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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 8121

Mr ANDREN (3:32 PM) —The Plastic Bag Levy (Assessment and Collection) Bill 2002 provides the definitions and administrative requirements for the introduction of a levy of 25c per bag on plastic shopping bags. It does not provide for the imposition of the levy itself, as the rules of the parliament do not allow for a private member to introduce any bill that imposes such a levy. For this reason, I seek leave to table as a paper a version of such a levy bill, including the relevant financial provisions for that levy, and urge all members, but most importantly government ministers, to take the opportunity to study it.

Leave granted.

Mr ANDREN —Thank you. It offers the process for implementing this legislation if government is of the persuasion once the present self-regulatory voluntary process runs its course—and personally I do not believe such a process will turn this massive environmental crisis around. The levy will not apply in limited, exempted cases; for example, where the bags are used for baked goods, non-packaged fruit and vegetables or fresh meat and fish. Long term, I would like to see cellulose bags replacing plastic for even these exemptions.

There are enormous possibilities for our rural industries in utilising cellulose from by-products of the grain, timber and sugarcane industry. The levy will not apply to paper bags or other non-synthetic packaging such as cellulose bags, but other so-called biodegradable bags are not exempt. Funds collected will be paid into a national environment education fund targeting environmentally hazardous waste to minimise its impact. This aspect is covered in the second bill of this legislative package.

The main purpose of the levy is not to collect funds but to change customer behaviour and reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags used each year—3.3 billion from supermarkets alone. Plastic bags have a costly impact not only on Australia's environment but worldwide. Third World countries are literally strangling on plastic. From the start of this year, Bangladesh has banned the use of plastic bags in Dhaka, where 10 million bags are dumped each day. The rest go into drainage and sewer lines, causing backup and serious disease risk. The major floods of 1989 and 1998 in Bangladesh were exacerbated by plastic bag blocked drains. The disposable culture of the West has created an environmental nightmare in the Third World, with millions of Bangladeshis, like those in other countries, abandoning traditional jute and fabric bags. In India a few years ago I was horrified not only by the tens of thousands of bags littering roads and waterways but to see the sacred cows chewing blue or white plastic as they wandered the streets, many to be carted away dead on trailers as the plastic inevitably blocked their gut.

So too the ubiquitous plastic bag is floating across our oceans, catching birds and sea life in a deadly tangle and also being ingested with fatal results. The shores of the Greek islands are littered with thousands of plastic bags thrown overboard from cruise ships, ferries and the yachting fraternity—out of mind perhaps for the polluters, but never out of sight.

The imposition of similar levies has been notably successful elsewhere in the world. A levy of 15 euro cents, approximately 27 Australian cents per plastic bag, was imposed by regulation in the Republic of Ireland in March this year. Within five months it led to a 90 per cent reduction in plastic bag usage and succeeded in dramatically raising environmental awareness in that country, according to Declan Kelly, Ireland's Ambassador to Australia. Obviously, time will tell whether this change of habit is permanent, but the levy in Ireland appears to have been struck at just the right level to hopefully act as a permanent disincentive. A similar levy is contained in this legislation that I introduce today.

The Irish government also provided for exemptions similar to those contained in this bill, while Irish retailers are saving on the cost of supplying plastic bags as well as making money on the sale of `bags for life'. The Irish scheme also earmarks the levy for a special environment fund to support waste management. One problem with the Irish experience is avoidance by some retailers, but this bill contains provisions authorising the Commissioner of Taxation under sections 11 to 16 to deal with late and unpaid funds.

This bill is recognition that a financial disincentive is the most effective way to achieve real change in consumer habits. The levy will encourage the market to provide environmentally friendly alternatives to the plastic shopping bag and, in conjunction with the second bill that I am about to introduce, provides a comprehensive approach. I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)

Bill read a first time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield)—In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.