Thursday, 13 September 2012
Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010; Second Reading
I rise to continue my remarks on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010. I want to take the opportunity to run through a few facts and figures about waste in Queensland. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. Waste generation in Queensland is still increasing—and rapidly. Between 2003-04 and 2007-08 waste generation grew by 40 per cent. Over the same period the population increased by 10 per cent and retail turnover increased by 21 per cent. Our total volume of waste produced every year is simply huge. In 2008 there was an estimated 32.6 million tonnes generated from commercial, industrial, construction, demolition and household activities. This includes the data collected on waste that is classified for indefinite storage, such as fly-ash from electricity generation, which amounts to 22.3 million tonnes. Queensland households and businesses generate the remaining 10.3 million tonnes.
The trend over the past five years has been for a significant increase in waste generation and disposal. The data shows that domestic waste generation in 2007-08 was 40 per cent higher than in 2003-04 and yet, as I said, the population only grew by 10 per cent. In 2007-08 more than 60 per cent of the waste generated by households and businesses was disposed to landfill. According to the 2011 National Litter Index, Queensland is the most littered mainland state. Tasmania unfortunately tops the national list.
This bill, which I am really proud to support, proposes a solution for the 12 billion beverage containers that Australians use every year. It seeks to address practicably the fact that only about half of those are recycled, while most of the remainder wind up as litter or in landfill and, of course, much of that runs off into our precious marine environment. We have a serious problem with landfill and waste in Australia and, as I have already said, Queensland is one of the main contributors. It is just a really wasteful situation in Queensland and across Australia, which is exactly why we need a bill like this.
Some argue that there is no need for national leadership on waste and that we can just trust the states, so I want to put on record my deep concern about one of the many retrograde steps that the Newman government have taken in their short time in office so far. The Newman government wound back Queensland waste levy, which had been set at $35 a tonne, on 1 July this year. That levy had been designed to promote recycling by making the cost of landfill more expensive. But removing this fee for commercial, industrial and construction waste makes landfill in South-east Queensland a more attractive proposition for some operators in northern New South Wales, where a waste levy on those vast volumes of waste continues to apply, so we have South-east Queensland becoming a dumping ground for everybody's waste. This is a serious backward step for Queensland and, unfortunately, is one of the many backward steps and attacks on Queensland's environment under this new government. We really need national leadership to tackle our waste issues—the states are just not up to it.
Returning to this bill, there is broad, consistent and very high support in the community for a container deposit scheme and there is a demonstrated willingness to pay. The study was done twice and we are now buried in the swamp of a regulatory impact statement process being undertaken by the Commonwealth on container deposits that simply has this proposal buried in quicksand. At best, we think this could result in a scheme being implemented in two or three years time, thanks to this analysis paralysis. We need to develop a sense of urgency. For every 12 months that we drag our heels on this, another 12 billion beverage containers are used.
The main industry-government program is the Australian Packaging Covenant, which sounds great but does not really deliver as much as industry seems to think. In fact, the latest information on the recycling rate for beverage containers shows that it has dropped to about 40 per cent, down from the 48 per cent that is claimed in the packaging regulatory impact statement. As a result, the overall recycling rate for all packaging has also dropped by about three points. This calls into question the claims made about the effectiveness of the Australian Packaging Covenant—it certainly continues to reach its own 2010 target of 65 per cent.
When you consider all the co-benefits of a container deposit scheme—more jobs, help for charities, new material drop-off centres and a big reduction in litter—it is a scheme that wins hands down. With regard to local government, which supports a container deposit scheme, the regulatory impact statement finds that it would benefit from a CDS by more than $2 billion over 20 years. When releasing the RIS the environment ministers said they:
… recognised that assessment of the costs and benefits of options has many dimensions and cannot be based on quantifiable matters alone.
The Consultation RIS acknowledges other potential benefits of better manage packaging, including the employment generated by more recycling, reduced use of energy and water, and the provision of infrastructure to support other recycling.
Surely the case has now been proven. If we want to solve the beverage container problem, acknowledged as the main packaging issue, then we should act now. Opponents of a CDS like to talk about how well we are doing in recycling packaging, but the figures are bulked out by the 70 per cent recycling rate for paper and cardboard. We do not have a problem here if you include those figures, and yet beverage containers are slumped at 40 per cent. The only certain and sustainable policy is a container deposit scheme. This factor is acknowledged by the RIS in comparison to the untested assumptions and fairyland targets proposed in other industry options.
My colleague Senator Ludlam has noted that this is a portfolio for patient people. The larger project of creating a genuinely sustainable Australia for cleaning up our act, for cleaning our fouled waterways, our parklands and our wilderness from rubbish and for recovering those valuable materials that go to waste is worth it. But now we are wasting time. Australia needs and is ready for this bill, and I commend it to the Senate.
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.
This is a debate on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010, introduced by the Greens political party. It relates to recycling and deposit schemes that have been in force in South Australia for some time. Because it is a debate, I want to take issue with some of the contributions made by the previous two speakers. Can I say in relation to the last speaker that about the only thing that I agree with her and her party on is that we will not be supporting the bill before the chamber today, for the same reasons as the Labor Party has indicated. I will come back to that later.
