Those of us following with fascinated interest the zany stump-jump zealotry of Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s own Trumpery spruiker, felt moved to stand and applaud his response to suggestions of a sugar tax to deter fizzy drink consumers and thus the perils of obesity for young and old.
With a panache reminiscent of the earthy Victorian premier Henry Bolte, Barnaby – Bandicoot is sure Barnaby wouldn’t mind Bandicoot calling him Barnaby – retorted that people should eat less and walk more: a true National-woz-Country Party riposte to city nonsense. (Barnaby was a farm hand once, you should know.)
Rolling up his metaphorical sleeves for a verbal onslaught, the deputy prime minister described the Grattan Institute tax suggestion as “bonkers mad” and “a moralistic tax”. The Australian Tax Office “is not going to save your health”, he opined, and people should walk around the block to ward off the kilograms.
It is all about self control, you see, and the sugar farmers need protection from fat, slavering folk from the cities who might stop pouring sugar down their throats, stop supporting farmers, who should be free to grow whatever they want, even if it makes consumers grow fat and ill.
“Take the responsibly upon yourself,” he intoned, like a prophet on a rock. He should have used “thyself” for better effect.
While we were reeling from the force of his logic, he deftly grabbed a federal government department and dragged it from Canberra to his electorate, a move that could cost agriculture nearly $200 million a year after costing $26-odd million in transfer costs. Just a coincidence, by the way, that this bit of “decentralisation” favoured Barnaby’s electoral fortunes.
What can be done? Can his putative boss, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, do anything to stop this mad circus act? No, actually.
Malcolm is a helpless bystander in all this, dismasted and drifting in a typhoon as sea monsters like Joyce, Dutton, ScoMo, Pyne (and is that Tony Abbott looming behind the reef?) circle Malcolm’s sinking boat.
Taxing sugary drinks is a lively issue overseas, reports satirical/news periodical ‘Private Eye’, to which Bandicoot subscribes. A recent issue reports on Coca-Cola’s alarm at international moves to tax sugary drinks so favoured by children and unthinking toothless fat folk.
Such a tax in the UK was welcomed by health campaigners as “bold” and “brave”. Which indeed it is. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver called the move “a big moment in child health” and a “symbolic slap” to business. He sounded almost Barnabyish, but in a far more positive way.
‘Private Eye’ quotes from emails that describe Coke’s efforts to fight such a tax in 13 nations – possibly including Australia – with a campaign that aims to build a case against the tax “with some promising support among [British] Conservative party members”.
Publicly, Coke argues that a tax would hurt poorer consumers, but behind closed doors it is seeking to broaden the tax, to include other high-sugar drinks such as fruit juices and flavoured milk.
‘Private Eye’ reports that the Tories are having some success with the anti-tax campaign. A Tory MP told the recent Tory conference that the “poorest in society” would suffer from having their “periodic treat” costing more, according to the magazine. Bandicoot wonders what the MP regards as “periodic”.
Keep an eagle eye out, dedicated readers, for signs that such a strategy is being trotted out in Australia. Outfits such as Coke won’t change strategy just because it’s Australia, so the campaign will be easy to spot.
We will also be told that our poor – more likely our “disadvantaged” – can ill afford to have their “periodic treat” priced out of reach. Bandicoot has a strong hunch that cane farmers and big corporations can rely on Barnaby to stand up for them, in his inimitable style. Go, Barnaby!
* Visit Private Eye online at www.private-eye.co.uk for a gratis look.