Senate debates

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010; Second Reading

9:38 am

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Greens bill for a government run beverage container deposit and recovery scheme, a scheme that would collect a deposit from importers and producers of beverage containers under four litres and provide a full refund to consumers when containers are returned to a collection point. It does not sound like a bad idea, does it? In spirit it is not but, instead of allowing the reasonable processes the government is taking through COAG to run their course, the Greens have put this bill up today. Instead of trying to get an outcome that is fitting with the South Australian scheme that has been running for 35 years and instead of trying to get an outcome that is fitting with the recently enacted Northern Territory scheme, the Greens want to throw out these schemes and implement a national scheme—a national scheme that is government run rather than use the current state based industry-run schemes as a base. There is definitely a need for further work in this area.

The schemes in South Australia and the Northern Territory are based on industry-run arrangements. This bill proposes a government-run scheme—a government-run scheme that would be a different mechanism over and above the two existing arrangements. Locally, this only leads to increased regulatory complexity as well as cost to industry and the community. I am unsure why the Greens consider it is a good thing to increase legislation in this space when we have a system that works. It is run in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Federal Labor is committed to reducing the amount of packaging, waste and litter in our society. This includes increasing recycling facilities and schemes for beverage containers. We want to continue to work on this with state and territory governments through the COAG process to expand the schemes to all states and territories. We are not in favour of a national government-run scheme. What we are doing at the moment is to work through the COAG regulation impact statement process. This process is across the broad issues encompassing packaging waste and includes container deposit schemes. This process has just reached the decision regulation impact statement stage. That means that this bill, which would be over and above state schemes, would sideline all of the good work done during the COAG process. It is appropriate that we continue the good work underway in the COAG processes, work that is seeking to expand the South Australian and Northern Territory industry-run schemes, not impose national government-run regulation of packaging waste.

According to the consultation regulatory impact statement for COAG, Australia's packaging recycling rate has increased from 39 per cent in 2003 to 63 per cent in 2011. This was achieved through concerted industry, state and local government action and also the Australian Packaging Covenant. I repeat: this increase in recycling rates in just eight years from 39 per cent to 63 per cent is quite an achievement and it has again, as I have said, been achieved through cooperation by industry, state and local governments with the Australian Packaging Covenant.

This matter has been progressed by government and industry working together. It seems illogical for the federal government to now impose a regulation that is different to that which has been cooperatively progressed. I understand that the Australian Packaging Covenant represents a commitment by governments and industry to the sustainable design, use and recovery of packaging. It is a voluntary component of this cooperative, co-regulatory model which has been designed to reduce the environmental impacts of consumer packaging. The covenant encourages improvements in packaging design, higher recycling rates and better stewardship of packaging. Product stewardship imposes an obligation on all those who benefit from production of consumer packaging to assume a share of responsibility for a product over its life cycle.

There are currently over 800 signatories to the covenant, representing a significant proportion of industry in Australia. Participation in the covenant is voluntary, but brand owners with a turnover of over $5 million per annum who choose not to become signatories or who fail to comply with the covenant requirements are regulated under the National Environmental Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure. Each state implements the National Environment Protection Measure through its own regulations.

This covenant mechanism has, in part, seen Australia's packaging recycling rate increased from 39 per cent in 2003 to 63 per cent in 2011. Most Australians have access to broad municipal kerbside recycling services which have assisted Australians with household recycling activities. In 2009, over 91 per cent of Australian households used municipal kerbside recycling to recycle waste, an increase from 87 per cent in 2006. In 2009, almost all Australian households reported that they recycled waste and almost 90 per cent reported that they reused waste. This is a significant increase over the mid-1990s levels.

Labor has a proud record of environmental protection. Long before environmentalism became the movement that it is today, resplendent with a political party in this place, it was Labor that not only talked green but acted green—acting to protect the environment. It was a Labor premier of New South Wales who founded the Kosciusko National Park in 1944. It was a Labor government that intervened in 1983 to protect the Franklin River and surrounds. Prime Minister Hawke pushed for the enacting of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act, which today sees some of Australia's most iconic sites protected.

It took a Labor government to lead world efforts to preserve Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. In 1988, Prime Minister Hawke was told it was a lost cause to push for a mining ban. Thanks to his perseverance and determination, over two decades later Antarctica remains free from mining. It was also the Hawke Labor government which preserved Kakadu National Park by standing up to stop mining at Coronation Hill in 1991. At the time, a section of the mining industry said the decision would 'make or break the development of Australia's resources'. Twenty years later we know Labor made the right decision in the national interest. It is Labor that World Heritage listed the wet tropics of Queensland, the Daintree rainforest, and Labor that created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the authority to manage it.

