Thursday, 16 August 2007
Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007
Debate resumed from 24 May, on motion by Mr John Cobb:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Labor supports the Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 in order to, amongst other things, replace the term ‘waste oil’ throughout the act with the term ‘used oil’ and make changes to the administration, operation and amendment of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council. The definition of the term ‘used oil’ referred to in the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act is the same as ‘waste oil’, and I note that the government’s view is that the term ‘used oil’ is considered to be more consistent with the act. The bill also provides that members of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council, other than members appointed to represent the Commonwealth and the Commissioner for Taxation, will be appointed on the basis of their knowledge or experience of a range of prescribed subject areas relevant to product stewardship arrangements for oil. The bill also strengthens and makes more demanding procedures for the disclosure of direct or indirect pecuniary interests by members of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council.
Labor supports these changes, but I want to put it on the record that the government seems to be dragging its heels on the issue of recycling of oil, as it is on so many environment issues. As the Department of the Environment and Water Resources states on its website, and as quoted in the Bills Digest:
Australians recycled approximately 194 million litres of their used oil in 2003 … between 60 and 100 million litres remains unaccounted for.
We don’t know what happens to this ‘missing oil’. However, anecdotal evidence suggests it could be:
- Sitting in temporary stockpiles (eg in the garage or shed);
- Retained in waste or scrap equipment (such as vehicles);
- Lost to the environment at collection points (eg leaking, spills etc).
- Put out for household rubbish collection; or
- Illegally dumped (in parks and reserves or in waterways, sewer systems and stormwater drains).
The improper use of used oil can pollute land, waterways, underground reservoirs and the marine environment. One litre of used oil can contaminate up to one million litres of water.
Consequently, it is clear that this is a significant environment issue in the light of the amount of oil that is used in the modern Australian economy. Labor hopes that this new legislative regime will lead to new initiatives and action in this area.
I note that the Assistant Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, the member for Parkes, has introduced this bill into the parliament. We in the Labor Party have been wondering all year what the assistant minister has been doing to justify his title. This small bill seems to have been just about it. It was extraordinary that the Assistant Minister for the Environment and Water Resources did not bother to speak on the Water Bill 2007 when it was before the House of Representatives this week. The Minister for the Environment and Water Resources described that bill as the most far reaching in the history of water management in Australia, and yet the assistant minister did not speak to it. As the member for Grayndler has pointed out, the assistant minister has an extra five advisers and two administrative staff. You have to wonder what the assistant minister actually does. He certainly does not deliver value for money.
When it comes to the broad issue of waste management, which this bill addresses in part, we see a lack of action by the government—a consistent pattern in relation to environment matters. In particular, there is no national waste management strategy. Issues associated with waste management and extended producer responsibility are still primarily left to state and territory governments to manage. The government’s approach to consumer waste, including plastic bags, has been timid, and we are not seeing any comprehensive approach to issues associated with climate change or waste.
A report released yesterday by Visy, SITA Environmental Solutions, Global Renewables, WSN Environmental Solutions and the Total Environment Centre outlines an impressive plan to prevent two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. The report, entitled Australia’s climate change time bomb: The greenhouse legacy of landfill and the solution, suggests the dumping of food, garden, paper and wood wastes produces high levels of landfill gas which has a warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide. It also suggests that early action to prevent the disposal of food, garden, paper and wood wastes in landfill could prevent up to two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from entering the atmosphere in the longer term. We have not heard the government address these issues with any degree of detail or depth, nor has it investigated the environmental and climate change opportunities that arise from good waste management practices. There is virtually no discussion from the government about the economic opportunities that would arise from addressing these issues.
Global Renewables—one of the authors of the report mentioned earlier—provides an incredible example of the opportunities that are just waiting to be seized. In March 2007, Global Renewables announced a $5 billion deal in the UK to cut greenhouse pollution by more than four million tonnes. The tragedy is that an Australian company had to go to Britain to realise their ambitions. Labor’s position is clear. Labor will support companies like Global Renewables.
