Senate debates

Monday, 5 February 2018


Statute Update (Smaller Government) Bill 2017; In Committee

6:15 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

From my understanding, there were amendments circulated in the name of Senator Whish-Wilson— (Quorum formed)

6:17 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy President, I just need to locate my amendments. Have the amendments been circulated?

The CHAIR: If I could assist, Senator Whish-Wilson, I think Senator O'Sullivan was going to make a point. If Senator O'Sullivan still wants to do that, it will give you time to find what you're looking for.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a question to the minister, if it's the appropriate time.

The CHAIR: Yes, it certainly is.

I've got quite a bit of interest in this bill, particularly where it relates to any action of government that increases efficiencies whilst at the same time reducing bureaucratic burden. My first question is: to what extent did negotiations occur between the government and the states through COAG for the development of this bill?

I ask that question for a particular reason. The states have an interest in the impacts and the delivery of Commonwealth services. We can see that this particular bill covers quite a number of areas that will obviously impact on issues within the states. I also note that this bill has been developed over quite a long period of time. Indeed, it's a product of meeting what have been budget commitments and possibly even election commitments over that same period of time. Before I get into very specific questions relating to specific aspects of the act, I'm interested to know—to the extent that you may have firsthand knowledge—what the process was with the states in the negotiation and the development of matters that have influenced this act that we have before us here today. I'm sure the states have had—

An honourable senator interjecting

I'm waiting for the minister; I want to make sure he fully understands the depth and breadth of my question. I'm sure the minister has some knowledge of what that process has been with COAG over the time that has led up to the drafting of this particular act.

6:20 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for that query. There was consultation, as was necessary, with state jurisdictions. A number of these matters covered by this bill cover different portfolio areas. Just one example where there would have been consultation with the states is in relation to the abolition of CAMAC.

6:21 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Could I reiterate very briefly a few of my comments from the second reading debate about this idea of small government and removing red tape and green tape? It's as though, somehow, by raising a small amount of money, we're going to get a benefit for the Australian taxpayer when what we're actually removing plays a critical role in preventing further costs to the Australian taxpayer and to the Australian community down the track—like having in place a holistic approach to waste management in this country.

I'm very concerned that this came from the Commission of Audit and it goes all the way back to the 2013 budget—the zombie budget, the buster budget. I think Senator Bernardi rightly pointed out earlier this afternoon that this is kind of the remnants, the last gasp of the government being seen to be doing something about removing some red and green tape in this country. It's a real shame that they've chosen to target a couple of areas that I'm very passionate about and that I believe are critically important, especially right now when this country has a recycling crisis on its hands. It's not just kerb-side recycling for bottles and cans and cardboard and other products; it's tyres, which are supposed to be covered by product stewardship schemes, and very soon it's going to emerge in photovoltaics. As we start seeing generations of solar panels being phased out, no-one's got any idea on what we're going to do with these kinds of products.

A product stewardship scheme is, intuitively, a really good idea. My question to the minister is about this: the legislation before us is removing the advisory groups of the product stewardship scheme. I'll get to some other points in a minute about ASADA and CAMAC, but on the product stewardship scheme the legislation before us is removing the advisory groups. I understand those advisory groups have been defunct now, essentially, for a couple of years, since the 2014 legislation was put before the Senate. There is currently a review underway into the Product Stewardship Act itself. That review, I understand—and please tell me if this is correct—is due to be released sometime this year in 2018. Could you please clarify that for me?

6:23 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

We'll just check on that for you now.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

While you do that—take your time—the reason I'm asking this question is that I understand—and senators were given this in a Parliamentary Library brief, and it's something we've requested some information on—that if the product stewardship schemes are going to be wound up, then it's important that the advisory groups play a role in advising the government on that wind-up and in the review. But, essentially, no-one has been active in this scheme for a while now—which, incidentally, is why Labor are saying that they're going to support winding this up, because it's essentially defunct already. I want to put on record that that is not a good argument. We should be revitalising these schemes and advisory groups and getting on with the job of solving the waste crisis that we have in this country. I would be very keen to know what is going on with the review of the product stewardship scheme before I ask my next questions.

6:25 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

Speaking directly to the abolition of the Product Stewardship Advisory Group, the act has clocked up several years of operation, so the view is that we no longer need that steering group, which was intended to give direction in the establishment phase. The Department of the Environment and Energy now engages with industry experts on an as-needs basis to gather advice on classes of products to be considered for some form of accreditation or regulation. This is a far more flexible and effective way to engage with the best people at least cost, unlike a standing body, which has an inflexible composition of fixed overheads. This approach to consultation means we can get more diversity of input from people who are highly engaged and effective because they're from the appropriate industry or science fields. The 2016-17 product list, I'm advised, was compiled under this kind of consultation and includes products such as end-of-life batteries, photovoltaic systems, plastic oil containers and the products that Senator Whish-Wilson talked about last year in this debate: products containing microbeads.