This current Labor government has provided $200 million, the largest single commitment ever made, to address the threats of climate change and declining water quality to the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, it was a Labor government, the Keating government, which in 1992 signed and ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We all know it took this Labor government to ratify the Kyoto protocol in 2007.

And let us not forget that state Labor around the country has a proud record too. New South Wales Labor brought together the resources and expertise of small agencies to create the Department of Environment and Conservation. They created financial incentives for pollution reduction by introducing load based licensing for air and water pollutants and enacted New South Wale's first contaminated land remediation laws. Queensland Labor enacted laws in 2004 to phase out land clearing, and by January 2007 most clearing had been banned.

Tasmanian Labor, working with federal Labor, is working through the details to protect further high-conservation-value forests. Tasmanian Labor introduced the Climate Change (State Action) Act 2008 to provide for a legislated emissions reduction target to reduce emissions to at least 60 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. Labor in Victoria committed the state to a 20 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020. ACT Labor has set a target of 40 per cent by 2020.

And let us not forget the Clean Energy Future package that federal Labor negotiated through this parliament, demonstrating our commitment to striking the balance between economic growth and environmental protection and putting a price on carbon that will cut Australia's emissions by five per cent by 2020. And by 2050 we will have cut our emissions by 80 per cent.

Acting to protect our environment and preserve our nation for generations to come is not new to Labor; we have been doing it proudly for years. I note a recent campaign launched by the Australian Workers Union in Tasmania around preserving both the mining industry and the natural environment. This is a campaign where mining industry employees are seeking community support to continue their trade in just one per cent of the region. The workers and their unions are saying that they have done both for over 100 years. They want to continue to do both for the next 100. Mining is a critical part of the region's economy, and with several major projects currently planned, mining will continue to play a central role in the north-west's future prosperity. Labor has a proud record of environmental protection. We continue to work hard to strike the balance.

This bill does not strike the right balance. It does not respect the national cooperative work that has been done across the whole packaging waste and litter issue. It is a heavy-handed, national approach that seeks to undo the good work done at the COAG table, good work that has been seeking to involve industry and all levels of government to find a good outcome.

In December last year at the COAG table, environment ministers released the consultation regulation impact statement. This was an important step in better managing packaging waste and litter nationally. On 24 August this year, environment ministers met to consider outcomes of the consultation process and to make a decision on next steps in addressing the ongoing problems of packaging waste and litter. Ministers committed to progress to a decision regulation impact statement, and noted the strong response at the consultation regulation impact statement stage. This is the proper process for considering national regulation of packaging waste. It is the process agreed upon by COAG for any national regulatory reform. It is therefore important today that, while we may support the merits of this bill, we look to the COAG approach as a way forward—an approach that is seeking to build on current state based schemes and not to reinvent the wheel.

A regulation impact statement examines the likely impacts of a proposed regulation. It proposes a range of alternative options that could meet the government's policy objectives. It is an important means of providing evidence of what the problem that we are attempting to solve is and formalising the problem so that costs and benefits of each option can be assessed. This bill pre-empts the appropriate and transparent consideration of the costs and benefits of national approaches to packaging waste and litter which are currently underway.

Once the regulation impact statement process has concluded, COAG's Standing Council on Environment and Water will be in a better position to assess the merits of a range of national approaches to addressing packaging waste and litter, including a national container deposit scheme.

The Australian government and all state and territory governments made a commitment at the beginning of this process. This commitment was that the regulation impact statement process would be open and consultative, and allow for a balanced assessment of all options—including a national container deposit scheme. Consistent with the commitment to having an open and transparent process, stakeholders have been involved throughout—including through two workshops. The first workshop was used to gain the stakeholders' views on the range of problems. At the second, stakeholders sought to identify options which will target and address these problems.

At their recent meeting in August, ministers made a commitment that the process would continue to be transparent and consultative. As mentioned earlier, the consultation regulation impact statement was released on 7 December last year for an extended four-month public consultation. As part of the consultation process, a series of public forums were held. They commenced in Brisbane on 13 February this year and ran through to 7 March in capital cities, as well as the three regional centres of Bunbury, Townsville and Albury. These forums provided an opportunity for people to discuss the consultation regulation impact statement in further detail, to ask questions in relation to its findings and assumptions    and, importantly, to give their views on the options that were proposed.

