Senate debates

Thursday, 13 September 2012


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

10:21 am

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2012, introduced by Senator Ludlam. As you have heard from the government speakers, we will be opposing this legislation. Opposition to this bill does not mean that I rise to speak against the environment. It does not mean I rise to speak against recycling. In fact, I support both. I rise today to speak against this bill as another example of developing policies without solid foundation or thought to their implementation.

Let me tell you about the things that we do agree on. We agree that we should do more to manage packaging waste. We agree that recycling is important. The difference is Labor make responsible choices when developing policies. A container deposit scheme has been in place, as we have heard in this chamber today, in South Australia since 1977 and in the Northern Territory since January this year. However, what is proposed by Senator Ludlam's bill is different to those schemes. The schemes in South Australia and the Northern Territory are based on industry run arrangements, whereas this bill proposes a government run scheme. Because of this key difference, this bill would introduce a different mechanism over the top of these two existing arrangements, increasing regulation and potential cost to industry and the community. More regulatory complexity and cost to industry and cost to the community to recycle bottles and cans is irresponsible and not what Australians want.

Labor believe in looking after the environment. We understand that looking after our beautiful and unique country is one of the best ways to ensure a prosperous future. We want to deal with this issue in a responsible and measured way, a way in which we all benefit—the community, the industry and the environment. The Australian government, as well as state and territory governments, are committed to reducing the amount of packaging waste and litter in our society, including beverage containers. To suggest anything else is simply ridiculous.

In 2010 Commonwealth, state and territory environment ministers agreed to examine and release to industry interest groups and the community for consultation options for the better management of packaging waste. As part of this process a consultation regulation impact study was developed. This report examined options for dealing with packaging waste, including container deposit legislation. In December 2012 the consultation regulation impact statement was released by environment ministers. This was a significant step in better managing all of the packaging waste and litter nationally. Hundreds of submissions were received from industry, environment groups, the community and local government in response to the consultation RIS. This shows strong support by Australians for further action to address the impacts of packaging waste and litter.

The environment ministers have carefully considered the submissions received during the consultation process and will develop a decision regulatory impact statement to provide a more detailed analysis of the potential impacts of the options. When we consider any policy change, we must consider what possible consequences this change may have. Regulatory change can only take place once a decision RIS 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 because it is the process agreed upon by COAG for any national regulatory reform. We have these processes so that we can make the best decisions possible when we have fully reviewed the evidence.

The RIS examines the likely impacts of proposed regulations and a range of alternative options that could meet the government's policy objectives. It is the responsible and considered way of making changes. Once the RIS process has concluded, the COAG 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. It is an important means of providing evidence of what the problem is and what we are attempting to solve. It allows for the formalising of the costs and benefits of each option so that they can be assessed. Labor is committed to weighing the costs and the benefits of the national regulation reform.

It is clear that this bill is an attempt to pre-empt the appropriate and transparent considerations of the costs and benefits of a national approach to packaging waste and litter that is currently underway. Labor are taking action on the issue. We are taking action responsibly and with due diligence. The consultation regulation impact statement was released on 7 December 2011 for an extended four-month public consultation. By consulting with a wide range of stakeholders, including industry, the community, and state and local governments, Labor are showing our commitment to finding the best solution rather than just putting something up in the Senate where there has been no considered consultation. We are taking responsible action. The Australian Labor government and all state and territory governments made a commitment at the beginning of the RIS process that it would be open, that consultation would be allowed and that there would be a balanced assessment of all options, including a national container deposit scheme. We have kept that commitment.

The process has been open and transparent. Stakeholders have been involved throughout. Two workshops have been held: the first to gain views on what are a range of problems and the second to identify options which will target and address these problems. They commenced in Brisbane on 13 February this year and ran through to 7 March in capital cities as well as three regional centres: Bunbury, Townsville and Albury. In total, about 250 people attended the sessions, and each session consisted of a two-hour public forum, including presentations by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the economic analysis. These forums provided an opportunity for people to discuss the consultation RIS in further detail. They were able to ask questions in relation to its findings and, very importantly, they were able to give their views on the options proposed.

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. This shows that the Australian people, like Labor, are concerned about the impact of packaging waste and that they want a solution that will help the environment. The consultation RIS collected some fantastic statistics about the Australian people's commitment to recycling and the environment. According to the consultation RIS, Australia's packaging recycling rate increased from 39 per cent in 2003 to 63.1 per cent in 2011. Recycling in Australia is on the rise. This was achieved through concerted industry and state and local government action and through the Australian Packaging Covenant.

Most Australians have access to kerbside recycling services, which have assisted Australians with household recycling activities. Yellow-top wheelie bins are now a common sight in the average Australian suburban street. In 2009, over 91 per cent of Australian households used kerbside recycling to recycle waste, an increase from 87 per cent in 2006. In that same year, almost all Australian households, 98 per cent, reported that they recycled waste and 86 per cent reported that they re-used waste. Recycling has become a way of life in Australia and we want it to increase. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as far back as 1996, 91 per cent of Australian households reported some form of waste recycling and/or re-use activity.

What we can see here is that Australians are committed to recycling and that the programs currently in place are working. Rather than just introduce a package fix into the Senate that would create all sorts of red tape and expense for the industry and for the Australian people, we are doing our homework and will come up with a solution which will be appropriate and measured. The consultation RIS, which had the opportunity to engage with Australians on the issue of recycling, was just that: a consultation document. It did not endorse one particular option over another but was aimed at stimulating further discussion on how to address this important issue.