I could not contain my mirth when I heard the previous speaker rewrite history yet again in telling us what a great environmental party the Australian Labor Party was. Those who have observed politics and governance for a long time, as I have, clearly understand that Labor's only interest in the environment is the second preference votes they can get from the Greens political party when dealing with the issues of the environment. I still remember then Senator Graham Richardson, the environment minister, up in my neck of North Queensland, in the wet tropics, speaking to a crowd who were about to lynch him because he was destroying their jobs—another Labor government destroying the jobs of workers. He was saying, 'We're here to save these pristine rainforests.' The only problem was these 'pristine rainforests' had been logged for 110 years previously. Yet Senator Richardson was saying they were pristine. Why was he saying that? Because Richo, as we all know, master tactician of the ballot box, knew that they were coming to an election in which they desperately needed the support of the fledgling Greens political party.
Richo did not worry about the workers' jobs. Where was the AWU when you needed them? Where was the CFMEU when you needed them? The workers' jobs just went like that, and none of the great unionists raised a whimper in support of the jobs. It was the same with the Tasmanian forest industry eventually, though I have to say the F part of the CFMEU back in the 2004 days did actually join with the Liberal government to protect workers' jobs. I am always very proud of the F part of the CFMEU for the work they did in 2004 to protect the jobs of workers in Tasmania. Regrettably, the Labor Party have been less than forceful since.
He was excellent. I had a lot of dealings with him. He was genuinely interested in workers' jobs, unlike the present head of the AWU, who says, 'If one job goes from the carbon tax, I'm out of here.' Just yesterday we had 900 jobs in the mining industry up my way. Mr Howes is still there. You could give a litany of jobs that have gone because of the carbon tax. The only jobs that haven't gone are Mr Howes's and those of his colleagues in the chamber.
The previous speaker rewrote history by saying that the Labor Party was so interested in the environment. The Labor Party's interest in the environment is always invoked. The previous speaker went through a list of things that were so-called achievements of the Labor Party. The Labor Party talks a lot about the environment but never does much. Let me give some facts on which party actually works and acts for the benefit of the environment in Australia. Which party was it that prohibited sand mining on Fraser Island, a very substantial step and one of the first environmental battles that the Liberal Party took up on behalf of the nation? Which party was it that actually banned whaling in Australian waters? It was the Liberal Party.
Which party was it that, contrary to the previous speaker, actually introduced the declaration of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park? It was the Liberal-National party in conjunction with the Liberal National Party in Queensland. Which party was it that proclaimed Kakadu, Uluru, Christmas Island and the Coral Sea national parks? Which party was it that had five properties placed on the World Heritage List, including the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, the Willandra Lakes, Lord Howe Island and South-west Tasmania and, in the Howard government, the Heard and McDonald Islands in the Antarctic? Which party was it that took through the passage of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment and Protection) Act 1980 and the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981? Which party was it that regulated the uranium industry in the Northern Territory? Which party was it that enacted major pieces of legislation to control pollution, especially for the protection of the high seas? Which party was it that legislated for the introduction of unleaded petrol as a pollution control measure? Which party introduced the bicentennial waters program, the National Soil Conservation Program, the national tree program? Which party introduced the Natural Heritage Trust and the Green Corps, two practical, on-the-ground activities that actually did something for the environment that we live in? Which party had Australia's first minister for the environment? Again, the answer to all of those questions is the Liberal Party in conjunction with the coalition colleagues in the National Party, when you want real action, not vote-winning action, not action that allows you to strut round the stage and say that, by reducing Australia's 1.4 per cent of world emissions of carbon, we are going to save the world, and look at us, aren't we great—that is so typical of the Labor Party. Up there when the cameras are flashing the rhetoric is always pretty good, but the actual work on the environment is always very limited. I regret to say that, with one or two exceptions, the Greens political party is now no longer a party of the environment but a party of very left wing social, economic and political views. I am a proud member of the Liberal Party, a party that has a record of achievement on the environment.
I also want to make reference to Senator Waters's comment about waste generation in Australia. It reminded me that I was in Rockhampton the other week. The Rockhampton Regional Council, a medium-large regional council in my state of Queensland, have set aside $3 million for the carbon tax on their landfill operation. That equates to $68 per rate notice issued in the Rockhampton Regional Council area. You wonder why costs of living are going up. That story is repeated right around Australia. If actions such as the tax on ordinary Australians for landfills were going to make a difference, you could grin and bear it. But everybody knows that what Australia is doing is in fact increasing its emissions by 2020. So it is not going to make one iota of difference to the world's climate. I am one of those people who always acknowledges that the climate is changing, that it has been changing for millions of years and that it will continue to change. But the cost to Australia from this stupid carbon tax, this toxic carbon tax, is just horrendous, and that is why the first action of the Abbott government will be to remove it.
In debating this issue with other speakers, I have not yet come to the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010, except to say that, in this instance, we will be supporting the Labor Party in opposing the bill. Why? Because the environment ministers, as the COAG Standing Council on Environment and Water, at a meeting as recently as 24 August 2012 agreed to move forward and develop a decision regulation impact statement to undertake a more detailed analysis, including regional and other distributional impacts. The meeting on 24 August followed consultation by the standing committee in their December 2011 Packaging Impacts Consultation Regulation Impact Statement.
I think, as other speakers have mentioned, all Australians are concerned about littering and about recycling where that is appropriate. The South Australian government introduced its scheme for recycling of containers in that state back in 1977, and the world has certainly moved on since then. I live in a not so small rural area. It is a shire of about 20,000 people, and the town of Ayr, where I live, has about 10,000 people. For several years now, even our shire has had a waste recycling bin. We have a general rubbish bin, and recently we have achieved a green waste bin. So, right across Australia, Australians, supported by their local governments, have been involved in the recycling of waste products.
