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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17245


Mr KELVIN THOMSON (7:24 PM) —Like the member for Dunkley, I was not anticipating that we would be debating the Product Stewardship (Oil) Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2003 just yet. I thank the member for Corio for filling in in my absence.


Mr Billson —His gripping contribution.


Mr KELVIN THOMSON —I am told it was a fine contribution. This legislation is non-controversial and will be supported by the opposition. The product stewardship arrangements for waste oil are part of the Measures for a Better Environment package that formed a key part of the Democrats' GST deal. That package has been consistently underspent. I want to make a few observations about that in due course. In terms of the legislation before us, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Product Stewardship for Waste Oil) Act 2000 and the Excise Tariff Amendment (Product Stewardship for Waste Oil) Act 2000 impose a levy on certain petroleum based oils and greases and their synthetic equivalents to fund the development of a recycling program for waste oil, known as the product stewardship arrangements for waste oil or PSO.

The intention of the product stewardship arrangements for waste oil is to reduce the environmental impact of waste oil by imposing a levy on virgin oils and lubricants. The levy is then used to fund a benefit scheme designed to encourage the recycling of waste oils. Benefits are paid on a six-tier differentiated scale with differing benefit rates for various waste oil recycling activities. Multiuse oils that are used in a specific way, either in the manufacture of another product or in a process that does not create a recyclable waste oil stream, and are considered to present a low level of risk to the environment are outside the original policy intent of the product stewardship arrangements for waste oil.

Given that these sorts of multiuse oils were not envisaged as being part of the scheme originally and are outside that policy intent, this bill provides a mechanism for exempting such oils from the levy. In order to effect this exemption, a new category of benefit, which is to be known as category 8 benefit, under the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 will be paid at the same time as the levy for uses of oil as approved by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage by Gazette notices.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000, firstly, to provide an effective exemption for certain multiuse oils and uses of multiuse oils from the product stewardship oil levy; secondly, to introduce a mechanism which will allow the Minister for the Environment and Heritage to approve the uses of certain oils as eligible for the category 8 benefit; and, thirdly, to implement consequential amendments to the Product Grants and Benefits Administration Act to enable category 8 claimants to register for these PSO benefits.

The parliamentary secretary—who is here this evening—in her press release of 11 June in outlining the scope of the problem said:

More than 500 million litres of lubricating oil is sold each year in Australia, over half of which is collected and recycled after use. Still, a large percentage of this used oil remains unaccounted for, and it could be hurting our environment.

Indeed it could. The press release went on to say:

Waste oil contains hazardous materials that are toxic and carcinogenic, and is harmful to the environment when irresponsibly discarded. These materials include benzene, toluene, dioxins, and other light hydrocarbons.

... ... ...

Recent figures suggest that more than 100 million litres of waste oil goes missing each year, which can be harmful to humans and the environment. It takes only one litre of oil to contaminate a million litres of drinking water.

The Howard government indicated that it had allocated $60 million to the product stewardship arrangements for waste oil. They commenced back in January 2001. We agree that this is a substantial problem and that it is a significant issue. That is why we support the bill. However, we did find that before too long the commitment to allocate $60 million to the product stewardship arrangements became exposed as hollow rhetoric and promises of funding were broken.

In this year's budget, the government cut $40 million of the $60 million that was originally allocated for the transitional assistance component and said that this funding was no longer considered necessary for program implementation. The member for Dunkley, in his remarks, described this as money which had been freed for reallocation. The rhetoric of liberation is wonderful indeed, but it means that that money has not been spent in the way that the government said it was going to be. The journal Environmental Manager of May 20 this year reported:

A `reprioritisation' will see some funds originally intended for the $60m transitional assistance component of the Federal Government's used oil recycling scheme now go to other environment protection initiatives, the Budget papers show. An EM source said the oil stewardship advisory council had been assured funds would not be redirected. However, the minister's office said no such undertaking was given and the council has been informed the scheme may be amended.

Indeed it has been amended, and the money is now to be used in other ways. This latest cut by the Howard government to environment spending is, sadly, but one of many examples—and we have this over and over again—of this government's record of cuts and underspending. I indicated that the scheme we are debating tonight is part of the Measures for a Better Environment package that formed a key part of the Democrats' GST deal. The Measures for a Better Environment package included the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, the Renewable Remote Power Generation program, CNG and LPG vehicle conversion, the development and commercialisation of renewable energy, and diesel and oil recycling measures.

