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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 6969

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (13:21): I would like to commence my contribution to this debate on the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012 by congratulating the member for Groom on his contribution on this very important issue and acknowledging the point that he made about the preciousness of water and how we must ensure that we preserve water because it is so vital not only to agriculture but also to very survival of those of us who live in this country—and, for that matter, throughout the world.

The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012 builds on the previous legislation, the WELS Scheme, and is to apply to all national water efficiency labelling and minimum performance standards to specific water use and water saving products, such as showers, toilets, urinals, taps, dishwashers, clothes washing machines and dryers and flow controllers. Specific products must be registered and labelled under the scheme and meet minimum water efficiency standards. The scheme is a national regulatory scheme, administered by the Australian government on behalf of the participating states and territories.

This bill amends the act by allowing the minister to determine details of the WELS Scheme, particularly those relating to the registration of products and cost recovery to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the scheme through a disallowable legislative instrument. Further, civil penalty provisions have been added for contraventions of the act as well as additional enforcement options. I like to this of this legislation as streamlining and providing some flexibility so that the minister can make decisions. It brings together nine separate pieces of legislation and puts them all in one place and also looks at compliance.

The WELS Scheme has been very successful, and this legislation improves on the WELS Scheme. The WELS Scheme has required water-using products to be labelled for water efficiency. As the member for Groom pointed out, consumers not only look at the star rating as far as energy is concerned but also look at the star rating in relation to water usage. The WELS Scheme actually helps Australian households to save water, and by saving water they are also of course saving money. It also allows industry to showcase its most water efficient products. The scheme was established in July 2006 by the Commonwealth in cooperation with the states.

I previously mentioned the product suppliers and the products that are covered by the scheme. The industry registers these products with the WELS register at the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Eighty per cent of the scheme is funded through industry and 20 per cent is funded by government.

This bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts by the Selections Committee, and the department briefed the committee. I was confident that there had been wide consultation on the proposed legislation, that this legislation was going to deliver benefits to Australia as a whole and that it was legislation that should be supported by the parliament. It is very pleasing to note that all members of the committee supported the recommendation that the legislation come to the House, be debated and be supported. I could find no reason whatsoever for not supporting the legislation.

As we know, we have had many problems in this country with water—not only in recent times but throughout our history—and anything that we can do to improve our consumption of water should be supported. But this is not just anything that we can do; this is water-proofing Australia for the future. It is allowing each and every person to make a commitment to being more efficient in the way that they use water.

The WELS water rating labels provide water efficiency information for water-using household products. That is very important. I know from consultation with in my community that this is the kind of information that my constituents are looking for—to be able to go along and choose an appliance that will actually deliver them water efficiency as well as energy efficiency and, at the same time, obviously undertaking the job it is supposed to do.

The labelling carries two important pieces of information. As I mentioned, there is the star rating for water efficiency—that is one to six. The label shows a one to six star rating for a quick assessment of the model's water efficiency. The more stars on the label the more water efficient the product is, and a number showing the water consumption per use—for whitegoods and sanitary ware—or the water flow per minute based on laboratory tests. This is really important information. The information that I find most useful is the star rating, and it has been reported to me that that is the information that constituents look for when they are purchasing an appliance.

In 2010 an independent review found that the WELS Scheme was good policy and it had the support of industry—and I might add that it also has the support of the community. The review made a series of recommendations in relation to governance, compliance, administration and fund management. In November 2011, in response to the review, the Standing Council on Environment and Water—which includes the Commonwealth, state and territory governments—approved a three-year strategic plan for the scheme and agreed that 80 per cent of the scheme's costs between 2012 and 2015 should be recovered from industry, with the remaining 20 per cent being provided by government. The bill amends the act by allowing the minister to determine details of the WELS Scheme. The proposed amendments made through this bill and subsequent legislative instrument will also deliver improvements and efficiencies for participants in the scheme. Examples include simplifying and streamlining product registration processes so that it is easier for people registering a product, 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. This is all about providing information to the retailers, to the consumers and to the purchasers. It is about ensuring that people are aware of the water efficiency of a product while at the same time knowing the expiry date of that efficiency rating.

The bill will introduce a broader range of compliance and enforcement options. It introduces civil penalties to match existing and criminal offences, and remakes some of the existing Criminal Code offences for clarity. The bill also provides opportunities for orders to be given to a person that they remedy their noncompliance with the act. An example is an order for the replacement of an inaccurate WELS-rating label with a correct one. As the member for Groom pointed out, sometimes equipment or an appliance comes from overseas and the energy rating is incorrect. Under this legislation it can be ordered that the rating be replaced with the correct one.

This bill implements the key recommendations of the WELS Scheme 2010 independent review. It is legislation that I am sure members of both sides of the parliament will support. As I mentioned, when the department briefed the climate change committee, I was convinced that there had been adequate consultation with stakeholders as to the nature of the changes and the proposed changes. I felt that consultations had been widespread. As part of the inquiry, when the department visited the committee, it was pointed out that submissions could be viewed on the website. The committee was made aware during the process that the department had researched this well, and the overwhelming majority of stakeholders supported the legislation.

What we have before us today is legislation that is supported by the government and by the opposition, and which the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts unanimously supported. It is legislation that has been put out into the community for widespread consultation with stakeholders and it has the support of the stakeholders. The department has worked through all the issues that relate to this legislation. As a consequence, I feel that this legislation is going to be well received by the communities that we represent. This legislation will lead to a more efficient use of water in Australia. It will mean that we are better able to conserve water, remembering that water is one of the most precious resources and, as such, we need to make sure that we use it wisely. This legislation is going to make it much easier for us to conserve water and use it efficiently.