I am very pleased that our council, the Burdekin Shire Council, on which I once had the privilege of serving for 11 years, has been at the forefront in the use of not just the ordinary, if I might call it that, recycling bins but the green waste recycling bin as well in recent times. I could not quite understand Senator Waters, but certainly in the case of the Burdekin shire—and I am sure this applies elsewhere—those general recycling bins take beverage containers, paper and cardboard. They have indeed contributed substantially to recycling in our area, but I know the same thing is happening right around Australia. They have certainly assisted in reducing the amount of roadside waste and rubbish of beverage containers, which was, we all might recall, the initial thought behind the South Australian legislation way back in 1977. I congratulate local government right across Australia on the very good job it has done in promoting and developing those kerbside recycling initiatives, which have in many ways reduced the recycling benefit of initiatives such as the container deposit legislation.
There is still a way to go in relation to workplace waste as opposed to ordinary household waste, but that is the sort of thing that the government or the ministerial council is progressing. I am a bit critical of the federal government for failing to progress those ministerial forum discussions as quickly as we might have hoped, but I think they are on the way now and we look forward to a good outcome from that particular forum. The difficulty is, as we all know—and this is not so much the case with South Australia, which, in a geographic sense, is a little bit insular—that with a place like Queensland with its close borders to New South Wales and a place like New South Wales with its close borders to the ACT, Queensland and Victoria, you have to have in place a national protocol where all states agree.
As with all regulation, it does come at a cost. We should not overlook the fact that these recycling schemes do come at a cost, which is passed through to the consumers in due course. The ministerial council did commission some research in May 2009, and this research was looked at by the Senate committee that reported on this bill some time ago. That report, prepared by consultants BDA Group and Wright Corporate Strategy, had attempted to quantify the cost of the benefits of introducing a scheme of the nature proposed by the Greens political party. In its quantification of those costs and benefits, it reported a total national annual net economic cost to government and the broader community, which took into account all of the compliance and administrative costs mentioned previously in this debate. The BDA report estimated that those costs would be around $492 million per annum in net terms. Overall it sees an economic cost of $763 million versus an economic benefit of $294 million—giving you that $492 million per annum net cost. Those costs do have to be taken into account, particularly in this time in the nation's economic cycle where things like the carbon tax are increasing costs and reducing employment opportunities and the mining tax substantially reducing employment opportunities. I understand the real figure of people unemployed or underemployed in Australia and looking for work or more work at the present time is in the order of 17.3 per cent. So it is a difficult time for our country, made worse by the additional costs that this government continues to pile upon ordinary citizens day after day. So we do have to bear in mind the costs.
The coalition, along with all of our other significant environmental initiatives, are very keen to see good recycling programs—programs that actually work; programs that do not add to the cost of living of ordinary Australians. We are keen to see the COAG meeting between the state environment ministers come up with its conclusions and we await the recommendations from the DRIS. For that reason, the coalition will not be supporting this bill.
I rise to speak on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010. Australians use 12 billion beverage containers every year. This bill, introduced by my Greens colleague Senator Scott Ludlam, introduces a scheme for the environmentally sustainable management and reuse of those containers to apply throughout Australia. This is a major and long overdue reform. Only half of those 12 billion beverage containers are currently recycled. Too many of them end up as litter or in landfill.
The Australian Greens have long been a strong advocate for this approach. Recycling is important because it alleviates the need to use our precious natural resources when producing materials from scratch. It reduces the amount of energy and water used in product development, it decreases air emissions created by the processing of new containers and it lowers the cost of waste collection and sorting.
As I have said in this place before, 200 years of increasingly intensive industrialisation, fuelled by the burning of fossil fuels and coupled with an exponential increase in the earth's population, has led to the situation that is before us. It is one that we must grasp in this decade of the 21st century. Our environment is at risk. We are facing serious consequences from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide and methane. For the sake of our future and our kids and our grandkids we must use every means to reduce our impact on our planet. This container deposit legislation scheme is a critical step.
I am proud to say that my state of South Australia has had a container deposit legislation scheme in place since the 1970s. South Australia provides a case in point as to the benefits and successes of these schemes. Our container deposit scheme works in conjunction with kerbside schemes. In South Australia the beverage companies own their unredeemed deposits. South Australia has achieved a recovery rate of over 80 per cent of containers, with 1.5 tonnes per person recycled each year. The South Australian statutory authority Zero Waste SA was established in 2003 and since then the total amount of waste disposed to landfill has decreased by over 15 per cent to 2008, despite population growth.
According to the National Waste Report 2010, waste generation in South Australia for 2006-07 was 2,090 kilograms per person, which is 0.5 per cent above the national average generation of 2,080 kilograms per person. In 2010-11, approximately 47,000 tonnes or 593 million beverage containers were returned for refund, a rate of 80.4 per cent. South Australian councils have benefited from the scheme, with some reporting incomes of up to $90,000 per year. As well, kerbside recycling is more economically viable, as reduced volumes require fewer collection services and sorting operations and reduce landfill and associated levy costs.
Community organisations have also benefited. Those that operate collection depots use the income to fund their numerous activities, such as the Scouts, who earn approximately $9 million a year from recycling containers. As the founder of Keep Australia Beautiful, Ian Kiernan, has said:
What happens (in South Australia) is that instead of seeing a bit of rubbish beside the road or the beach, you see a bit of money—and (the rubbish) is gone.