The Measures for a Better Environment package has been consistently and massively underspent. The original Measures for a Better Environment commitment was $896 million over four years, from 2000-01 to 2003-04. Estimates questioning in May this year revealed, however, that actual spending will be $297.6 million over this period—a cut of 67 per cent. The Australian Greenhouse Office revealed that funding has now been pushed out until 2014—an extra 10 years—with no new money. That is extraordinary. This program is being pushed out over 10 years with no extra allocation of funds. It suggests that the level of commitment which this government claims to have to environmental protection and repair is not matched by what it provides by way of resources and that its professed commitment is not real. Funding over the life of the program will also be cut from a promised $896 million to $812 million—a cut of $84 million.

When the government is not cutting the environment budget, it is in the business of allocating it to Liberal and National Party electorates, as we found recently with the Envirofund. More than 76 per cent of the $20 million Envirofund has been spent in Liberal and National Party electorates; indeed, in South Australia and in Western Australia more than 96 per cent of the grants went to Liberal electorates. This allocation cannot be defended on the grounds that the grants were allocated evenly around the country and that the Liberal and National parties represent a larger land mass. In fact, the distribution of Envirofund grants was not area based. Queensland projects received less than half the funding that New South Wales projects received, yet Queensland has a much larger area; and Western Australia got even less funding, despite having a larger area than both Queensland and New South Wales. The minister's response to these revelations was to claim that an Australian National Audit Office report of late 2001 found no bias, that they are assessed in an apolitical process on their merits. In fact, Envirofund was announced on 4 April 2002—which is more than a year after the Audit Office audit—so the minister has been misleading the public and the media about auditing of the Natural Heritage Trust's Envirofund by the National Audit Office. Natural Heritage Trust funding has never been about achieving the right outcomes. Under this government, the primary objective has been to buy votes, and the Minister for the Environment and Heritage should have the Audit Office conduct an audit into what has all the hallmarks of a $20 million pork-barrelling exercise.

The government's failure in this area is nothing compared with its irresponsible and illogical position on the Kyoto protocol on climate change. Australia cannot solve climate change—which is caused by accelerating greenhouse gas emissions—on its own. A collective, international effort is required. More than 100 countries have now ratified the treaty, and ratification by the Russian Federation, expected later this year, will ensure that the protocol will come into international force this year. On 29 April this year we saw the fifth anniversary of Australia's signing of the Kyoto protocol. I believe we have deliberated long enough. With the protocol on the verge of coming into force, even Australia's peak business lobby, the Business Council of Australia, has reconsidered its opposition to the ratification of the protocol, and many of its members now publicly support ratification. Early action would allow Australian industry to take advantage of growing global markets for environmental goods and services and to prepare for the reality of a carbon constrained future.

In May this year I introduced to federal parliament a private member's bill to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change. I believe the government should support this important legislation, which would give legal effect to Australia's Kyoto target and ensure that Australian industry can take advantage of emerging new markets when the treaty comes into international force. So far, the minister's response to the challenge of climate change has been about a government-business climate change dialogue and getting on-side with the United States through what is euphemistically referred to as a climate action partnership. What we need to do, however, is to aim to stabilise and, in the longer term, work to reverse, the impact of human induced climate change.

Labor are serious about tackling climate change. We would ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change, and we are also committed to domestic action on greenhouse gases. On World Environment Day we pledged to increase Australia's use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, by an additional five per cent by 2010. Indeed, a Newspoll survey released soon after, on 11 June, showed that 83 per cent of Australians would be willing to pay extra if they got their power from renewable sources—an interesting commentary on public interest in these issues and on the level of public support for renewable energy sources. Such a commitment would enable Australia to meet its Kyoto target, create thousands of jobs and attract investment, and it is estimated that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by some 17 million tonnes.

An additional five per cent mandatory renewable energy target has been supported by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and represents a significant increase to the Howard government's existing target. The Prime Minister originally committed to a two per cent increase but, since the government announced that target in 1997, the contribution of renewable energy has actually fallen by two per cent. That target is presently under review. This provides a perfect opportunity for the government to respond to the overwhelming community support to increase it.

Labor's commitment to an additional five per cent of renewable energy in Australia's electricity supply mix will help Australia meet its Kyoto target, create many jobs, attract investments and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We believe that the sustainable energy sector is a growth industry of the future and, by supporting Labor's five per cent target, the government can ensure that this is the case. Let me conclude by saying that I think the government needs to get serious about environment protection and repair and to spend less time on self-congratulatory backslapping and more time on seeing that money allocated for the environment is actually spent on the environment. The opposition support the measures that are before the House and will not be objecting to this bill.