The consultation regulation impact statement was just that: a consultation document. It did not endorse one particular option over another, but aimed at stimulating further discussion on how to address this important issue. The subject has attracted a great deal of interest. Hundreds of submissions from industry, environment groups, the community and local government showed strong support for further action to address the impacts of packaging waste and litter. The community is getting behind this reform. We must follow the process that is seeking comprehensive change to management of packaging waste and litter. Yes, a container deposit scheme could play a good part in this.

We are moving through the process. I remind the Senate that ministers carefully considered the submissions received during the consultation process. The environment ministers committed to pushing ahead with a decision regulation impact statement to provide a more detailed analysis of the potential impacts of the options. Regulatory change can only take place once this decision regulation impact statement has been conducted, so this represents a significant step forward in this process. This is the appropriate process for considering national regulation of packaging waste and litter—national regulation that builds upon the good work done in South Australia and more recently in the Northern Territory and that builds upon the work done by all environment ministers and by industry.

Seven options were assessed in the consultation regulation impact statement in terms of their costs and benefits for packaging waste and litter. Two key stakeholders, the Boomerang Alliance and the beverage industry, proposed specific options to reduce packaging waste for the regulation impact statement to assess. At their August meeting ministers agreed that, in addition to the options considered in the consultation regulation impact statement, three further options will be included in the decision regulation impact statement. The first additional option is an industry co-regulatory stewardship scheme that will focus on beverage containers only. The second additional option is an approach similar to the Australian Packaging Covenant, with a substantial increase in funding from industry for packaging recycling and litter initiatives. The third additional option is a container deposit model based on the South Australian system.

In accordance with ministers' commitment to a transparent and open process, they have agreed to undertake targeted consultation with key stakeholders on the design of additional options. The decision regulation impact statement will undertake a more detailed analysis, including regional and other distributional impacts of options. I have just articulated that we have three additional options on the table. These are going through the regulation impact statement channels. These are seeking to build on the existing work done over many years to limit packaging waste and litter.

The Australian government has consistently displayed its commitment to sustainability and responsible environmental management. This has been most recently seen in the enactment of the Product Stewardship Act 2011. This act, which passed the Australian parliament last year, provides the basis for a more efficient and environmentally responsible approach to waste management in Australia. Product stewardship means that everyone involved in the production, supply and use of the products we consume shares responsibility for those products from the point of design and manufacture through to disposal. The framework product stewardship legislation allows for national product stewardship schemes for specified classes of products to be established by regulation.

Regulations under the Product Stewardship Act established the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, which commenced on 8 November 2011. Three organisations have been approved to deliver e-waste collection and recycling services under this scheme. Canberra was the first to start this free e-waste recycling service in April 2012. This is the start of a nationwide rollout, boosting television and computer recycling rates to 30 per cent in 2012-13 and 80 per cent by 2021-22, to provide a long-term solution to television and computer waste. Televisions and computers contain valuable non-renewable resources, including gold and other precious metals, as well as hazardous materials including lead, bromine, mercury and zinc. By recycling them we can recover useful materials and at the same time reduce health and environmental risks. The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme is funded and implemented by the television and computer industry and regulated by the Australian government under the Product Stewardship Act.

Again, I have articulated that Labor is committed to reducing both packaging waste and litter, as well as boosting recycling of a whole range of products. Labor is committed to striking a balance. Labor is committed to following established processes and working with stakeholders, including industry and other levels of government. The intent of this bill has merit. No-one in this place will dispute that. But what we need is to continue working through the current channels. We need to get the facts on the table through the regulation impact statement, because Labor is committed to continuing its proud record of getting the balance right between protecting the environment and promoting economic growth. It is why we are pricing carbon, it is why we are creating the biggest marine national park in the world and it is why we are progressing this important waste management reform through the appropriate channels: the COAG process.

The Greens want to throw out the schemes operating in the Northern Territory and implement a national scheme over and above these schemes instead of trying to get an outcome that is fitting with the South Australian scheme that has been running for 35 years. This bill proposes a government-run scheme that would be a different mechanism over and above the two existing arrangements. Logically, this only leads to increased regulatory complexity as well as costs to industry and the community. Federal Labor is committed to reducing the amount of packaging waste and litter in our society. This includes increasing recycling facilities and schemes for beverage containers. We want to continue to work on this with state and territory governments through the COAG process, to expand the schemes to all state and territories.


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