In addition to South Australia's container deposit legislation, Zero Waste SA promotes recycling and minimisation of waste at home, work and in industry. We have legislation to reduce the use of checkout style plastic bags used in supermarkets.
South Australia's recycling and waste management achievements have been recognised by UN-HABITAT in its 2010 international report Solid Waste Management in the World's Cities. This report considered 22 cities across the world and highlighted that:
Adelaide's and South Australia's waste resources management system is in some respects global best practice. South Australia has demonstrated a high level of political commitment and willingness to 'stick its neck out' and implement some policies and legislation upon which other administrations take a more conservative position.
The South Australian community overwhelmingly supports our container deposit scheme, with 92 per cent in favour.
I am proud to share these positive achievements of my state and, as a federal parliamentarian, I want to see good ideas from South Australia going national. It is time for the national container deposit scheme outlined in this Australian Greens bill, and I commend it to the Senate.
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.
I rise to make a very brief contribution to this debate on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010—and I thank Senator Xenophon for allowing me to do so prior to his contribution. The government is opposed to this bill for a number of reasons. I am opposed for the reasons that have been outlined by Senator Brown quite eloquently relating to the process of consultation that is underway between the federal government and the states concerning measures to improve recycling rates and look at schemes to promote recycling in our country.
Traditionally, beverage container deposit schemes have been operated on a state basis and reflect state environmental laws. The two that are operating in South Australia and in the Northern Territory are industry-run schemes on a cooperative basis. That is the approach that I believe is necessary for a successful scheme to be developed nationally, and that is the process that the federal government has entered into through COAG in cooperation with the states. The three largest states in the Commonwealth are involved in that and are essential to the successful development of any container deposit scheme operating on a national basis. I oppose this bill on the basis that there is a great risk that this bill would undermine that process going on at a national level.
I am also opposed to this bill because I believe it raises constitutional issues in the method by which it has been introduced into the parliament. The bill at clause 13 'provides that a producer or importer must pay the levy within 14 days after the end of the month in which the beverage container was sold to a wholesaler, retailer or individual, or to a producer or distributor of beverages in beverage containers.' There is, I believe, an issue of constitutional validity in that it may be construed that the bill imposes taxation. The relevant High Court authority on this issue is the case of Australian Tape Manufacturers Association Ltd and the Commonwealth—a decision of the High Court of Australia of 1993—where the majority of the court, Chief Justice Mason and Justices Brennan, Deane and Gaudron, found that that:
… the collecting body of a fee does not have to be a public body for the fee to be regarded as a tax. Therefore a levy collected by a private body dictated by a statute for public purposes gives the private body a public character.
And therefore raises a question mark over the validity of the levy.
The Commonwealth can, of course, apply a bill for taxation but, as we well know, section 53 of the Commonwealth Constitution says:
Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate—
which this bill proposes to do. Therefore I believe it raises an issue of constitutional validity, and certainly a question mark over the bill, and it is something that would no doubt be considered were the Senate to pass this legislation. That is another reason that I am opposed to the bill. But, on the whole, again I raise the issue of the process of consultation that is being undertaken at the moment with the states and the very great risk that the passage of this bill would undermine that cooperative process.
I will address Senator Thistlethwaite's considered contribution in relation to the constitutionality of this. I do not necessarily accept the point that is being made by Senator Thistlethwaite but I think that, even if that did have validity, the government could still indicate whether it supports the intent of this bill and supports a national container deposit scheme. So I think that is a separate issue. Let us not used that not use that as an excuse not to do something—and I am not suggesting that the good Senator was doing that. We need to make a decision in this place on this question: is this a piece of policy that we support or not? I believe this bill, the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010, is a piece of legislation that we ought to support.
The benefits of container deposit schemes are impressive, and the facts and figures suggest that they actually work. The South Australian scheme, which has been operating for over 30 years, achieves a recycling rate of more than 80 per cent—which is nearly double that of the rest of the country. When the scheme was originally introduced, the Australian Food and Grocery Council decried it as a 'tax on drinks'. Today, more than 98 per cent of the South Australian community supports it. I should say parenthetically of the Australian Food and Grocery Council that they are the same mob that have been fighting tooth and nail any sensible reforms as to country of origin food labelling laws, which the overwhelming majority of Australians support. There are some issues on which I am very happy to work with the Australian Food and Grocery Council in terms of private labels and the dominance of Coles and Woolworths, but when it comes to these issues, which I think are very much in the community and public interest, they are on the wrong side of history.
There has been 98 per cent support in South Australia for the container deposit scheme. I am sure governments around the world dream of the day when a new tax is supported by 98 per cent of its constituents. While it is early days for the Northern Territory, the container deposit scheme there has already increased recycling rates by more than 100 per cent. And that is not just beverage containers; it is recycling overall.
The evidence is mounting up that container deposits are a valuable piece of environmental policy—and cost effective at that. A national container deposit scheme would make a significant difference. Despite our best efforts to lift our recycling rates, our consumption continues to grow and we now landfill more than 21 million tonnes of waste every year. According to the Boomerang Alliance, a group of environmental organisations which has been studying container deposit schemes across the world for more than 10 years, a national deposit scheme would reduce the amount of rubbish in our parks, beaches and roadsides by as much as 15 per cent. Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, I do not know whether you have ever done the trip across the Nullarbor into South Australia, but I know that those who travel across the border into Victoria, for instance, actually notice a difference in terms of roadside rubbish. I believe that is principally because of our container deposit scheme. You actually see a difference while on the roads in terms of the amount of rubbish that is left by the roadside.