6:26 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll talk this out until the dinner break, and perhaps over that time you could check on the status of the Product Stewardship Act. My understanding was that a review of that act was part of an omnibus repeal bill in 2014, but there's a compulsory five-year review. The proposed abolition of this legislation that we're reviewing tonight was announced and amending legislation was introduced in 2014, but I'm very interested in the Product Stewardship Act, which is currently under review pursuant to provisions of that act that require the government to initiate an independent review of its operations every five years. My footnote for that was the Product Stewardship Act, section 109. There's a statement from Minister Frydenberg under in the 'Review of Product Stewardship Act 2011' media release from March 2017, and the Department of the Environment and Energy product stewardship website's also got a statement. I want to confirm that that is the case—that the whole act is under review—and when that might finish.

That's really important here. Not only are we potentially putting the cart before the horse in winding up what we're doing with this legislation tonight, but the expertise that was critical to at least one product stewardship scheme being successful—I have doubts as to whether anything else was achieved because of a total lack of commitment and leadership from the Liberal government since they came to power in 2013 in fixing the waste crisis that we have in this country.

I understand that the e-waste product stewardship scheme was almost too successful. They had such a good result that they almost had too much to deal with. But the Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme, a voluntary scheme, has been a bit of a joke. It hasn't achieved much at all. And other waste streams, like containers, cans and bottles, plastic, aluminium and cardboard—I was optimistic, as were many other campaigners around the country, that they would be included in a full national product stewardship scheme. The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee recommended that we have a national product stewardship scheme for cans and bottles. My fear is that, if we lose the advisory groups, we'll then lose the scheme because there's no-one there with the expertise.

After dinner, I'll get into the terminology used by the minister as to how they might go forward with a product stewardship scheme on an 'as-needs basis'. I'm not exactly sure what that means. Are we actually going to have any product stewardship schemes in this country? Are we going to bring in industry and producers of waste and work with stakeholders and recyclers and the community—the consumers of plastic—and fix the bloody problem that we've got? It's enormous. I'm chairing the committee inquiry into this at the moment. We had a full day of hearings in Melbourne in December, before we broke for Christmas. We had Visy; we had all the players there, and everybody was putting their hands up in the air, going, 'What are we doing?'

Progress reported.

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30

I think I might have finished on a question for the minister just before the dinner break, but I will continue until the minister gets here. The explanatory memorandum that all senators have received notes:

The Department of the Environment and Energy will engage with stakeholders on an "as needs" basis on the preparation of the list of classes of products to be considered for some form of accreditation or regulation.

It also suggested the scope for ad hoc consultations by the portfolio department. I would be very interested to hear whether there are any other product stewardship schemes being looked at or planned by the department. I know COAG looks at these issues regularly in its meetings, but I am keen to know how we would determine that 'as needs basis'.

I might also make a few brief comments so I don't have to stand up separately. Actually, to make it easier for you, Temporary Chair Reynolds, I will seek leave to move amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 8357 together.

Leave granted.

I move amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 8357 together:

(1) Schedule 2, page 5 (lines 1 to 20), to be opposed.

(2)Schedule 3, page 6 (lines 1 to 10), to be opposed.

(3)Schedule 7, page 18 (line 1) to page 26 (line 5), to be opposed.

I'll continue to talk to them so we can get straight to voting on the amendments, unless anyone else has anything to contribute.

I want to talk briefly on ASADA. We support the move to abolish the advisory group on the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, ASADA. We have noted—it's in the explanatory memorandum and we have heard it discussed in second reading speeches today—the group's lack of activity throughout its existence and the fact that there are no current members. But as I know Senator Di Natale, especially, has been involved in issues around the integrity of the current antidoping structures in Australia—indeed, worldwide—we want it noted that questions still remain. It is a bit like the points I've been making in relation to the product stewardship scheme for waste streams. We're abolishing these advisory structures, presumably on the basis that we're going to save a few bucks, but we've still got the issue of tackling the core problems that they were set up to tackle in the first place. You're asking us to support legislation that abolishes the expert advisory groups when we haven't actually solved the problems that they were set up to solve in the first place, so you'll have to forgive us for being a bit sceptical.

Minister, I will ask the question I asked before the dinner break: could you confirm that the Product Stewardship Act is currently under review—that's part of an independent five-year review—and when will that review be completed?

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, just to clarify, the Senate's just given Senator Whish-Wilson leave to move all three amendments together.

7:34 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I have been advised in relation to the questions you asked before the dinner break, which I obviously wasn't in the chamber to hear, particularly in relation to whether a review is underway on the product stewardship legislation. You also asked whether this had any implications for the future of the product stewardship model or the direction these schemes will take. In response, I can confirm that there was a review that was announced in early 2017. This was the first review of the act following its commencement in 2011, and it's our intention to conclude that review this year—that is, in 2018. The act has a review provision that requires that a broad review should occur on the fifth anniversary of the act, and I can assure you that the government has no plans or intentions of ditching a product stewardship approach. We have not prejudged the findings of that review.

