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Thursday, 5 December 1974
Page: 4623

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Dr JENKINS -I bring up the report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation on the question of the need for a uniform substantial deposit on all beverage containers. This is the fifth and most substantial report of the Committee, which was established in the Twenty-eighth Parliament and reappointed in May of this year following the double dissolution.

The question of solid waste management in Australia was one of the matters referred to the Committee on its appoinment by the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, the Honourable Moss Cass. For this reason the Australian Environment Council considered it appropriate to refer the question of deposits on beverage containers through the Minister to the Committee. The Committee recognises that a study of the problems associated with the disposal of beverage containers in isolation from packaging and solid waste generally is unsatisfactory. The reference was however accepted as reflecting the wishes of the Environment Council and the environmental impact of beverage containers, while only part of a wider problem, does raise a number of specific issues. The time available today does not permit discussion of the wide range of issues which emerged during the course of the inquiry but some of these are considered at length in the report and others will be dealt with in depth in subsequent reports by this Committee. One matter with which the Committee is particularly concerned is the developing trend towards the use of plastic and plastic-coated cardboard containers but it was considered that insufficient evidence was available to the Committee to make recommendations relating to them in this report. This matter will be considered in a later report.

The recommendations contained in this report were adopted unanimously by the members of the Committee and will provide the basis for the Australian and State Governments, in cooperation with industry and conservationists, to frame legislation and develop the necessary administrative machinery. The recommendations will have the effect of: 1. reinforcing the existing voluntary deposit scheme; 2. encouraging the use of returnable, refillable containers; 3. acting as a stimulus for the development of recycling technology; 4. reducing the drain on Australia's finite natural resources; and 5. providing finance for research programs, for solid waste disposal and for anti-litter education programs.

The optional three cent tax on non-returnable containers recommended by the Committee is approximately equal to the price difference between the contents of a non-returnable container and those of a returnable container. The taxdeposit system will provide cheaper beverages for consumers by increasing the usage of returnable containers and will ease the financial burden on local government and other organisations responsible for the collection and disposal of solid waste. The Committee strongly recommends the application of the funds provided by the tax system to finance research into problems of solid waste disposal and related public education programs. The need for these measures cannot be over emphasised. The recommended ban on 'ring-pull' tops, which are a recognised environmental hazard, should not be seen as punitive to the industry as it comes at a time of introduction of new types of self-opening cans which are more environmentally acceptable.

I would like to congratulate witnesses on the very high standard of submissions tendered to the Committee and indicate that it was our intention to have the evidence reproduced in printed form but the cost proved to be prohibitive. Copies of evidence are however available to the public in roneoed Hansard form.

I acknowledge the efforts of all members of the Committee who worked long and hard on a difficult inquiry to produce what I consider to be a most satisfactory report. I particularly express my appreciation for the support and assistance of my Deputy Chairman, the honourable member for Bendigo, Mr Bourchier. I also thank the members of staff who worked on this inquiry for their conscientious efforts and acknowledge the contribution of the former Clerk to the Committee, Mr Tim Richmond, who was appointed as technical adviser to the Committee when he left the staff of the House of Representatives in September of this year.

In concluding my remarks, I would like to comment on 2 matters relating to the conduct of this inquiry. The beverage industry, from the container production stage to the retail outlets involves many millions of dollars of investment and provides employment for several thousand workers. In considering the implications of a deposit scheme the Committee was restricted to second-hand information on the implementation and effects of deposit systems in comparable overseas situations.

I believe that it is time that the Australian Parliament reconsidered its attitudes to overseas travel by committees and sub-committees of the Parliament where a substantial case can be made that the effectiveness of an inquiry may be jeopardised by lack of first-hand information. Extra-parliamentary committees, commissions and government departments are not inhibited in the same way.

In this particular case, the expenditure of public funds on a visit by a sub-committee to the United States of America, Canada and perhaps Scandinavia would have been perfectly justifiable if we consider the effects that the Committee's recommendations can have on a significant sector of Australian industry. I feel the Parliament leaves itself open to charges of irresponsibility by conducting inquiries of such complexity as this one and with such extensive economic implications 'on the cheap'.

Another more disturbing feature to emerge since the Committee completed drafting the report is the pressure placed on members of the Committee and its staff to divulge its findings and recommendations before the Committee completes its obligations by reporting directly to the Parliament. I am particularly distressed that some of this pressure has come from certain members of this House. Others involved were some members of the Press, lobby groups and representatives of industry. I consider this action regrettable and it leads me to suggest that consideration be given by this House to adopting the procedure of having committees table their recommendations immediately upon their completion. The related report would be tabled as soon as its printing was completed. This course of action may save members and staff of committees being subjected to the treatment I have referred to. I commend the contents of the report for the consideration of the Parliament.

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