Waste management needs national leadership

Published on Monday, 16 September 2019 17:20

The plastic will be in the fish, then the fire-retardants and colourants from the plastic will be in the fish, and then those chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic, will be in us. And yet it's only really now, when countries are refusing to take our plastic waste, that we are waking up to the problem and that the government is waking up to the problem.

Mr Wilson (5:20pm) — It is certainly time for the Australian government to get serious about the issue of waste and resource management, because it's a grave matter of environmental degradation and it's a clear market failure. It's also a missed opportunity in terms of innovation and new jobs in manufacturing.

In terms of the current extinction crisis in Australia, the fact is we are, sadly, leading the world when it comes to mammal extinctions. According to the deputy director of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, a quarter of Australian species are effectively in the waiting room just outside the ICU.

You have to remember that marine species and ecosystems are at risk as a result of plastic waste. Of course it's a good thing that we're talking about it, but we have to do a lot more than just talk about it. I'm glad there's an Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management in the form of the member for Brisbane, and I wish him well, but, as the Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment, I'm concerned that the government's new-found and reactive interest in the issue is not matched by a commitment to take real action. I hope I'm wrong.

We produce a lot of waste in Australia on a per capita basis, and we don't re-use or recycle very much of it. That's especially true when it comes to plastic, which is a particular problem. It might be a wonder material in some respects, but it is without a doubt an environmental nightmare. It would shock many Australians to know that when they sort out the plastic for the recycling bin, hardly any of it is reprocessed or recycled in Australia. More and more plastic is turning up in the gut of fish, turtles and birds. That's awful in itself, but it also has the potential to affect human health.

Globally, 15 million tonnes of plastic waste is getting into the ocean each year through rivers and stormwater systems, through coastal dumping and through poor fishery practices. That is projected to double by the year 2025. It's currently predicted that by 2050 there will be as much plastic in our oceans by weight as fish. Take the next logical step from that shocking statistic. The plastic will be in the fish, then the fire-retardants and colourants from the plastic will be in the fish, and then those chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic, will be in us. And yet it's only really now, when countries are refusing to take our plastic waste, that we are waking up to the problem and that the government is waking up to the problem. If a country like Australia can't do much better, we're hardly going to be in a position to expect less-developed nations in our region to improve their approach, and a lot of their plastic waste is ending up on our shores. There is no doubt that this is a matter crying out for national leadership.

That's why Labor introduced a National Waste Strategy in 2011 with a product stewardship framework to start the process by which companies take responsibility for the waste recovery of certain products. At the recent election we promised to introduce a National Waste Commissioner, to provide $60 million in direct funding for waste initiatives, to ban single-use plastic bags and microbeads, and to create a National Container Deposit Scheme.

The Coalition has not taken up a single one of those initiatives, nor have they taken up some of the key recommendations from the 2018 Senate inquiry on waste, which included: setting procurement targets for the use of recycled material by federal agencies and in projects that receive federal funding; the implementation of all 65 agreed improvements to the National Waste Reporting process; and mandatory product stewardship arrangements for things like tyres and e-waste. The government has made quite a song and dance about its $167 million recycling investment plan, but it's utterly ridiculous for the member for Ryan to describe that as an unprecedented approach to waste management. The $100 million of that program, fully 60 per cent of the program spending as a whole, is not new or additional money. It's just a labelling exercise. It's money that has been in the CEFC. It's been dispersed by the CEFC in previous years. There's not one dollar more of funding. It is not new or additional in any way, shape or form. That kind of costuming exercise doesn't inspire a lot of confidence at a time when we're supposed to be doing more about plastic waste and more about waste and resource management in general.

We desperately need national leadership on waste and resource management. Various state and territory governments are stepping up. Local governments around Australia are pioneering new methods of reuse and recycling. Communities around Australia are keen to do their bit. And it's well past time for the federal government, for our national government, to come to the party. If we get it right, there will be considerable benefits for Australia in new and innovative manufacturing opportunities. But, most importantly of all, our environment absolutely requires it. The community expects us to get on with it, and the test is whether the government will respond to those calls.

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AUTHORISED BY JOSH WILSON
AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY CANBERRA
© COPYRIGHT 2019 JOSH WILSON MP