A national container deposit scheme would increase Australia's recycling by more than 600,000 tonnes each year. That is more than 600,000 tonnes of rubbish not going into landfill. It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.3 million tonnes every year, the equivalent of taking 140,000 cars off the road in terms of air quality improvement. That is a much more efficient way of doing things than the aborted cash for clunkers scheme. It would also create jobs—about 4,000—mostly in rural and regional Australia, according to the Boomerang Alliance, and I think that has been robustly looked at by them.
But there is a possible downside that is completely avoidable with appropriate safeguards. Research conducted by the Boomerang Alliance and released publicly in August indicates that Coca-Cola, Lion Nathan and Schweppes could be charging prices that are not reflective of the cost of the container deposit schemes in South Australia and the Northern Territory. The container deposit schemes in South Australia and the Northern Territory see customers refunded 10c per eligible can or bottle when they are recycled. The majority of beverage companies do the right thing by only passing on the net cost of about 10c to customers. Unfortunately, there are a few who may not. For example, as published in the Boomerang Alliance's report, catalogues for Coles supermarkets for the month of July of this year showed price differences between states for the same products. Three bottles of Coca-Cola brand soft drink varieties were advertised for $7 in Sydney and Perth, where there are no container deposit schemes. In Adelaide and Darwin, where schemes are in place, the same three bottles were advertised for $8. I quote from the report:
Coca Cola Amatil brands like Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Sprite, Lift, Mt Franklin and Mother Energy drinks prices in Adelaide and Darwin are on average 22 cents more than those in other major cities …
On average, as the Boomerang Alliance found, Schweppes brands were 16.5c more. This is not a price difference reflected across the board on beverages between states. According to the Boomerang Alliance, other drinks averaged just 1.4c more per item in Adelaide and Darwin compared with other major cities. While a few extra cents or so per bottle may not seem an amount worth worrying about, let me put it in these terms: every year it equates to an extra $31.9 million that customers are paying for these products in South Australia and the Northern Territory. According to the Boomerang Alliance these are avoidable costs. That is why I have done some work on this with the Boomerang Alliance. In August of this year, I wrote to Mr Rod Sims, Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and pointed this out and made a formal complaint in regard to these issues. I hope that the ACCC will find it within its remit to thoroughly investigate this issue to determine whether there is any profiteering, because the Australian Food and Grocery Council assert in their media release of 25 June 2012 that price rises have been as a result of the container deposit scheme. That seems to be something worth investigation by the ACCC. If price gouging is going on, if consumers are being charged more, then that should be looked at—in the same way that the ACCC quite rightly should pick up on and prosecute and enforce the law against any companies making false assertions in relation to the impact of a carbon tax. If people are price gouging as a result of the carbon tax, they ought to be prosecuted. Similarly, if they are price gouging or purporting that there will be unfair impacts on consumers because of the container deposit scheme, that should be looked at.
Within a free market, I am comfortable with companies passing on the net cost of the container deposit scheme to customers, but this seems to go much further. The evidence suggests that companies are manipulating their prices and ignoring the value of unredeemed and scrap sales which offset most of their cost. That is why I wrote to the ACCC asking them to investigate the pricing practices of Coca-Cola, Schweppes and Lion Nathan, particularly given the ACCC's recent crackdown on profiteering as a result of the carbon tax. I have also called on the South Australian government to investigate the beverage companies and their pricing in relation to the container deposit scheme. But, most of all, I am calling on Coca-Cola, Lion Nathan and Schweppes to stop any practice which could be seen as price gouging from consumers. If this is how customers are being treated then that is something that ought to stop.
Container deposit schemes are a public good. They increase recycling rates and reduce landfill. They are supported by communities and, at least in my home state, they give kids the chance to earn some extra pocket money. If these schemes are being rorted to increase profits, that goes against their underlying premise, and a little bit in return can stimulate a lot of public good. I strongly encourage the government to request that the ACCC monitor this scheme should the legislation pass. But, in any event, it ought to. It has been a successful scheme for over 30 years in South Australia and the time has come for its national adoption. We cannot allow companies to take advantage of community and political goodwill. It has received 98 per cent support in my home state. This is a very modest cost impost on consumers, which will lead to a lot of public good and that is why I support this bill.
Having seen the schoolkids up in the gallery who are of a very similar age to my kids in Tassie, it occurred to me that there is a contrast between taking action on cleaning up rubbish and what we are doing here in parliament today with the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010. I want to mention a program that my two children are involved in, particularly my 13-year-old daughter at Riverside High School—a nationwide program called Expedition Class. It is funded partly by the Bookend Trust in Tasmania and they have a program called Coastwatchers. A very fine gentleman, Andrew Hughes, is on his bike cycling around the country, visiting schools and taking schoolkids to clean up beaches. They make sculptures out of marine debris—sculptures of sea animals that are impacted by marine debris—and then they do projects about how these marine animals are being impacted by beverage containers, which were the key part of the marine debris I mentioned yesterday in the public interest debate.
The point I am trying to make is that there are people in this country—including the Surfrider Foundation, whom I have worked with for years; the Tangaroa Blue Foundation, and other organisations—that are taking action on reducing rubbish. We have Keep Australia Beautiful and other organisations, but the connection with the marine environment is one that has not been made yet. I think our parliament needs to take action. What has pleased me today listening to the debate is that all parties in this chamber believe in reducing waste in the environment. However, it is obvious that a container deposit scheme has been discussed nationally for over 20 years. In fact, it has been discussed internationally in lots of different countries and at international conventions. Policy instruments to try to remove debris from our waterways, landscapes and landfill include things such as recycling.
