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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1354

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) (11:28): I rise to speak on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010 and to indicate that the government's position is not to support the legislation. It is not that I am not convinced that Senator Ludlam is very passionate about this issue, because I know he is and I have had a number of discussions with him about the topic. I know he is genuinely concerned with the issue of waste from containers and ways to deal with it. I will come more specifically to his bill and why the government, at this stage, is not indicating support for it.

First, I go back to a comment Senator Rhiannon made on this topic. She referred to the South Australian container deposit legislation. As a senator from South Australia, I am very familiar with that system and how it works. The current system, which the senator is using for comparative purposes, started in 1977. As a very young boy in South Australia I used to go to the football at Unley Oval with my father, who was a supporter of the SANFL Sturt Football Club. Back then—and I am talking now about the 1960s, Senator Rhiannon—we had a system in South Australia of collection and deposit. My father always chastised me because, rather than watching the football and following his team, I would wander around the oval and collect the bottles. I am pretty certain that back then they were Woodruff's bottles, and there was a 5c deposit even back then. Interestingly enough, I ultimately did not follow my father's team. My mother was a West Adelaide supporter, not a Sturt supporter, and she seemed to have greater influence on me, so I was not particularly interested when Sturt were playing.

The point of that little history lesson is that there is a significant difference between the bill from Senator Ludlam and how the system operates in South Australia. The system in South Australia is an industry-run scheme and what is being proposed by Senator Ludlam in this piece of legislation is a government-run scheme. There is quite a fundamental difference, and the Northern Territory legislation, which we have talked about, follows the South Australian pattern.

It is important to say at the outset that the reason we are opposing this legislation is not that we are not concerned about the issue of waste as a government, because we are. It is not because we do not have a plan to progress this issue, because, in fact, we do. As Senator Ludlam well knows, there is a process in place as we speak. It is not as if we have sat on our hands and done nothing about the issue. We have, in fact, progressed the issue and are continuing to progress the issue in what I think is a sensible sort of way.

As Senator Ludlam will know, last year we set up a national Product Stewardship Act for the first time. It was one of those pieces of legislation which ultimately got through this parliament with the support of all parties. The Greens were very helpful, particularly Senator Ludlam, but Senator Birmingham was also very actively involved in the legislation, particularly as it was going through the Senate. We were able to set up a national scheme for product stewardship, and some of the early benefits of that scheme are about to roll out very shortly for the collection of e-waste. I had the good fortune of being up in Bathurst a few weeks ago, and I saw some of what might end up being the way in which the e-waste is rolled out through the council in that town, which I understand is close to being underwater.

So it is not as if the government does not have any runs on the board for this issue, because we do. We have taken the issue of waste very seriously. We have taken it seriously by introducing that product stewardship legislation and, more particularly, we are in the process of rolling out a whole set of schemes which will ensure that we actively deal with this issue of waste. However, there are other processes that we need to go through. I know Senator Ludlam is young and keen and wants to progress this issue—

Senator Ludlam: Before I am old.

Senator FARRELL: I can assure you that before you are old this legislation and this issue will be progressed, but sometimes it is better to hasten slowly to make sure that things work well. Again, going back to the South Australian example, I am not sure when companies in South Australia first put a deposit on bottles but it was certainly prior to the 1960s, so there has been a long history of experience in South Australia on this issue.

The reality is that South Australia leads the way in so many ways in this country. Lots of things that come out of South Australia end up being national—

Senator Back: The Sturt Football Club, to name one I can think of.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, but I am not sure they have moved nationally. If you had mentioned Port Adelaide, Senator—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Through the chair, Senator Farrell.

Senator FARRELL: Yes, I am sorry. If you could please stop these interjections—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Do not encourage them, Senator Farrell.

Senator Back interjecting

Senator FARRELL: I did not hear that one, but I will not ask for it to be repeated. I did have a solution to Tasmania's problem of not having a football team, but that is another issue.

We are serious about this issue, and the way in which we have progressed it as a government is the way it needs to be progressed. If the Greens or the opposition, or any other group, such as local councils, are interested in solving the problem at a national level, short of making the South Australian scheme a national one, then we have to work through the proper processes. There is a bit of history to where we are at the moment. I am not sure if Senator Rhiannon was in the New South Wales parliament when this issue was subject to examination in 2003. The New South Wales parliament investigated the issue of container deposit legislation and came to the conclusion, I think it would be fair to say, that it was generally a positive thing to do. But we are now nine years on, of course, and what we know is that New South Wales have not progressed the issue and there has been nothing done at that state government level. The issue continued to be discussed. Victoria and the ACT, using similar methodology to New South Wales, came to the conclusion that introducing container deposit legislation would actually have a negative impact on kerbside collections. This was an issue Senator Rhiannon referred to, but the evidence of those studies in the ACT and Victoria raised question marks about whether or not this might be counterproductive to the way in which other states had dealt with the issue of kerbside collection. There was a further study in the ACT and it found that kerbside recycling is more cost efficient than container deposit legislation and that the introduction of container deposit legislation could actually increase costs. So, as we can see, the states have done a variety of things.