We recognise that modern, clean industries that minimise resource consumption, waste and pollution generation are the key to a sustainable economy. We will work with state and territory governments to consider extended producer responsibility schemes for priority waste. We recognise that schemes to manage whitegoods, televisions, computers, tyres, batteries and mobile phones at the end of their life cycle have been successful overseas and we will consider their suitability to Australia. Importantly, Labor supports the phase-out of plastic shopping bags, with a legislated ban if necessary. This is another issue where the government has, frankly, been asleep at the wheel. Labor will look seriously at the recommendations of the Australia’s climate change time bomb report.
Labor is also committed to diversifying the Australian fuel mix. As the member for Brand made clear in his 2005 Australian fuel industry blueprint, a diversified Australian fuel industry would make Australia a more self-sufficient country. I strongly believe we must increase the use of Australian transport fuels and reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Clearly, that means developing and using cleaner fuels.
We need national leadership to develop alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and liquid petroleum gas, as well as future fuels such as hydrogen. In closing, Labor supports this bill, but the Australian public definitely deserves a far more comprehensive and focused approach to waste management.
The Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007 is a very positive government initiative which recognises the growing reality, in Australia and throughout the world, that natural resources, which in the past have been considered plentiful, are indeed finite and that what was used once and then discarded ought now to be reused, if that is possible. It is vital to recognise that our world does have finite resources and the Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007 is yet another recognition by the Howard government that we are a clean and green government. This bill is being brought in because it does bring about positive initiatives and changes which will benefit Australia’s environment.
The recognition that resources are finite was formalised in the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000, and the bill being debated here today initiates changes that have been suggested as a result of the first review of that piece of legislation. The act itself suggested that reviews should take place every four years. Amendments in this bill include, for example, changing the words ‘waste oil’ in the legislation to become instead ‘used oil’. I suppose the usage of the words ‘waste oil’ indicates that this oil has no further purpose and ought to be discarded; whereas the use of the words ‘used oil’ reflects the idea that oil is not necessarily rendered useless once it has been used. Consequently it is not actually waste, because it is a product and a resource which has ongoing benefits to the community if it is able to be reused.
You might suggest that small amendments like this are not important, but they do help to create in the mind of the Australian community the thought that we need to be more aware of the finite nature of our nation’s resources. If we are able to use better wording in legislation, it helps to reinforce over and over that, when we do have a product that has been used but that can be reused, we ought to look upon it as a usable resource and not as waste.
Other changes that are suggested in this bill include that members appointed to the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council be appointed to the position as a consequence of their experience, knowledge and expertise of issues relating to this field, rather than being appointed—as is the case prior to the passage of this bill—simply as representatives of a particular body. Indeed, many appointments might well have been made on the basis of a person’s experience, knowledge and expertise, but the change in this bill seeks to reinforce the need for that level of qualification so that the person is better able to make a positive contribution to the work of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council.
These changes when enacted will ensure that those on the advisory board will actually have life experiences and a practical, hands-on understanding of relevant issues as they arise. This will not affect those members appointed to the advisory board to represent the Australian government or the Commissioner of Taxation, for understandable reasons. It is recommended as a result of the review of the legislation that those who are appointed by the Australian government and the Commissioner of Taxation will now become non-voting members of the council. This change means that the Australian government’s and the commissioner’s representatives, while they may not have the same level of expertise as other members on the board, will not have the same level of influence either. The voting membership will have a high degree of expertise, and that is a situation which is eminently desirable. The changes in the legislation reflect the willingness to embrace the idea that this legislation must be as effective as possible while equally being as politically and professionally independent as possible.
The bill provides for the introduction of more defined procedures by which members of the advisory board can disclose their pecuniary interests, which will ensure that any of those interests clearly do not pose a threat to the impartiality of the member. It is always important to try to guarantee that there are no conflicts of interest. Finally, the bill allows for new regulations to be created governing issues such as determining eligibility for oil stewardship benefits, the adopting of oil testing methods or laboratory accreditation standards from time to time.
Overall, the amendments to the bill are relatively minor. They are the result of a review process, and I think that it is good that in 2007, when we have legislation that has been in operation for a number of years, we review it to see whether the legislation as originally enacted still serves the Australian community as best it can. It is vital that, as a parliament, we can make small changes, small adjustments and small improvements that will ultimately improve the benefits obtained by the original legislation. That is a very positive step forward. I am very pleased to commend the bill to the House. These amendments help to shore up the effectiveness and practicality of the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000, and I am quite confident that this bill will pass through this chamber and hopefully through the other place as soon as possible.
