A politician from Australia gave a speech at a major tobacco conference in South Korea, even though the government is currently working on changes to combat the concerning levels of teenage nicotine dependence.
This is the first instance in over ten years where a currently serving Australian politician has given a speech at a conference funded by the tobacco industry. Participating in these types of gatherings may violate a treaty established by the World Health Organization (WHO), which Australia has agreed to uphold.
The GTNF conference, sponsored by British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, and Juul Labs, took place in Seoul from September 19th to 21st.
Kezia Purick, an independent MP from the Northern Territory, was present at the conference, serving as a crucial networking opportunity for the tobacco and nicotine industry. She was also a speaker on a panel discussing industry regulations.
The discussion was overseen by David Bertram, a consultant and former manager of public affairs for the tobacco company Philip Morris International. Other participants included Adam Afriyie, a member of the UK’s Conservative party, and Marina Foltea, an expert in trade law.
Attendees had to pay a minimum of $7,000 to participate, with the cost varying depending on the chosen package. The package provided access to plenary sessions, panel discussions, and networking opportunities. Those who attended were required to be affiliated with the tobacco and vapor/nicotine industries or have a related interest.
Since 2003, Australia has agreed to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global treaty based on evidence, which requires the government to safeguard its policies from influence by the tobacco industry and its priorities.
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One of the clauses in the FCTC specifies that government interactions with the tobacco industry should only pertain to implementing successful tobacco control measures, and any collaborations with the industry should be declined. This rule applies to governments at the federal, state, and territory levels.
Guardian Australia put a series of questions to Purick, including who paid for her attendance, what was covered as part of any sponsorship to attend, what her response is to allegations her attendance breaches the FCTC and whether she met with tobacco, vaping and nicotine industry representatives.
Purick chose not to address all of the questions, instead stating that she finds it flattering that Guardian Australia is interested in the activities of an Independent member from a small jurisdiction.
She stated that her visit to South Korea was logged in the Members’ Register of Interest because the expenses exceeded $300 for gifts, donations, and gratuities.
The register of interests for the NT will be presented in March 2024, and the most recent update can be found online from March 2023.
Natasha Fyles, the chief minister of the Northern Territory, did not provide a response to requests for comment.
Purick previously served as the speaker of the Northern Territory parliament, but stepped down in 2020 following an investigation by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC). The ICAC discovered that Purick’s actions in attempting to establish a new political party were corrupt and a violation of public trust.
Purick disputed the conclusions at that time, claiming that she was not given a fair process or treatment by Icac. She filed a lawsuit against Icac regarding the conclusions and a resolution was reached outside of the courtroom in 2021.
According to public health professor and tobacco control expert Simon Chapman, Purick’s explanations regarding her attendance at the GTNF were unsatisfactory.
Chapman claimed that there should be repercussions for those who blatantly disregard Australia’s commitment to an international treaty by making obscene gestures. He stated that any politician who attends such an event would be blatantly violating Australia’s signature and ratification of the FCTC.
The FCTC, as outlined by the Australian government, states the responsibilities of public agencies and officials regarding interactions with the tobacco industry. It is expected that if such meetings are deemed necessary for the creation of public policy, they should be conducted in a public, accountable, and transparent manner whenever possible (unless prohibited by law).
The guidelines state to avoid agreeing to unofficial meetings or accepting invitations to social events or hospitality, such as lunch, products, or gifts. It is important to not engage in any interactions that may give the impression of a partnership or cooperation.
In May, the Albanese government declared that it will prohibit the importation of vaping products without a prescription. This includes products with nicotine and those labeled as nicotine-free, preventing their import and sale in general.
The federal, state, and territory health ministers are currently having ongoing meetings to discuss the technical specifics of upcoming legislation. A specific date for the implementation of the reforms has not yet been determined.
Mark Butler, the federal health minister, was reached out to for a statement.