A container deposit scheme is a market based instrument that relies on a price incentive. It uses markets; it is not in itself seen to be a regulatory instrument. It provides an incentive for people to change their behaviour and there is a reward in place for people to pick up trash—cash for containers. Cash for cans is an Australian icon as old as Vegemite. It has been around for a long time. Most of us in this chamber grew up with something like that—whether it was for milk bottles or for other containers. We know from the survey work done by the Boomerang Alliance that most Australians agree with the concept. It was fantastic to hear Senator Xenophon talking with such pride about how clean his state is. Unfortunately we cannot say that about the whole country. Our bill here today is designed to put in place a national scheme. That is not taking away from the fact that there is a state and a territory that already have a container deposit scheme. However, as was mentioned by Senator Xenophon and will be covered by my colleague Senator Ludlam, we have concerns about an industry administered scheme. This bill is for a government administered scheme, and there are a lot of advantages to that. We also believe that the process underway at COAG, while positive, is just more talk. We have heard senators in the chamber talking about that process today, but that is what it is—it is talk. It is not action and it is not leadership. We have the potential today to put in place a scheme where parliament nationally can show leadership on this issue. I reiterate: parliament can take action.
A market based scheme has worked well in other areas when we deal with pollution, and that is essentially what this is. We are talking about rubbish—cans and plastic bottles—but rubbish is pollution. It is a by-product or part of production and consumption. As I mentioned yesterday in the public interest debate, a container deposit scheme is unique in terms of its policy prescriptions because it puts an emphasis on the consumer as well as on the producer to take some action. The scheme has often been criticised by the industry as not their responsibility in terms of this rubbish that is thrown out the door. If you throw a plastic bottle or a can out the window when you are driving you get fined for that; there is a penalty in place for that. But we know that up to half of the beverage containers in this country do not make their way into home recycling—which has benefits and is admirable—but find their way into waterways and ultimately into the ocean and other areas over time and then they photodegrade. So we need a scheme that incentivises people to do the right thing and that works well in terms of its funding. We have various scenarios on what this would cost. We are convinced that this is a neat solution to a dirty problem. We are also convinced that it will be a popular solution.
I mentioned yesterday that recent work by the CSIRO on the marine debris database has shown that between a third and a half of all plastics found in Australia are beverage containers. The database is growing. This is a very new area of focus for the scientific community. However, the problem with damaging marine animals and the research that has been done on that has been around for years. I would like to stress that our use of plastics grows exponentially every day. For 40 years the world has wanted to get rid of plastics in the oceans but has not been able to; in fact, the problem continues to get worse. I would like to see not just a national container deposit scheme, I would like to see an international container deposit scheme. When I think about walking on the beach with my kids, I wonder how else we can solve this problem. A lot of plastic that is washed up on our beaches does come from China and other countries. The plastics that we find in the south-west of Tasmania in the World Heritage areas wash up from all around the world. If we are going to get rid of this problem or tackle it effectively we need a policy prescription that can be rolled out right around the globe.
If it makes sense to put a container deposit scheme in place, why hasn't it happened? What is it that is holding this back? The answer to that is industry. Industry is in talks. Industry does not want to see a national container deposit scheme. Which industry? The Grocery Council covers a large number of beverage companies and packaging companies, and they are a very powerful lobby group. If we had agreement from the big companies like Coca-Cola that this was an effective solution to the problem then we would get some action. This is why it has been held up so long, this is why we have been talking about the problem for 20 years, this is why we are doing more talking in COAG: industry does not want to see a national container deposit scheme.
I firmly believe that businesses and companies should be part of the solution and that it will be to their benefit to be part of the solution. I would encourage a positive attitude and action towards working with industry to get recognition that a container deposit scheme is an effective way of tackling this problem. It is not the only way; it is just one tool in the chest. There are lots of other things we need to do to encourage more recycling and to encourage participation by consumers in acknowledging issues with single use plastics and packaging. We need to invest in biodegradable plastic products, which are starting to become more commonplace now but are too expensive because of economies of scale. We do need to consider other regulatory measures on things such as plastic bags. We are all familiar with this. As I said, we have been talking about it for years. I would encourage all senators in this chamber and everyone who reads Hansard to do what the school kids are doing: take some action to help clean up this problem. You can do that by supporting our container deposit bill today.
I rise to close the debate on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010 but it is with no great pleasure that I do so. This bill is, from memory, the first one that I introduced when I arrived here in 2008. Today on the basis of the rather lacklustre contributions from the other parties, with the honourable exception of Senator Xenophon, I have no expectation that the bill will be carried. Of course that is not the end of the story. This is a very popular scheme. It is nice to have Senator Crossin chairing us because, if she had been able to take part in the debate, she would be able say that the NT government had dug its heels in, stuck to its guns and introduced a scheme for container deposits—the second jurisdiction in the country to do so against a fierce attack by the beverage industry. I will talk a little bit more this morning about how that is playing out on the national stage.