At their August meeting a few weeks ago, the environment ministers made a commitment that the process would continue to be transparent and that they would continue to consult industry, community and government. The packaging impacts regulation impact statement is examining a range of options for managing packaging waste. Seven options were assessed in the consultation RIS 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. The Boomerang Alliance, who support a collection deposit scheme, congratulated the RIS consultants on their effort in compiling such a range of data and detailed analysis.

At the August meeting, the environment ministers agreed that, in addition to the options considered in the consultation RIS, three further options will be included in the decision RIS. The first of these options 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.

The environment ministers have agreed to undertake targeted consultations with key stakeholders on the design of additional options, in accordance with their commitment to a transparent and open process. The decision RIS will undertake a more detailed analysis. Its focus will include the regional impacts of these options. This demonstrates the seriousness of this Labor government's commitment to finding an appropriate solution which will encourage Australians to recycle more.

That is not the only step Labor is taking to promote the protection of the environment. The Australian government has consistently shown its commitment to sustainability and responsible environmental management through legislation and action. This has been most recently seen in the enactment of the Product Stewardship Act 2011. The Product Stewardship Act passed the Australian parliament last year. It provides the basis for a more efficient and environmentally responsible approach to waste management in Australia. It demonstrates Labor's commitment to the environment. Product stewardship means that everyone involved in the production, supply and use of the products we consume shares responsibility for those products. This extends all the way from the point of design through to the manufacturing process, right through to the end of the product's life and disposal.

Three organisations have been approved to deliver e-waste collection and recycling services under the scheme. In April 2012, right here in Canberra the first free e-waste recycling service started. This is just the beginning. It is the start of a nationwide rollout. It will boost television and computer recycling rates to 30 per cent in 2012-13 and to 80 per cent by 2021-22, providing a long-term solution to television and computer waste.

Technology is rapidly developing and, as new products are introduced, old ones are discarded, and it is very important that we can cope with this waste by recycling rather than packing it up in the boot of the car and dumping it in the landfill at the nearest tip. 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. This is a win-win situation and demonstrates the positive results of recycling. The National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme is funded and implemented by the television and computer industry and regulated by the Australia government under the Product Stewardship Act.

Recycling is not the only way to protect the environment. Labor is taking this fight to many fronts. Further, the Labor government has demonstrated its commitment to the environment through its grant program Caring for our Country. Through this project, the Labor government will fund 66 new projects across the nation at a cost of $12.5 million. These projects will protect Australia's natural environment. They will safeguard our iconic natural places and protect our unique species. These projects demonstrate a responsible commitment to the environment. They are funded under the 2012-13 Caring for our Country business plan. They represent value for money and are located all across Australia. These Caring for our Country projects include funding natural resource management areas in Western Australia to regions on the eastern seaboard. Projects addressing Indigenous engagement and Northern and remote Australia are also well represented. Safeguarding our iconic natural places is essential in our continent-wide strategy for environmental protection. Caring for our Country not only protects our environment but also protects and enhances the social and economic values of our iconic regions.

Australia is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and we have a responsibility to protect it for ourselves and for the citizens of the world now and into the future. We all know that habitat degradation, the spread of invasive pest plants and animals, the effects of climate change and human activity pose significant threats to our environment. The Labor government are acting to address this. Through the introduction of our carbon price mechanism we have shown that this government have a clear plan to cut pollution, tackle climate change and deliver the economic reform Australia needs to move to a clean energy future. We have put a price on pollution—the carbon price. It is a cheap and fair way to cut pollution. It will build a clean future for Australia and a clean energy economy. We are leading the world in this form of environmental protection. This scheme is the best way to stop businesses polluting as it gives businesses an incentive to invest in clean energy. Charging industries when they pollute is the surest way to change this behaviour and make Australia a cleaner place. We are reinvesting this money to assist families and households.

Labor has not shied away from making the tough decisions when it comes to protecting the environment. We understand that we must do this to ensure the health of our great land and for our economic future. These decisions are not easy. They take thousands of hours of intensive policy research and development. They are complex. We understand this. This bill is yet another clear demonstration of the failure to understand this process. It is not well thought through. It has not taken into account the economic consequences of trying to push a bill through this place without due diligence. On the other hand, we want to do what is right for the Australian people, for industries who employ many thousands of Australians and for the environment. We do not think that this is mutually exclusive. We believe that there is a solution that will be of benefit to all of these groups, and we are working with state and territory governments to find it.

I ask those listening or reading the Hansardnot to be not be misled: The vote that we will cast in this place today opposing this bill is not a reflection of our views on recycling or on the environment, as the Greens will no doubt try to claim. The vote we are casting today is in favour of good process, sound policy and doing the right, the fair, the open and the honest thing by industry, by the environment and, most importantly, by the Australian people.

We live in a very special country and we have a unique responsibility to protect it. The Labor Party take this responsibility very, very seriously. Do not for one moment think otherwise. So today I rise not to oppose the environment; nor do I rise to oppose recycling. I rise to oppose a bill which does not propose an adequate solution to the management of packaged waste. This bill is pre-empting the results of a long period of consultation that is being undertaken. It is not a bill that will provide the solutions we need or the careful consideration that the Australian people and the environment deserve.


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