It is my pleasure to speak on the Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007 today. As has been said by the previous two speakers, this bill amends the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000, which underpins the government’s Product Stewardship for Oil program. Some people might find it a bit strange that I am speaking on what is basically a bill on recycling sump oil. I have a motive for speaking on this bill. That motive is that I have had people come to my electorate office, quite a few local businesses, and say, ‘We have a real crisis in the recycling or the management of used oil.’ It is generally called sump oil.
It is a huge problem because in the garages, the factories and the businesses in my electorate there are 44-gallon drums and other storage containers that are absolutely choc-a-block with oil waiting to be stored, to be treated or to have something done with it. The danger in that is that, if eventually people no longer have the ability to store this oil, they then start doing creative things with it. You can only soak so many posts in oil so that when you put them in the ground the white ants do not get to them. There are only so many things that you can do with sump oil. When we were kids, we used to pour it down ants’ holes if they were causing us problems. That is probably not very environmentally friendly, but I do remember that it was when I was a child.
There is a real need to do something productive with recycled oil. I say this because the local people have come to us and said, ‘Look, if you guys don’t do something about it, we’re going to get Channel 7 in’—as they always threaten to do in your electorate office. They say, ‘We are going to get all of the media on to this case because no-one is dealing with this issue.’ The federal government is dealing with this issue. And the opposition have already said they support this bill, so there is a united front trying to do something about dealing with this oil. We not only want to give further incentives for people to recycle and treat oil so it can be reused but want to make it an industry that is attractive for people to enter. That is why there is something like up to 50c per litre available for people who treat recycled oil.
I have to shoot this home and be a little bit partisan from a Western Australian point of view, because in my state there are something like 20 million litres of stockpiled oil waiting to have something done with it. You might ask: ‘Why is Western Australia different to anywhere else?’ The fact is that we have a booming economy which has grown in all sectors. It is not just the mining sector that is growing enormously. As a result, people are using more machines, more cars and more industrial machinery. So, when they drain this oil, what do they do with it? The Western Australian state government have the primary responsibility for environmental protection and waste management in our state. They really have not addressed this issue. The Commonwealth have shown leadership on this. They have shown leadership by putting incentives and a stewardship management program in place, but so far the Western Australian government really have not got on the back of it.
The danger, as previous speakers have said, is that when people start pouring it down the grates on local streets or on the edge of local waste dumps, it is not contained. You get a decent rain and the next minute it is in the waterway. We know that one litre of oil, as previous members have already alluded to, can contaminate something like one million litres of water. You only have to see when a ship runs aground or there has been a small spill by even a small boat that everyone has to get into action to protect the marine life and the bird life in estuarine, river or marine situations. Oil is a real problem if it is released into the environment. Tipping it into a dump, down a drainage hole or even into a sewerage does not go too well.
We had a problem in my electorate with the Brookdale Waste Treatment Plant. The Brookdale Waste Treatment Plant treated everything from nail polish through to PCBs. The problem was that it was contaminating the local environment. The rangers from the local council used to have to go around the next morning and pick up all the dead birds around the edge of the wetlands because it was becoming such an embarrassment. This waste treatment plant was out of control. It had nowhere to deal with it and send it on, so it was getting into the water table, the drains around the area and the main waterways. So the Western Australian state government’s record on this is not too flash.
One of the problems in Western Australia, even though there is a regime to deal with recycling oil, is the market for it. I understand—I could be corrected—that it was to be sent to Singapore. It was to be offloaded in large tankers to Singapore and to be refined there. However, I understand that that financial and business arrangement hit some turbulent times and, as a result, it fell through. That is why this stockpile of sump oil has been building up and it is a real environmental time bomb, waiting to go off unless the huge amount of stored oil is dealt with.