To his great credit, Chief Minister Henderson issued one of the most sharply worded press statements I have ever seen from any minister's office anywhere telling Coca-Cola Amatil by name to back away from the kind of bullying countercampaign that they have run. I will describe in a little detail this morning exactly how audacious the beverage industry has become, or I should say to be accurate: some sections of the beverage industry. There are a couple of companies—in fact half the industry, you could say—that has stayed out of the grubby attack on this extremely popular scheme.
This is a bit reminiscent of the way the debate around a national feed-in tariff has played out: an extraordinarily popular initiative that has been proven to work in jurisdictions elsewhere that has been attacked by some sections of industry and now we are getting a patchwork of schemes getting set up all over the place. In the case of a feed-in tariff, the Australian Greens have a bill that would provide for a nationally consistent scheme, which is what some sections of industry, quite rightly, are asking for. In the case of a container deposit system, again we believe there is room—and a very strong case—for a nationally consistent scheme so that industry knows where it stands, as do the public. But instead my colleagues in state and territory parliaments around the country are getting consistent container deposit schemes. My colleague Robin Chapple has a bill in the Western Australian parliament that would provide for it in WA if Canberra cannot be bothered to pick up the campaign. So we are likely to end up with a patchwork of schemes. We believe a nationally consistent approach is the right one.
Sections of the beverage industry led by Coca-Cola Amatil have a fourfold strategy of undermining the case for container deposit schemes. One of the Labor senators said before: 'This is not what people want.' Actually, they do. Consistent polls show 80, 90 per cent or even into the high 90s support for a container deposit system, partly because we have seen it working in South Australia since the 1970s; we know that it works.
The fourfold strategy is to delay, confuse, attack and then rort—and we are seeing this played out absolutely beautifully at the moment by the beverage industry. The delaying strategy is very well known, and I have spoken of it extensively before. We saw government senators struggling to stay awake as they described the RIS process, which Senator Farrell, who has just joined us, is intimately familiar with. People just roll their eyes when they realise what the scheme has had to go through. It is the regulatory equivalent of holding a pillow over somebody's head. They have decided to try and smother the scheme in various forms of regulatory impact statements in order to delay it for as long as possible. Delay, delay, delay—tie it up in the kind of brown tape that we have seen industry use in order to delay, for example, the rollout of successful renewable energy incentive schemes.
Delay has been reasonably successful but, as some government senators have pointed out, we are seeing some slow progress through COAG—achingly slow, but it is occurring. So industry has moved to stage 2, which is to try and confuse the debate and introduce data into the process to try and poison the economic models that are used to assess in a regulatory impact statement which scheme is better, which is better value for money, which is likely to be more successful. For example, you could see—if you want to read it in this way—the RIS claiming that a CDS would cost $1.4 billion. That sounds like a lot of money—of course it is a lot of money; anything is with a 'b' in front of it. However, that is over 20 years, so it averages out, even if you believe that cost, at about $70 million a year. Here is where it gets interesting: the industry has been very happy to make sure that these figures include participation costs or inconvenience costs, which is an imaginary number. It is a made-up number to try and quantify the inconvenience of walking out to the kerb and sticking the can in a bin. That has amounted to $22 million a year—that is unbelievably misleading and deceptive to introduce an imaginary number to try and tip the financial scales in these spreadsheets against a container deposit scheme.
It is reasonably well understood, because we have got these schemes on their feet around the country in a couple of places and elsewhere around the world—in places like Canada—that the actual financial flows and costs of running a scheme are no more than about half a cent, if that, per container. That is the transaction cost of making sure a scheme like this works, and that should be accounted for separately to the 10c deposit that is then refunded when you do the right thing. So the whole idea of introducing an imaginary inconvenience cost to the financial models is for no other reason than to make it look appallingly expensive so that opponents of the scheme can then be marching around the landscape waving a piece of paper that says it is going to cost more than a billion dollars. It is a total fabrication. In fact the scheme that is represented in the bill before us—just in case there is a possibility of changing the minds of a few senators—is revenue positive because of the small number of unredeemed deposits.
We know from long experience in South Australia that no scheme is perfect—recycling rates there are up above 80 per cent, much higher than the rest of the country. That other 20 per cent are things that have still gone to landfill. They have gone out with the regular kerbside. They have ended up in the ocean, as Senator Whish-Wilson has so eloquently reminded us. Those deposits are never redeemed, and that is how the scheme pays for itself. That is how the network of collection centres are rolled out and that is how in a mature model you would find, I think, a revenue source that would enable you to do things like beach clean-ups, get some of the plastics out of the ocean or support alternate production methods. We can now get plastics made from cellulose that simply disintegrate if they are not recycled and genuinely biodegrade in ways that plastics simply do not.
When the strategy of delaying and confusing fails, the industry goes on the attack—and I could pin a crushed beer can on the chests of those who thought up this campaign as some kind of medal for the most brazenly offensive bit of rent-seeking that has ever been devised by way of an advertising campaign. People would have been well aware.A Current Affair ran a piece on this not so long ago, but you probably would have seen the full-page ads in most of the national daily newspapers with the headline: 'Unlike some politicians we think you have already paid your fair share of tax'. And there is a picture of a bunch of empty beverage containers with the word 'extra' plastered over them, as though the evil government and the evil Greens have come up with some scheme to make you pay even more for beverage containers. Those ads were run by the Australian Food and Grocery Council, and I will have a little more to say about them in a moment. The banner, of course, is 'No drink container tax'. So it is ripping off this fictional campaign that Mr Abbott has been running that the carbon price instrument and the clean energy package represent offensive taxes on Australians.
