House debates

Monday, 15 June 2020


Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Amendment (Sustainable Procurement Principles) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:44 am

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Amendment (Sustainable Procurement Principles) Bill 2020 would enshrine principles of sustainability in federal government procurement decisions. Indeed the bill amends the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 to create a positive duty for the accountable authority of a Commonwealth entity to procure recycled goods.

Importantly, the accountable authority of a Commonwealth entity must ensure that at least 30 per cent of the entity's procurement of goods is of recycled goods. This is not an aspirational target, but a baseline minimum, one to be built on by successively more ambitious targets to help us move towards a circular economy.

The bill also introduces mandatory sustainable procurement principles which must be taken into account in making purchasing decisions. Goods and property which can be reused, repaired or recycled should be considered, and goods which themselves contain recycled material should be given preference.

Environmental impacts, and fair and ethical sourcing practices, must also be considered by the decision-maker. This means goods and services which have lower adverse environmental impacts across their entire lifespan, and socially responsible supply chains, will be given preference.

This bill is necessary because, while currently the Commonwealth Procurement Rules do note a requirement to consider environmental sustainability, they provide little detail, and that which is provided is only as an afterthought in a list of non-financial costs and benefits. Yes, the National Waste Policy does make it clear that government procurement is an essential part of sustainable waste management, but it fails to set clear targets or binding obligations. And yes, all the environment ministers did meet last year to update the policy, but they did not set any concrete procurement targets for the public sector. In other words any progress regarding government procurement is way too slow and out of sync with the first element of the national waste export ban, which is scheduled to begin shortly.

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia is the peak body for waste management in Australia and it has consistently called for the federal government to take the lead by committing to the procurement of recycled materials. The association argues that a mandatory 30 per cent target for procurement of recycled goods will assist in the creation of a strong remanufacturing sector and show leadership for state and local governments. In other words the industry is waiting for the government to act and to lead, and this bill provides a simple first step that can be taken to kickstart the waste material market in Australia.

To put the need for this bill in context, Australia creates approximately 70 million tonnes of waste annually and only about 55 per cent of that is recycled. This is more waste and less recycling than the average for developed countries. And when we drill down into these broad figures the details are staggering—for instance, that each year we use 3.3 billion plastic bags, 2.6 billion coffee cups, 2.4 billion plastic straws and 1.3 billion plastic bottles; that about 80 per cent of our plastic is destined for landfill and that about 95 per cent of our household food waste, that's more than eight million tonnes a year, also ends up in landfill, making us one of the highest per capita food wasters in the world. Remember, glass in landfill can take up to a million years to decompose. And then there's the e-waste, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the toxic chemicals in our rubbish dumps.

And making matters even worse right now, is the finding of the Australia Council of Recycling that the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to the problem because households have increased their waste output by some 10 per cent.

No wonder Australia now hosts the largest landfill in the Southern Hemisphere, and this is only set to grow as the waste export ban is implemented.

On a positive note, though, just about everything can be re-used or recycled, thereby saving our resources, reducing dependence on international supply chains and helping to clean up the environment. Why, just one tonne of paper recycled saves 13 trees, 26,500 litres of water, 2½ barrels of oil and 4,100 kilowatt hours of electricity. Moreover cardboard in particular can be recycled up to eight times.

Recycled goods have of course a wide range of uses. Obviously paper and cardboard can be recycled and used again in the office. But old timber can also be re-used, or recycled into any number of engineered construction products. Steel, aluminium and glass can all be recycled. And even tyres can be recycled and used as a form of road gravel, or for reprocessing into products as diverse as wastewater treatment filters and soundproofing for walls. All of which obviously reduces the need for new materials and creates an internal market for Australia's waste resources.

But it will take strong and sustained political will to achieve this, which is why the Federal Government's recent commitment to tackle Australia's recycling crisis is good news. But it's news that will turn out to be just rhetoric unless and until Australian governments develop and apply the detailed policies, and spend the big money, needed to help create the reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure required.

It will also take the creation of markets for recycled goods if Australia's recycling crisis is to be addressed, because to create a genuinely circular economy Australia needs to have, or to create, the markets for the recovered materials. Only then will we be positioned to sustainably collect, recycle and reuse the country's waste, in other words to close the loop.

The waste and resource recovery industry has repeatedly noted that the waste export ban should be seen as an opportunity to create genuine Australian markets for Australian recycled materials. In other words the current Australian waste crisis is an economic opportunity for effective and long-term industry reform. And any new industry will undeniably create new employment opportunities, which is particularly important at the moment seeing how Australia is in an economic and financial hole, and that we must look at environmentally sustainable opportunities to create employment.

To that end this bill capitalises on the government's purchasing power to create a big new market for sustainable products and drive the shift to a circular economy, because the influential purchasing power of the federal government will encourage greater certainty in the remanufacturing market and drive demand for recovered resources.

I will now invite the member for Melbourne to speak about the bill, which he is seconding, in my remaining time.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:52 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. Australia has a problem with waste. People are doing the right thing and are trying to do the right thing. People are separating their recycling and trying to buy less, and people are trying to do things that ensure that there is less waste. But the government isn't stepping up to the plate. Although people are being asked to do more, and most people are, the government isn't matching that with its own behaviour. The government is not buying enough material made out of recycled goods when the government spends billions and billions of dollars each year. If the government decided that a proportion of the goods that it bought or which it got other people to procure had to be recycled, it would go a long way to minimising the waste we have in this country.

One of the other big problems that we have with waste is that we don't have enough domestic capacity to recycle products and to turn products into something else. As China closed its doors and said, 'We're not taking any more of Australia's waste,' what we haven't done is build recycling plants here in Australia. The latest crazy idea is that we'll just burn the waste and will convert waste to energy, as if that's somehow a solution. But that is not a circular economy. What we need to do is make sure that Australia has its own domestic recycling capacity, and an increased one, to deal with the fact that people want to do the right thing and that people want to separate their waste and see what can be recycled actually being recycled.

Government must be a model citizen here. Government must lead by example and lead by acting, and that's what this bill does. I commend the member for Clark for introducing it and I commend my fellow Greens colleague, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, for his work on the waste inquiry that has led to a number of these proposals and that has led to the government starting to take waste seriously. If government wants to be taken seriously and it wants to ask people to reduce their waste then it should start by doing it itself, and this bill is a good start.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.