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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 150

Mr HENRY (10:58 AM) —I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004, as I think it is one that will provide fantastic support for our community in addressing issues of water conservation and water efficiency. It will also provide support for the leadership role that I believe plumbers and the plumbing industry generally have taken across Australia in educating our community and promoting water efficiency through a number of programs, such as the Waterwise plumbing program in Western Australia, where plumbers are trained to carry out audits, to develop knowledge on the range of products that are available for water efficiency and to promote those to their customers. Who better to be educating our communities than those who are out there servicing our communities dealing with and addressing water issues every day? I certainly compliment that industry for their efforts. I have had almost 20 years in the plumbing industry, so I can speak with some appreciation and some understanding of those issues and the challenges. This bill will reinforce those initiatives and those efforts.

One of the speakers on the other side mentioned the GreenPlumbers program, which is run by the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia. That is certainly a program to be commended. I guess it arose out of some of the other programs that were initiated earlier in Queensland and Western Australia which adopted the Waterwise logo and promoted water efficiency. As I mentioned, I have been involved in the industry for some lengthy period of time at a local, national and international level.

This bill is one that makes Australia a leader in addressing issues of water efficiency at a community level. This bill’s introduction is very timely because 2004, as I understand it, is the Year of the Built Environment. The issue is one that the plumbing industry and plumbers generally have made a significant contribution to over a long period of time. In fact, if I might just briefly reflect on that, 100 years or so ago in Perth we had a population of about 5,000 people living on 3,000 acres. At that particular time, 40 per cent of that population suffered from waterborne diseases like typhoid, dysentery and cholera. Doctors approached the government and said, ‘We need to do something about this. We cannot continue this way.’ Fresh water supplies were severely contaminated by human waste, which led to the serious disease situation. Those doctors made a recommendation that plumbers be trained and registered to ensure that they had the skills and the competency to carry out the work. Plumbers were first registered and licensed in 1910 in Western Australia.

It is interesting to note that 100 years on we have buildings such as Parliament House and buildings in Perth and other parts of Western Australia that probably house 5,000 people—people who are supplied with fresh water and appropriate sanitation without that disease impost and without those potential challenges to human society. Yet we all too often take it for granted. For example, a number of developing countries do not enjoy the level of amenity that we do, including the delivery of fresh water and the sanitary services provided by plumbers. They do not have high-rise cities to provide the level of comfort and amenity that we enjoy here. They still have considerable outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery et cetera. That is a great demonstration of the effect that plumbing has had. This bill is another step forward in increasing the sophistication of the range of beneficial services that we provide to our communities in Australia.

Water efficiency, as other speakers have mentioned, is an issue that is very important in Australia. The member for Maranoa mentioned that Australia is one of the driest countries in the world and there is no doubt that we have significant issues with water and we need to do everything we possibly can to conserve water. Not only that: we need to ensure that we educate our communities about the benefits of water efficiency and conserving water and about the advantageous environmental impact that will have. It is very important that we ensure that our communities appreciate the value of fresh water. Indeed, in Perth and Western Australia we have had water restrictions for a number of years. As a result of this—and the significant education programs that have been conducted—most of our constituents and most of the communities in Perth and Western Australia are very much aware of the need to conserve water.

Indeed, the Water Corporation and others have been working with schools on a range of projects to ensure that our young people appreciate that. They have been involved in retrofit programs where they have installed water-efficient products, dual flush systems and a range of other products, such as those referred to in this bill, to reduce water consumption in those schools. Those projects have been very successful and have provided a great educational base. We need to educate not only our young people but also everybody else about the use of water and how we need to manage that process.

For Perth the circumstances, I understand from the Water Corporation records, are that over the last 20 years our rainfall has been only about 50 per cent of the 100-year average. It demonstrates again how seriously we have been impacted by what may well be part of a cyclical process but which has reduced our water reserves quite considerably, to the extent that at the moment—as we move into a dry summer—we only have about 30 per cent of that capacity.

I mentioned earlier that plumbers have shown a leadership role with respect to water efficiency. In 1994, I was involved with the master plumbers association in Western Australia and we developed a water efficiency strategy for the plumbing industry for 2000; in fact, it was called Directions 2000. But it was interesting because as part of that strategic review we looked at some of these usage situations and the way water was valued. There were some areas of concern and questions were asked: will our society continue to allow 10 per cent of existing consumers to consume 25 to 30 per cent of the existing water supply; will society allow 25 per cent of existing consumers to continue to use over 50 per cent of the existing water supply; will society allow new and further capital expenditure when half of this expenditure will service only 25 per cent of new consumers if we maintain our current water practices; or will the community expect us to adopt the best management practices and use our existing resources more efficiently? I think they are important questions for us as governments at all levels in Australia about how we address the issue of water supply and the demand for water and how we manage it in our societies.

The member for Maranoa mentioned the issue of charges for and costs of water. One of the critical and strategic ways of addressing that is by ensuring that people understand that the products they are using are water efficient. The labelling system that is proposed in this bill will go a long way towards achieving that outcome.

This bill is also timely, because it does need the support—and I understand it does have the support—of state governments across the country. That is going to be a very important aspect of getting the full benefit of this particular bill across the Australian community. It happens to coincide with some other national initiatives that have been introduced and developed by the National Plumbing Regulators Forum, which is made up of all the state and territory bodies involved in the regulation of plumbing in Australia. That organisation has been meeting this week and has agreed nationally to introduce, accept and take into regulation the Plumbing Code of Australia, which has a plumbing product approval system. I note the Water Efficient Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 does appoint a regulator from the appropriate Commonwealth department, and that person will be responsible for the regulation and the policing of this process in terms of accreditation for a product and making sure that it is used in the appropriate way.