The terms of reference are written quite broadly. They ask the review to look at whether the act is meeting its intention and to look at interactions with state and territory policies as well as international experience in the field of product stewardship. The terms of reference are only narrow in one regard: asking the review to consider issues around the recycling of TVs and computers, and that is an appropriate question addressing a very contemporary pressure point. The review is open to input from industry, the community, state government, federal government, territory government and local government. A consultation paper is planned to be published very shortly, and there will also be public forums as part of this process.

I should emphasise that when it comes to the future accreditation and regulation of different waste products, the government intends to continue to use a contemporary consultation approach involving discussion with experts most relevant to each class of product as different products are looked at. This is an approach we favour regardless of the shape of the stewardship scheme. Having a fixed group of people considering accreditation and regulation of all product types is a 1970s model of industry engagement that is no longer suited to the diverse world in which we live today. There are many technologies and products today that can find their way into the waste system, and we need to tap different skill sets to address each of these challenges that are before us. Under our approach there will not be less consultation; rather, it will be better targeted. We've been using that approach already and we believe that it's been working very well.

You also asked whether any other schemes have been considered. The government is considering an approach to microbeads at the moment.

7:37 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand a voluntary ban on microbeads has been suggested, and there may be a mandatory ban implemented. Will that be a product stewardship scheme or just a direct ban on microbeads? My understanding is that it was going to be a ban rather than incorporating a stewardship scheme, which involves returns and those kinds of things.

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

The plastic microbeads are currently being considered under the Product Stewardship Act; however, the government has indicated that it will act if it is clear that the industry voluntary phase-out will not be effective.

7:38 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm potentially straying slightly off topic here, but could you tell us tonight when that decision will be taken? Actually, it's directly relevant. Could you let us know when you'll make that decision or when you'll have assessed whether the voluntary ban has actually worked?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I just wondered whether it would have been prudent to wait for the outcomes of the review that's due in midyear before you abolish the advisory group. I presume the people that were on the advisory group and their expertise would have been important in that consultation. Have you actually spoken to those people?

7:39 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm advised that the advisory group hasn't been in operation for some period of time and wasn't actually an integral part of the review process.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That was my point. I understand they haven't been active since the legislation was introduced in 2014, when it was made very clear the government would be removing those.

I am glad that you've said tonight that you are going to continue with the product stewardship scheme model and that you are looking at targeting other waste streams. As I said earlier, this country desperately needs some leadership on waste. It's an issue that cuts across the political divide. It doesn't matter what your political colour is or where you live, no-one likes waste. They especially don't like seeing waste in waterways and in the ocean. It's a critical issue all around the world. The World Economic Forum has issued a call to arms for all governments to tackle this issue and look at economic models that work like product stewardship schemes and refund schemes et cetera. I bang on a lot about it in here, but it's absolutely critical that your government shows leadership on this issue.

Very briefly, because I'm moving all three amendments together so we can get through this quickly, I want to make some comments about CAMAC. Our views are very similar to the Labor Party's views on CAMAC. We think it's a shame that it's being abolished. I have heard the second reading speech from the coalition, and there seems to be this assumption, as there is in the explanatory memorandum, that somehow CAMAC is a lobby or—I won't use the words 'advisory group'—an advocacy group for the financial services industry. My experience has been quite different. Actually, they put out independent and very timely research, especially research on legislation and the legality of some of the issues that we've all dealt with in here in the financial services industry in the last five years. I was especially pleased with the report they did on forestry management investment schemes and management investment schemes in general. I must say, the Senate Economics Committee did a fantastic inquiry into that as well—what a debacle they have been and why they shouldn't be in existence. On that note, that's it from me.

7:41 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to put on the record the position of the opposition in respect of these three amendments, which I now note are going to be moved together. Any of these bodies that Senator Whish-Wilson refers to in his amendments have played important roles over their life, but the fact of the matter is that they now exist in name only. These amendments will not see these bodies staffed, funded or tasked for advice and therefore do nothing by way of reinstating them. As a result, the opposition will not be supporting these amendments.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that schedules 2, 3 and 7 on sheet 8357 stand as printed.

Question agreed to.

Bill agreed to.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: The question is that the bill now be reported. I think the ayes have it—the noes have it? Division required. Senator Whish-Wilson, before we go to a division, can I confirm that you want a division on the question that the bill be reported?

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: You should be waiting, in that case, for the third reading. Do you still want to go to a division?

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Division is cancelled. The question is that the bill now be reported.

Question agreed to.

Bill reported without amendments; report adopted.