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Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Page: 5224


Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (10:07): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill amends the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005. It implements the response of the Standing Council on Environment and Water, comprising environment ministers from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, to the 2010 independent review of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme. This independent review, which considered the first five years of the scheme's operation, was a requirement under the act.

The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards, or WELS, scheme was established by the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 as part of the Council of Australian Governments' National Water Initiative. The WELS scheme is also supported by complementary state and territory legislation to ensure comprehensive national coverage.

The WELS scheme's objectives are to conserve water supplies by reducing water consumption, to provide information for purchasers of water use and water saving products, and to promote the adoption of efficient and effective water use and water saving technologies.

Products currently in the scheme include clothes washing machines, dishwashers, showers, toilets and tap equipment. All of these products must be registered and labelled with a water efficiency rating. The rating is zero to six stars, with six stars indicating the most water efficient products. The labels inform consumer purchasing decisions in the same way as energy rating labels on electrical appliances. The scheme currently also sets minimum water efficiency standards for toilets and clothes washing machines.

A number of state and territory programs reference WELS water efficiency ratings, which provide a convenient and authoritative source for setting rebates and prescribing water efficiency requirements.

The independent review considered the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the scheme. Consultation was undertaken with state and territory governments, water utilities, industry and consumer representatives. The review concluded that the WELS scheme is a good policy and that its objectives are appropriate. The review cited research estimating that the scheme would reduce national water consumption by a total of 800 gigalitres by 2021.

The review made 41 recommendations, including recommendations concerning governance, compliance, administration and funding arrangements.

In November 2011, the Standing Council on Environment and Water endorsed the bulk of the recommendations. It also approved a new three-year strategic plan for the scheme and determined that 80 per cent of the scheme's costs between 2012 and 2015 should be recovered from industry, with the remaining 20 per cent to be provided by governments. As shown in the review, this level of cost recovery is consistent with the ratio set for the scheme at its commencement in 2005.

This bill will provide the basis to implement the decisions by the standing council. It also makes some other refinements to the bill to improve the scheme's efficiency and effectiveness.

The bill will enable the Commonwealth minister, through a disallowable ministerial determination, to determine more of the detailed arrangements for the scheme than previously. This differs from the current position in that some aspects of the scheme, such as the five-year period for product registration, are entrenched in the act and corresponding state and territory legislation. Under the amended act, it will be easier to adjust matters of this kind without the need to amend nine sets of legislation. Agreement from a majority of state and territory governments will be required before the determination can be made.

Once this bill is enacted, a new ministerial determination will be developed. It will include revised registration and fee arrangements, and other changes such as removing the requirement for gazettal of registration decisions and instead specifying that the decisions will be published on the WELS website. The changes will deliver improvements not only for the scheme's administration, but also for industry. The improvements include simplifying and streamlining product registration processes so that these are easier for registrants, and providing a common expiry date for all registrations so that retailers will know when the registrations of products they supply are due to expire.

The bill will also introduce a broader range of compliance and enforcement options. Consistent with the recommendations from the 2010 independent review, it introduces civil penalties to match existing criminal offences and remakes some of the existing criminal offences for clarity.

The bill also provides for orders to be given to persons that they remedy their non-compliance with the act. An example would be to order the replacement of an inaccurate WELS rating label with the correct label. In this way the act's objective of providing information for purchasers of water using products can be better achieved.

WELS labelling plays an important role in consumer purchasing decisions. The scheme also receives widespread support from the industries affected by it. This bill has been developed taking into account extensive consultations with stakeholders as to the nature of the changes proposed. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.