In Western Australia, the funding that has been given to all recyclers is helpful because local government authorities are generally the ones that end up being responsible. It trickles down from the state government, which divests it to local government authorities. There has been $4 million in Western Australia, for example, put into a transitional assistance grant program to help with the sustainable use of oil recycling. This is very helpful. It has helped set up more than 200 local government authorities for oil collection facilities. They have a joint venture that enables residue from recycled oil to be incorporated. Sometimes they do creative things such as refining it to the extent that it can actually be used in bitumen or hot mix plants. Those are potential uses for it. There are some ways to deal with this. The Australian government is committed to helping the Western Australian government and the industry generally overcome the difficulties they currently experience in managing this oil. One difficulty is that, unless the oil is refined to a level where it can be used again as quality oil in machines, it is very difficult to take it any further.
This has also triggered interest from the Motor Trades Association because, as I said earlier, the company which normally took the oil in Western Australia was called Wren Oil. It hit commercial and financial problems. A gentleman called Mr Horton, from Keates Road Tyre & Battery Service in Armadale in my electorate, told me that he believes that, because the local authorities could not deal with it, the central and state governments should do something about it. We are doing something about it.
In my last few minutes, I want to respond to several things that the opposition spokesman said on the missing oil and this program. I suppose that in some respects the opposition spokesman is well placed to talk on this because he has been somewhat recycled from Midnight Oil into the federal parliament. Labor had to find something useful for him to do—not that he has proved himself since he has been here. In fact, I understand that they are trying to hide him as much as they can. There is a recycled Midnight Oil spokesman on the other side and he has something to say because he has some attachment to this issue, but, when he started to talk about other waste management issues and how the federal government should do something about national strategies, it was typical of the opposition trying to find some way to make the federal government responsible for this.
The state governments are trying to say that we should be responsible for managing local roads and planning and all sorts of things. They are local issues and they should be dealt with locally. Every time the local government authorities try to do something at a local level, out come people such as the former member for Roleystone, Martin Whitely. When the local government authorities in my electorate tried to bring in a high-temperature incinerator to deal with other wastes, he blocked it. As a member of the state Labor government, Martin Whitely was very active in blocking this high-temperature incinerator. Again, local government had to pick up the tab and find other landfill ways of dealing with waste. So Labor say one thing and do another.
We do have issues, as we know. There is a huge issue to do with recycling phones, computers and other modern-day waste products. The opposition member talked about how—shock, horror!—this government is not doing enough about plastic bags. We are. We had a very proactive program promoting the use of cloth bags rather than plastic bags. I can assure you that, if you go through my newsletters, you will find high promotion of that program. I even handed out my own calico bags as freebies for people to encourage that. So the opposition are duplicitous on this because they say one thing and do another. The opposition spokesman is talking about putting a levy or a tax or a ban on plastic bags. How wacky is it to want to ban plastic bags? It would never happen. He is away with the birds again. They should recycle him somewhere else. The opposition spokesman also talked about alternative fuels. Again, Labor say one thing and do another. We tried to increase the level of alternative fuels, such as ethanol, in our fuels. When we did, the member for Fraser came into this place and bagged the whole use of alternative fuels and said they were going to ruin engines.
The Labor Party say that they support this bill and that is good, but behind their hands they are trying to destroy any positive initiative like this. At the end of the day, I want to be able to go back to Mr John Horton and say, ‘The federal government is doing something about this. We are putting in better stewardship by having not only people on the board with expertise but also greater financial incentives so that people will actually get into the industry and recycle this oil so that there is not an environmental problem.’ I am pleased to be associated with this bill and I will make sure that the responsibility is sheeted home and that people understand that, as a federal government, we are working together to resolve this problem.
The Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007, as we know, amends the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000, which underpins the government’s Product Stewardship for Oil program. I will just make three or four basic points which others have not covered and try to draw out where we might learn from the experience. The first point I want to make is that the state and territory governments, as we know, have primary responsibility for environmental protection and waste management. This is one of those not uncommon arrangements between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments where oversight is very much with the state and territory governments—particularly in South Australia—and so there is always the risk of some of the intent being lost in the actual practical outcome.