It seems to me that there could well be some sort of duplication between that particular authority and regulator and the National Plumbing Regulators Forum. It may well be that that responsibility could be delegated to that body looking after plumbing across Australia. For all intents and purposes, the majority of the products that are going to be involved in this water efficiency rating program are plumbing products which will be installed by plumbers in various buildings and properties across Australia.

This is the first time that the Plumbing Code of Australia has been adopted, and it will go a long way to addressing a number of issues with respect to water efficiency, energy efficiency and environmental efficiency where there is practical application to plumbing installations. There will also be an element of third party certification, which is very important in verifying manufacturers’ claims of compliance, thus ensuring protection of the consumer.

I will take some time to look at the objectives of this scheme, which is very much parallel to what this bill intends to achieve. The objective of the new scheme is to establish an efficient product approval process for plumbing and drainage products in Australia. As I mentioned, a number of products listed to be covered by this labelling process with respect to water efficiency are plumbing products. State and territory governments have responsibility for regulating plumbing and drainage installations in order to protect public health and safety of the environment and consumers. As I said, there are a number of parallels between this bill and these initiatives.

Australia has had plumbing product approval since about 1920, so it seems to me appropriate for those people who are associated with those sorts of programs to be involved with the water efficiency labelling process. In the past, three separate marks have been applied to plumbing products: a standards mark, a water mark and a type test mark. Now those have been consolidated into one mark, which will be the water mark. It is also proposed, under this new process through the National Plumbing Regulators Forum, that products coming from overseas will also be certified and accredited for use in Australian markets. As I understand it, there is also a memorandum of understanding between the National Plumbing Regulators Forum and Australian Standards—who are responsible for the standards that apply to plumbing products—that third party certification will apply. The notes to the bill refer to the water mark being applied in those sorts of arrangements.

I think this bill is very timely. It will provide an opportunity for further education of our community about the value of water efficiency. I think that water efficiency and water management in Australia are something that we are significantly challenged by, and there are a number of new initiatives that we ought to be looking at, such as harvesting stormwater in our cities. In Chicago, I understand that there is a system of tunnelling that has the capacity to store stormwater at about the same capacity as Sydney Harbour. That is fairly significant and something which could perhaps be considered here. Obviously there would be considerable cost, but I think we really need to be innovative and look at initiatives well beyond what might be the norm in terms of ensuring that we have got sufficient water to supply our communities.

There has also been talk about grey water reuse. I think grey water reuse is going to become an increasingly important aspect of water use in Australia, and we need to ensure that we have got people committed to developing initiatives and innovations to provide the best possible outcome in the safest possible way. I am a great proponent of grey water reuse and I think there are opportunities for it to be done on a community basis. For example, the Water Corporation in Western Australia has a grey water recycling process in Kwinana where grey water is being recycled for industrial use. I compliment them on that; however, I think it is also important to look at the number of people in our community—for example, in the electorate of Hasluck—who would like the opportunity of using a grey water recycling process for their gardens and lawns. I think it is a great way of using water. They have already paid the cost of having water to be delivered to the house, and it is simply a matter of installing a grey water recirculation system that would allow them to do that at no expense beyond the cost of installation of the system. The benefit of grey water recycling is that it has the potential to create as much as 22 gigalitres of additional water resources in Perth and Western Australia.

We also need to look at improvements in irrigation techniques and infrastructure, moving away from canals and open channels to piping arrangements to reduce the significant evaporation that occurs. In Western Australia the state government has already moved to build a desalination plant, yet there has been concern raised by many people who have considerable experience and expertise in this area about the environmental impact. I am concerned about the environmental impact and the location of the desalination plant in terms of Cockburn Sound, where there is significant potential for a detrimental effect on the marine life and the marine ecosystem in Cockburn Sound as a result of the hypersalination by-product produced by desalination.

Another aspect that needs to be seriously considered by water utilities is the distribution network itself. I am sure that there is considerable leakage across Australia through those systems, and it needs to be addressed to improve the amount and the volume of water available for use by our communities. I know full well that our systems are much more efficient than those in some other places. In my various capacities I have had the opportunity to look at places such as Samoa, where I understand they lose as much as 54 per cent of their water through the distribution systems, and Hyderabad, India, where water supply losses are as much as 38 per cent. As I said, I am sure it is much less here in Australia, but I am sure we could improve our efficiencies in terms of those distribution networks.

I am a great supporter of this bill. I think it is going to achieve a lot of very positive outcomes by educating our community about the principles of water efficiency and enabling them to select products where there is no loss of amenity. They can enjoy the benefits of a water efficient shower rose and a dual flush toilet in their house and make a significant contribution to our society.

In conclusion, in terms of the water audits plumbers are doing, it might be something that we could look at in Parliament House. I have had a quick look around, and we could certainly use water efficient showers and toilets here to help conserve water. Whilst the bill does exempt installations that have been installed prior to the bill, it might be of some value to demonstrate a leadership role. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. B.K. Bishop)—Before I call the member for Wills, I remind members that in this chamber they are able to ask questions of people who are giving speeches on the second reading debate. The speaker may elect not to answer the question, but it is a useful intervention if members wish to use it.