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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2881

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:28): I speak in support of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (Registration Fees) Bill 2013 and the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Registration Fees) Bill 2013.

Just listening to the member for Dunkley, I have a great deal of empathy and sympathy for the businessperson that he was referring to. It would seem to me that, in administering this kind of legislation, there ought to be a degree of common sense, and I think the member for Dunkley quite appropriately outlined the compliance regime that is currently being practised as opposed to perhaps the way it ought to be. I certainly share his concerns if that is what is happening within the industry, because it is my view that that was never the intention.

This legislation, which was brought in in 2005 by the Howard government, is all about setting up a water efficiency labelling system which will do several things. It was done in conjunction with the states—in fact, there is complementary legislation in each of the state and territory jurisdictions. I believe that the intent to comply with the legislation started on 1 July 2006. There was a six-month period which gave businesses the opportunity to adjust to and dispose of stock that had previously come in that was unlabelled but, after that, all businesses were expected to comply with the legislation.

The legislation is all about putting labels on products to determine their water efficiency rating. If they have a higher rating, more stars are attached to the product. The intent of that is very important. It enables consumers to make choices about what products they buy and I believe they make those choices on two very important grounds. Firstly, they make the choices on the ground that they will save water. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I believe consumers are making those choices because they want to do the right thing by society and consume less water if that is at all possible. Also, in the consumption of less water we also consume less energy.

I speak to people on a regular basis who are concerned about the environmental impacts of the way we live today, and anything that they can do to reduce those impacts they do because they care about the future of the planet. It has been estimated that, through this system alone, in the years ahead—by the year 2025 or thereabouts—we will save about 100,000 megalitres of domestic water use each year, 800,000 megalitres of total water use across the country and about 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year as a result of using water much more efficiently than we are.

We will do that by enabling products to be marketed so that people can make those choices. Currently, there are about 18,000 products that have been labelled and are on the market for the very purpose of enabling consumers to choose which they use, and consumers are certainly taking advantage of that. It is not only domestic products, like washing machines, dishwashers, shower heads and the like. These efficiency products go right through to industry in a commercial sense as well. Some of the most impressive changes that I have seen over the years in respect to water efficiency measures come from the industrial sector.

Industries also use a lot of water and many of them, from both an economic point of view and an environmental point of view, have made decisions that enable them to use water more efficiently. Those decisions come at a cost initially upfront, but I have no doubt that in the long term those costs are recovered as a result of using less water. The classic case that perhaps all of us see on a daily basis is of the operators of the car-washing facilities around the country who today, instead of discharging that water once it is used into the system and allowing it to drain away, have systems in place where they reuse that water and then it gets used for the washing of other vehicles.

The same applies with respect to many other facilities that use washing down procedures in their daily business operations. Many of them are also now in a position as a result of investments that they have made to reuse that water rather than seeing it go to waste and ultimately polluting our waterways when that water reaches the oceans, into which most of it is discharged. I commend those businesses and those industries that have done exactly that because that is the way we should be going.

The other area that I commend for the work that has been undertaken over recent decades in water efficiency is the irrigators on our farms. I believe that the irrigators on our farms—and I notice the member for Riverina is here right now—have been at the forefront of making efficiency gains in the way they use water on their farms. They have done that twofold: by looking at the agricultural methods that they use in the products they grow and also by investing in new irrigation systems and monitoring systems which enable them to use the amount of water that they need without wasting any and to get the most effective results from it. I certainly do commend them because, as we looked at the Murray-Darling Plan and how we could save water, water efficiency investment was the priority in terms of how we should be making those gains. I believe that we can learn a lot from the irrigators who have already made those investments and also carried out the research.

In a world where the population is growing and there is a need to grow more food, and combining that with climate change, there is likely to be even less water available in some parts of the world. So we know that we have to be much smarter in the way that we use water. In fact, it has been suggested that most of the conflicts in the future will arise as a result of water shortages. Therefore, if we are going to be smarter in the way that we use water, we have to look at systems that empower consumers to use more efficient systems, and that is why systems like the WELS system are so important: it rates a product on its water efficiency. In order to rate a product it clearly has to be assessed, and in order for the system to work it also has to be monitored. Whilst I appreciate the comments of the member for Dunkley, it does have to be monitored.

Monitoring the system comes at a cost. To date, my understanding is that the recovery of those costs is at about 20 per cent. The intent is and always was, from the day this legislation went into the House in 2005, to recover about 80 per cent of those monitoring and compliance costs. The intent of this legislation will enable us to move from 20 per cent to around 80 per cent cost recovery. My understanding is that the last 20 per cent will come from a combination of state, territory and federal government revenues. In order to get to that 80 per cent, this legislation of course will mean that additional costs will be imposed due to be compliance process that will be implemented. The process itself should be, as the member for Dunkley quite rightly outlined, one where common sense is applied. This is a responsibility not only on the federal government but also on the state and territory governments. I appreciate the fact that they will meet 10 per cent of the remaining 20 per cent of the costs to administer the program. Water efficiency labelling is something that has been embraced by the community at large. But it is fair to say that all people around the world have a responsibility when it comes to this.

Finally, for the manufacturers of the products, the rating system will undoubtedly be a very strong and powerful marketing tool. I said earlier how consumers today are looking for more efficiencies in terms of both cost savings and responsibility for the environment. Because the rating system will be used by consumers to choose products, it will be an important marketing tool for them. The last thing we want to see is the rating system abused by unscrupulous manufacturers—or unscrupulous retailers for that matter—who simply want to rate a product at a higher rate than it is entitled to because they know full well that the rating will enable them to sell the products.

So it is important that if we are going to have a rating system in place, the rating is true to the labelling. For that reason, the compliance system has to be put into effect. If we did not have a system in place, it would be unfair on those manufacturers of products who have complied with the rating system, carried out the research and ensured that their product is true to the claims made about it and who have to compete with an alternative product where the claims do not stand up to scrutiny. From both points of view, it is important that the rating system can be relied upon and has integrity, and therefore the compliance mechanisms that are in place need to be carried through. I end where I began: I agree that we need a compliance system that we can have confidence and faith in, but I also believe that it ought to be applied with a degree of common sense. I commend the legislation to the House.