This bill endeavours to pick up some of those concerns that have been out there for some time. I think the issue of the advisory council is quite an important one. The bill expands its membership so that there is expertise in remote areas, on Indigenous issues and in research and development. It also requires a little more fiduciary care of those people who sit on the advisory council. The act is quite specific about ministerial intervention with regard to conflict of interest. I trust that that may assist with some of the concerns that I have heard on this particular issue.
Another area is the changes that the alignment of excise has created. In 2006, the excise arrangement changed and I accept the government’s argument that it was well intentioned—that is, from July 2006, when there was a significant variation. But it did change the way that excise was charged and then reimbursed by the government. The not uncommon complaint from industry is that there is a lag time in payment to government and return of the rebate. An interesting point that was made to me concerned the changes of usage within industry of this particular product. I am sure that the people involved with this legislation would have been made aware of that. But there have been significant changes in usage within my state that took a significant market out of existence which changed the way this product is utilised. I therefore welcome the working group that was agreed to on 2 June 2007 and comprises the Commonwealth, South Australian and Western Australian governments or community to investigate used oil issues. That is quite important because the eastern part of the country has a very large market and the viability of that market, particularly when you look at the overseas influence as well, is more sustainable because of its size, and it becomes more viable accordingly.
I will conclude by looking at the product stewardship benefit rates in 2005-06. For refined base oil the benefit was worth—as I understand it from the chart I have here—something like 50c a litre. A range of categories here endeavour to support this product stewardship arrangement. In my electorate there was concern about the collection process. With the financial rearrangement, particularly of the Fuel Tax Act 2006, certain companies—and I am quick to add that they are reputable companies—were having to charge different prices because of these changes. That created a significant reaction. I trust that that is understood by the government and that is why I have mentioned this working group, which I think is important. As the previous speaker, the member for Canning, acknowledged, this is an important environmental issue. The statistics are quite remarkable. I think something like 500 million litres of oil is used in this country per annum—it is certainly a figure of that order. The potential for damage to the environment is obvious. It is important that we get it right. I thank the government for its efforts, but I have my reservations whenever we work with our state friends about whether we will get the outcomes we desire. I wish the working group success in the way that they deal with this over the months ahead.
The Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007 will amend the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000, which is designed to ensure the environmentally sustainable management, recycling and re-use of Australia’s used oil. Most of the amendments in the bill implement recommendations of the 2004 review of the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000. These amendments concern the constitution and operation of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council, which advises me on matters relating to product stewardship arrangements for oil. The amendments will broaden the expertise of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council. Members will be appointed on the basis of their knowledge and/or experience in a range of prescribed subject areas that are relevant to the management and recycling of used oil. For example, one of the prescribed subject areas is the issues of remote communities in Australia, including those of remote Indigenous communities. The appointment of a council member with expertise in this area will ensure that I will be provided with the best advice on used oil management in remote communities.
The amendments provide clear procedures for the declaration of any pecuniary interests by members of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council and for the management of any conflicts of interest that may arise. This will ensure the independence of the advice that I receive from the council. Further amendments will allow regulations made under the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 to require that the most up to date versions of prescribed oil testing procedures be used to determine eligibility for the benefit payments that are made under the act. This will ensure that the re-refined oil that attracts the highest rate of benefit meets the most up-to-date quality criteria. The amendments contained in this bill will strengthen the operation of the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 and contribute to the sustainable management of Australia’s used oil.
The opposition spokesman, the member for Kingsford Smith, made it plain that the opposition support the bill. I appreciate that. He also talked about global warming and the environment in general, and he intimated that our government did not have a national plan for waste. I do not know if he wants us to take over the responsibilities of state and local government, one of which is indeed the collection of waste.
We created in 2000, and are now amending, a national project, a national incentive, for the collection of used oil. More than that, we are promoting and making possible the refinement and re-use of oil, even to the extent of lube-to-lube. Of the over 200 million litres that are currently being re-used in Australia, almost one-sixth is now being used lube-to-lube, to be re-used in airconditioning or, primarily, in engine oil. That is an incredible thing and one which would not happen without the 50c that we provide for every litre that is so re-used. This has been one of the great successes of re-usable waste in Australia—in this case, used oil. I commend the bill to the House, and I believe that it is doing a very good job.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.