Injecting some nutrition into the GST

Like many of us, I suspect, I have a strong disposition towards eating significant quantities of chocolate on a regular basis, so I do have some vested interest in the so-called “fatty food tax” that is being bandied about as an option in the war on obesity. The Obesity Policy Coalition, which consists of Cancer Council Victoria, the Victorian branch of Diabetes Australia, VicHealth, and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, proposes that an annual nutritional survey be introduced, and that the data gathered from this survey be used to drive the particular foods that the tax would target.

While conservatives are sure to baulk in quick time at the prospect of another tax being introduced and the government sticking its grubby nose into our shopping trolleys, I really do think that a tax-neutral scheme could work, work well, and better yet for the poll junkies in the Rudd Government, be sold effectively to a sceptical public. Tax-neutral, you ask? As Jane Martin suggests in the article linked above, what I believe would work best is for healthy foods (e.g. particularly fruit and vegetables, wholegrain-based foods, lean meats, etc.) to be subsidised by the government through a reduction in the rate of GST for those items, with tax reductions funded through corresponding increases in the rate of taxation on unhealthy foods (e.g. alcohol, sweets, high-fat snacks, soft drinks, energy drinks, etc.). Such a scheme would inject two powerful incentives into the market for people to think more carefully about the choices they make at the supermarket, and the sorts of food that they should be eating a lot of.

Making the scheme tax neutral cuts through a lot of the “tax rubbishing” that is sure to be done by the sorts of one-eyed ideologues who would be happy to drive their expensive cars through the undergrowth before they will contribute to a public roads system, or are happy to see the less well-off attend substandard schools and be treated as substandard hospitals because they don’t believe in public education or health systems. In short, such people are selfish mugs, and normally shouldn’t be given the time of day. However, they also shouldn’t be allowed to let their prejudices taint the perspective of everyday folk who just want the best for their families. Presumably there will also be costs to the economy involved in instantiating such a scheme, but I’m fairly certain that modelling of the scheme would produce long-term health benefits for the nation that dwarf the initial costs of its introduction.

This issue could be a quick win for public health; all that is needed is some analysis as suggested, what is likely to be some fairly gentle tuning of an existing tax measure, and the job is practically done. Mr. Rudd? Ms. Roxon?