But this is something other. The industry has then gone ahead and produced modelling as to what would happen if a container deposit scheme along the lines of the one that is operating in the Northern Territory now were to run nationally, with the industry in control of how much it costs. It will cost hundreds of dollars a year, and that, I think, is the gift of whoever thought this up. The scheme has become more expensive than it needed to in the Northern Territory, and the reason it is so expensive is that the industry is profiteering. They have just added holding costs; they have added carriage costs to the containers and are basically rorting the scheme. They are profiteering; they have just added a margin on top when the scheme, in fact, would quite handily have paid for itself out of the unredeemed deposits. No, instead they have just added a holding cost, and that is why the scheme is more expensive in the Northern Territory than it needs to be.
What an act of brazen genius to then commission somebody to run a series of full-page ads saying, 'If the beverage industry is allowed to run this scheme nationally it will cost you hundreds of dollars a year, so make sure that you vote against the container deposit scheme.' I hope that nobody on the government benches has been sucked in by this thing. And I also note in Senator Macdonald's contribution—and he is normally not short of a certain amount of venom and anti-Greens polemic—that even he did not bother to use these fabrications that are being produced by sections of the beverage industry. I do not think that even Senator Macdonald was sucked in by this.
So I hope that our environment minister has not been. When the industry tried it on in the Northern Territory, Chief Minister Henderson pushed back and told Coca-Cola Amatil to get stuffed—to his great credit. With my Western Australian colleagues in 2008, unfortunately, the story was different. The beverage industry went on the attack against a state container deposit scheme in WA. They ran a marginal seat campaign running the same kind of highly deceptive advertising that they are running now, and the Carpenter government backed down. So we do not have a state container deposit scheme. The state ALP is still talking about it and, as I said, my Greens colleague Robyn Chappell has a bill; but we do not have a scheme operating in WA because of the same deceptive and misleading campaign that the industry is trying to run now.
I must admit that this is something other; there is a part of me that actually admires just how brazenly offensive this is. I have never seen anything quite like it. As Senator Xenophon has intimated, we will be writing to the ACCC to investigate whether an industry that runs ads saying that if this scheme is introduced the government will be taxing you and making your life more expensive as a result of charges that they themselves have added to make the scheme much more expensive than it needs to be is in fact being deceptive and misleading. I will be very, very interested to see what the ACCC thinks of that kind of conduct.
I will also indicate now for the benefit of any of the minister's advisers who are listening, or the minister himself, that we will be going into negotiations with the government to seek a short Senate inquiry into whether the industry has basically ripped off and undermined the scheme in the Northern Territory. The Boomerang Alliance paper that Senator Xenophon was speaking briefly to before contains some very interesting financial data about if beverages are more expensive in South Australia and the Territory when you net out the increased costs, the transport costs of shipping materials to the Northern Territory. The figures break out very interestingly. For Coca-Cola Amatil, Lion Nathan National Foods and Schweppes, who happen to be members and financial supporters of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, yes, there does appear to be a margin there. This smells enough for the ACCC, and I believe a Senate inquiry, to want to take a look at it.
When you look at Fosters, Diageo and Coopers on the other hand, there is no imprint; there is no additional price being levied by them. It appears that the part of the industry that is running this deceptive campaign under the rubric of the Australian Food and Grocery Council is actually ripping us off. Then they have the nerve to run a national ad campaign saying, 'Careful, you don't want to let us rip you off nationally. It'll cost you hundreds of dollars a year.' Breathtaking. I think this is, in fact, a very clear-cut example of profiteering. There is your fourfold strategy: delay, confuse, attack and, when you lose, just gouge. Turn it to your advantage. Brilliant—absolutely brilliant! It has to stop.
We will get a national container deposit scheme, I believe. The Australian Greens will come back with a bill. We will take advice from the industry and we will take the benefit of the work that has been done in the regulatory impact assessment process to see if the bill needs to be changed at all. We have always been open to negotiation and counterproposals on this one. But instead, we have seen a rather feeble response from government senators coming in here and reading from their talking points. Check the Hansard: there are a whole slabs of the contributions that are basically word for word. Please come in here, at least, with an original thought in your head. At least Senator Thistlethwaite, although completely off target, had a go at an original angle attacking the scheme.
What bugs me the most, I guess, is when we come in here with a concept that is proven, that is extremely popular and that is something that even Commonwealth environment minister, Tony Burke, has said that he supports, we are told, 'Yes, we support you in principle but we are going to vote against your bill because what we would rather do is spend another couple of decades crawling through a regulatory impact assessment process while we are undermined, white-anted and sandbagged by these parts of the beverage industry every step of the way.' We do not have decades. For any senators who were not in the chamber yesterday, Senator Whish-Wilson spoke so eloquently of the garbage patches that are arising in the middle of the world's great oceans and the trash washed up on beaches and inside marine creatures—the garbage that is left and ends up washing into rivers. Materials that we could use end up getting turfed into landfill; dumped and rotting, giving off greenhouse gas emissions or just being lost to industrial recycling processes forever. It is heartbreaking. It is absolutely time that we took action.
So we indicate for the benefit of senators now that we will call a division on this bill. We believe very strongly that its time is not too far away. We encourage the environment minister to work with us to introduce a brief Senate inquiry into whether the industry is basically white-anted and is now profiteering off the schemes in the NT, and arguably in South Australia as well. We will be back with another bill; this story is not yet concluded, and it will not be until we have what the vast majority of Australians want—a national container deposit scheme.