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Second reading, Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020, 7 December 2020

It is a pleasure to speak on one of the most important issues currently facing our nation: protecting our environment for today, for tomorrow and into the future for generation after generation. A key part of this commitment is to stop the waste. That is key to our protection of the environment on the land, in the air, along our coastlines and in our precious oceans. The Morrison government is committed to bringing to an end the 645,000 tonnes of unprocessed plastic, paper, glass and tyres which Australia ships annually overseas. The Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 and related bills will provide a vital phased approach to ensure that this becomes a reality. As the Prime Minister said so succinctly: it is our waste; it is our responsibility.’

I’m incredibly proud of the many ways in which the Morrison government is committed to protecting our environment. Whether it’s meeting and beating our climate targets or supporting local environmental community initiatives, this is a government which takes the practical environmental actions which are required. By way of example, the government released the Quarterly update of Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory: June 2020 a very short time ago. The quarterly update confirms that Australia has beaten its 2020 target for lower emissions—the target period being 2013-20—by 459 million tonnes, an overachievement on the previous record, being that between 2008 and 2012. This is an increase on the previous estimate of 411 million tonnes published in December 2019. Australia’s overachievement on its 2020 target is due in large part to significant structural declines in emissions from the electricity and agriculture sectors. In 2019-20, emissions in the National Electricity Market, which is Australia’s largest electricity grid, fell 5.3 per cent to a new record low. Of course, this has also been driven very substantially by Australia’s incredible investment in renewable energy—some $30 billion since 2017—as we continue to deploy new solar and wind at a rate that is 10 times faster than the global average. Recent advice from the Clean Energy Regulator is that this trend is expected to continue in the coming years. This is evidence of real action by a government with practical, real solutions.
Labor, in contrast, remains committed to its reckless targets. We have seen in recent weeks the war within the Labor Party over climate and energy policy. Labor is all at sea. Independent modelling by BAEconomics shows Labor’s 45 per cent emissions reduction target and its 50 per cent renewable energy target would drive up wholesale power prices by 58 per cent, cost the economy $472 billion, reduce real wages by $9,000 per household and slash 336,000 jobs. At least there are some in Labor who have worked this out and worked out the cost of the reckless policies which Labor, of course, took to the last election and which were soundly defeated. Yet it is very concerning that much of Labor’s true thinking was revealed by its Labor Environment Action Network, which said: ‘High prices are not a market failure. They are proof of the market working well.’

Importantly, the Morrison government’s approach with these bills before us today harnesses a cooperative approach with business and other levels of government, along with the community and individuals.

Minister Susan Ley said in her second reading speech:
This bill implements the agreement by all of Australia’s governments to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres. It also incorporates the framework of the existing Product Stewardship Act 2011. It includes improvements to better regulate and encourage our businesses—those that design, manufacture, distribute and use products—to take greater responsibility for their environmental impacts.

And that’s a key point: governments can do so much, but in order for us to reduce our waste, in order for us to embrace the circular economy, we have to do this together with every single business which creates waste and with every single family in every household across Australia. This bill is a very important part of our very significant efforts to transform the nation’s waste and recycling sector. It says that we have to take responsibility for what we produce and that the more we can recycle the less goes into landfill and the better we are now and into the future.

The Commonwealth’s 2018 National Waste Policy identifies five overarching circular economy waste principles. The first is to avoid waste, and that is by prioritising waste avoidance; encouraging efficient use, re-use and repair; and designing products so waste is minimised so that they are made to last and so that we can more easily recover materials from products which are produced. A second important principle is to improve resource recovery—that is, to improve material collection systems and processes for recycling and improve the quality of recycled material we produce. The third principle is to increase the use of recycled material and build demand and markets for recycled products—one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure! That’s a very important principle—that ability for us to see much of what we produce as being recycled throughout our economy. The fourth principle is the better management of material flows to benefit human health, the environment and the economy. And the fifth principle is to improve information to support innovation, guide investment and enable informed consumer decisions. All of these principles make good environmental sense, and they are key to tackling the problem before us today.

Our government, led by Prime Minister Morrison, is to be congratulated for its unwavering commitment to pursuing better environmental outcomes for all Australians. The export ban will be phased in, starting with glass on 1 January 2021, then including mixed plastics, whole used tyres, single resin or polymer plastics and culminating in July 2024 when mixed and unsorted paper and cardboard will be included. The export ban would only apply to unprocessed waste, which allows for the processing of waste materials within Australia for subsequent export and use in overseas manufacturing.

Minister Ley has made it very clear that this offers an economic opportunity for Australia, saying:
The waste export ban is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse and convert waste into a resource—
a resource we can continue to use as a nation over and over. These reforms are expected to see the Australian economy turn over an additional $3.6 billion and potentially generate $1.5 billion in additional economic activity over the next 20 years. So this is a big win for both the environment and our economy.
We recognise of course if action is not taken scientists estimate that in 30 years time the weight of plastics in our oceans will exceed the weight of the fish in the oceans, and that’s a pretty horrifying thought. I know where I live, in south-west Victoria, including in the wonderful electorate of Corangamite, that is a very important priority.

We want to make sure that our oceans are as clean as they possibly can be, and in communities where I live throughout the Corangamite electorate—a magnificent part of the world, as we know—there is a really strong and important focus on reducing plastic in our oceans.

Australians create around 67 million tonnes of waste each year. We want to see less waste going to landfill and ending up in oceans and more being reused and recycled. We are building Australia’s domestic recycling capability through our $167 million Australian recycling investment plan. This plan will increase Australia’s recycling rates, tackle plastic waste and litter, accelerate work on a new battery recycling scheme and halve food waste by 2030. I’m also very pleased that microbeads are being rapidly phased out: 94 per cent of cosmetic and personal care products in Australia are already microbead free.

National environmental initiatives are vital, but so are local environmental initiatives, and I was very pleased recently to join with the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority to announce some very important local environmental programs for south-west Victoria, including the $6 Wild Way Initiative, which includes a $1 million community environmental grants program, and that’s been, of course, steered through Minister Ley’s office. This is a wonderful opportunity for local environment groups to make an application for funding to support a local environmental project, whether it be programs to improve weed and pest animal control, fencing and access track construction or other improvement works and wildlife habitat improvement works. So for those who are reading this Hansard or listening to this debate and are interested in protecting our environment, I would absolutely commend this local project, which is a result of the Morrison government’s commitment to our local environment. Of course, that was a commitment made before the last federal election. It was not matched by Labor, I note, which was pretty disappointing. These grants will provide an amount of funding between $5,000 and $50,000 each year for up to two years. So they are very substantial local grants, and are a really good example of how local initiatives do matter.

This recycling and waste reduction bill represents an effective and cooperative government, business and community approach to protecting our environment. I’m very pleased that the private sector has shown a willingness to be part of the solution at Australia’s first National Plastics Summit, hosted by this government in March. We saw a number of very major pledges from leading companies, including the PAC Group, Nestle, McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Coles, all of which, of course, produce an enormous amount of waste. It is obviously important—very important—that we see that sort of commitment from our large businesses and companies around Australia. So, to every business, large and small: please have a look at what we are doing to support waste reduction, recycling and the circular economy. We are absolutely determined, as a government, to protect Australia’s precious environment, to reduce waste and to embrace our circular economy. Our commitment in this bill is another example of our commitment to the environment, and I commend this bill to the Senate.

7 December 2020

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