT that the urban left probably would not want to hear. See the recent COAG Reform Council report, Chapter 2.

COAG, unlike many urban left commentators, takes a much longer term perspective than five years in its outlook on addressing Indigenous disadvantage in the NT.

I don’t personally agree with the way the NT Intervention was imposed — and I was in the Territory when it happened — or with many of the measures associated with it. I don’t want to make excuses for the NTER’s excesses but seriously, does anyone really think that such an extreme situation of disadvantage as that which existed in remote Australia for decades would be reversed in five years?

And surely Aboriginal people have the right to gender as well as race equality, and to live in safe communities as well as without racial discrimination. I don’t know why everyone is so keen on driving a wedge between race and gender issues when it comes to remote-living Aboriginal people.

I think you people need to broaden the focus of your outlook on remote Australia, and try to understand the issues facing people living in this area in more depth, rather than getting caught up in media bunfights between different personalities.

Kon Vatskalis MLA, Member for Casuarina, writes: I am writing to clarify my comments regarding Bess Price’s comments about Amnesty International.

I commented on Facebook rejecting Price’s allegations towards Amnesty International and I stand firm to my statement that organisations like Amnesty International gave voice to my people who were imprisoned without trial during the ’70s military dictatorship in Greece.

The  reference to “my people” is not for  members of my family but for my friends and neighbours who were taken from their homes by the military police and were exiled for many years in camps situated in deserted islands in the Aegean. No trial, no defence lawyer, no fixed sentence.

It was only the action of organisations such as Amnesty International who informed the world of the situation in Greece and gave heart to us who had to endure such terrible conditions.

A Crikey reader writes: In the article about Bess Price and Amnesty International you incorrectly use terminology:

  1. Do not capitalise the word Indigenous when referring to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. A non-capitalised “i” is used when referring to international indigenous people.
  2. Indigenous is not widely accepted any more, it is an anachronism from early government days. It is best to use the term Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.
  3. The use of the term Aborigines is also an anachronism and is associated with earlier colonial times that do not engender positive feelings.

I suggest developing an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander editing policy if you are going to write an article discussing Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders in the future. This policy should be developed by consulting appropriate Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander organisations.

Obviously that’s an and/or overkill, however getting your phraseology correct would be a good start considering you are educating the public through your articles.


Andrew Millard writes: Gari Sullivan (yesterday, comments) accuses Charles Richardson of “wild speculation” for suggesting that “the immediate departure of Assad can only be good for the country”; where is the proof, he asks?

Sullivan then proceeds to offer similar speculation (“Assad’s immediate departure from office will create a power vacuum that will result in far greater bloodshed than if he leaves office through a measured process”; “[Assad] is the best guarantee to minimalise the killing”) and yet despite his strong criticisms of Richardson’s journalism, he himself then offers no proof whatsoever to back up his own claims.

And before he asks, yes, I have lived in the Middle East for close to a decade, and I have set foot in Syria.


Keith Thomas writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Crikey implied pretty strongly that, at the point of laying a charge (before full investigation, before mounting a prosecution case and before conviction) of bribery, journalists can legitimately, even justifiably, be treated differently from people charged with other offences. What other offences merit different treatment?

I hope you don’t mean that upper-class crime by people living in nice suburbs (like financial fraud, tax evasion and insider trading that are not directly and visually associated with their victims, unlike, say, assault and theft) should see those people charged treated with forelock-tugging respect.