Given that as a government we have introduced the landmark product stewardship legislation we want to move forward in a consistent way, so COAG has been dealing with the issue. The COAG Standing Council on Environment and Water has been investigating the national options for addressing this issue since 2008 and in 2010 the environment ministers across all jurisdictions introduced a regulatory impact statement. Senator Rhiannon was a little bit dismissive of this process, but we work through all of the proper processes and the way in which this issue is appropriately progressed is through what we call the RIS—regulatory impact statement—process. That is what has been occurring.

There was a Senate inquiry into the bill when it was introduced in the first instance in 2009. Senator Ludlam has been an active advocate for this bill, as have other senators in this place who are now no longer with us—one was Senator Fielding, who was also very keen to progress this particular legislation. But that Senate inquiry found that there was insufficient information to assess whether a national deposit scheme would increase recycling and decrease litter at least cost to the community. The RIS process that we are now going through is designed to provide us with that information.

COAG decided in 1995, as part of an agreement to implement the national competition policy and related reforms, that all national regulatory activity should be subject to the RIS process. That is the requirement under the COAG scheme and that process is now underway. It is a little bit frustrating from the point of view of the government and of the person in the government responsible for this issue to find, when we are asking groups to tell us what they think of the RIS and we are in the consultation process, that we have this bill before the parliament. I would have thought the far more sensible thing to do—and I am not one for giving the Greens advice—would have been to wait until we at least had—

Senator Ludlam: And wait and wait and wait!

Senator FARRELL: Patience is a virtue, Senator Ludlam.

Senator Ludlam: Especially in this portfolio!

Senator FARRELL: We are getting there, Senator. We are making progress in lots of areas, as you will see, and we are going to progress the issue of waste collection. As I said, the RIS process is underway; it is out there. All of the interest groups—Senator Rhiannon talked about the councils—have an opportunity to participate in the process and are quite significantly doing so and coming forward with their responses to what has been provided. From a personal and a government point of view, I think it was disappointing that the Boomerang Alliance, one of whose proposals was the subject of examination under the RIS, decided—I think a little peremptorily—to resign and withdraw from the process. I think they would have better served the people they wish to represent by continuing to participate.

In the remaining minutes I have in this debate I would like to talk about the options that the COAG process has considered under the RIS process. Four key options were assessed for their costs and benefits for packaging waste and litter. The two key stakeholders, the Boomerang Alliance and the beverage industry, proposed specific options for the RIS to assess. Option No. 1 does not involve any new regulation. It is a strategy that would coordinate the actions of the jurisdictions and improve the use of the current infrastructure through increased knowledge, education and information sharing between the various interested parties. It seeks to increase recycling and reduce litter with minimal additional resources. The second option involves action under the coregulatory provisions of the Product Stewardship Act 2011. I referred earlier to the fact that we have already started the process of setting up national waste collection schemes under that act and will very shortly be rolling out some new proposals there. The RIS looked at three suboptions under the act, each one building on the other and involving the specification of higher levels of recycling and litter reduction. Like regulations made to establish the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, regulations under the Product Stewardship Act would have the effects of: identifying liable parties, in this case companies in the packaging supply chain; requiring local parties to join an approved arrangement; and setting outcomes for an approved arrangement relating for example to packaging design, recovery, recycling and litter reduction.

Under the first suboption, option 2A, the current Australian Packaging Covenant would come under the Product Stewardship Act as a co-regulatory arrangement. As you may recall, Mr Deputy President, if you followed closely the debate about the product stewardship legislation, there are three systems under that legislation. I can see from your response there that you are fully on top of the legislation, and you would therefore know that there are three mechanisms under it: voluntary, co-regulatory and mandatory. The option I mentioned, option 2A, slots into the co-regulatory arrangement. The regulations would set outcomes at the level already identified for the Australian Packaging Covenant.

The second suboption, option 2B, is an industry-proposed packaging stewardship scheme. Under this option, in addition to the actions and outcomes from option 2A there would be a focus on key problem areas—in particular, beverage containers—and additional outcomes would be set out in regulation.

The third suboption, option 2C, is called the extended packaging stewardship scheme. This suboption involves a significant increase in the industry commitment relative to options 2A and 2B and would be set in the regulations. This third suboption involves the mandatory advanced disposal fee, whereby the government would place a fee on packaging materials which could be used for a range of actions to encourage the packaging of recycling and the reduction of litter. Importantly, the advanced disposal fee would have an impact on packaging at its source. It would influence both manu­facturers' choices of packaging and the choices of those who specify certain packaging for their products.

The fourth suboption again involves suboptions—in this case, two separate container deposit options. Both involve a 10c-per-container refund; however, they differ in the design and the configurations of the collection infrastructure. Option 4A is the option proposed under the umbrella of the environment group the Boomerang Alliance and is perhaps the option that most closely mirrors what Senator Ludlam is proposing in his bill. Under this option, there would be a diverse range of collection points, such as supercollectors, hubs, collection centres and reverse-vending machines, at which people could redeem their deposits. Option 4B is a hybrid container deposit scheme— (Time expired)