But conceding parties taking a big reform agenda to elections “don’t tend to win”, he said the AMA aimed to work on a solution with government outside of the election cycle.
“It is time now for action,” he declared.
“Too often for policy makers, the short-term nature of our budget cycles (and) the long-term pay-off of prevention … come into conflict. It’s hard for governments to make these long-term decisions.
Australia’s peak medical body has demanded a tax on high-sugar drinks.
Speaking to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Omar Khorshid also indicated support for a rise in alcohol prices.
Dr Khorshid said the group would call for a 20 per cent tax on high-sugar beverages in a bid to cut “skyrocketing” diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Camera IconAustralian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid has called for a 20 per cent tax on high-sugar drinks. Gary Ramage / NCA NewsWire Credit: News Corp Australia
“It’s for this reason the AMA is going to campaign on a very clear and concrete policy: a tax on sugary drinks.”
Dr Khorshid backed a 40 per cent tax per 100g of sugar, predicting roughly half would be passed onto the consumer.
“It’s not enough to put sugary drinks out of the reach of Australian consumers, but it’s enough to send the signal and start to change behaviour,” he said.
He claimed modelling showed the measure would have “zero impact” on sugar cane farmers, despite 2.4b litres of high-sugar beverages being consumed in Australia annually.
He described the beverages as a “key contributor” to diabetes and cardiovascular disease which had no nutritional value.
The AMA president said the tax enjoyed widespread support in the community and would pale in comparison to taxes imposed on tobacco products.
“It’s really a signal to the society from government to say: … this product is harming your health, and the health of others in the community, so let’s drive a change in society,” he said.
Dr Khorshid also flagged his support for increased alcohol prices, either via higher volumetric taxes or an increased floor price.
“A lot of the harm of alcohol is caused at the very bottom of the price pyramid of alcohol, where the quantity of alcohol you get for the lowest price is at most risk of harming people,” he said.
Australia’s tobacco excise has been consistently raised since 2010, pushing the average cost of a packet of cigarettes to $35.
World-leading plain packaging, implemented in 2012, was also passed despite significant opposition from the tobacco industry.
Dr Khorshid described Australia’s approach to tobacco as a “big win”, but said taxes were not a silver bullet in reducing consumption.
“Tax is part of it, but so are campaigns, so are rules and regulations around where you can and can’t use those products. Tobacco took decades to do, but we’ve done well,” he said.