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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 6974

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (13:49): I speak in support of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012. Yesterday, I also spoke on this bill because it was referred to the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts. The committee looked at the legislation and heard from the department about it. As a result of that, yesterday I made a statement to the House reporting back on the findings of the committee having reviewed the legislation. The findings were that the committee unanimously supported the passage of this bill. It did so because this is good legislation. As other speakers have quite rightly pointed out, the original legislation was introduced by the previous government and has been in operation for some six or seven years. The bill we are dealing with is in fact an amendment bill which I believe improves the existing legislation.

The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 provides for the operation of a scheme known as the WELS scheme, as other members have mentioned, to apply national water efficiency labelling and minimum performance standards to specified water use and water-savings products. These products can include showers, toilets, urinals, taps, dishwashers, clothes washing machines and flow controllers. This is done through a rating system that gives products a water efficiency rating of between zero and six stars.

The act was originally introduced at a time when Australia was facing a devastating water shortage. One good thing that came out of that water shortage during that drought period is that, throughout Australia, Australians learnt how to better use their water resources. I think for the first time in many years we have come to appreciate the real value of these water resources. The act was originally introduced at the time we were facing those devastating water shortages. Specific products were selected that could be registered and labelled under a scheme if they met minimum water efficiency standards at the time. The scheme is a national regulatory scheme administered by the Australian government on behalf of the states and territories. The bill amends the act by allowing the minister to determine details of the WEL scheme, particularly those relating to registration of products and cost recovery, to ensure ongoing sustainability of the scheme through a disallowable legislative instrument whereby a majority of the states and territories are required to agree to the terms of the scheme before the legislative instrument is made. In effect, it means that the minister will be able to get on with making changes that ought to be made without having to go through the very cumbersome process that currently applies. That does not, however, deny the states and territories the opportunity to agree or disagree with those changes and they need to agree. But it will be a much more efficient way of dealing with the system and so it should be because today there is no doubt that the kinds of products that will come onto the market to comply with this legislation will come on in the years ahead very quickly. There will be companies out there constantly looking for ways of devising, developing and manufacturing products that will form part of these provisions. Further civil penalty provisions have been added for contraventions of the act, as well as additional enforcement options so that a tailored and appropriate response can be provided in every instance.

In 2010, an independent review found that the WEL scheme was good policy which had the support of industry but it could be improved. The review made a series of recommendations in relation to governance, compliance, administration and funding arrangements. That is the very point, that it was good policy but it could be improved. I have no doubt that is why the industry totally supports the changes that are being made. While most of these changes also provide for better regulation and governance of the current legislation, they also provide more opportunities for industry.

In November 2011, in its response to the review, the Standing Council on Environment and Water—incorporating all environment ministers from Commonwealth, state and territory governments—approved a new three-year strategic plan for the scheme. It was also 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 to be provided by governments. The proposed amendments 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 this is 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 introduces a broader range of compliance and enforcement options. It also introduces civil penalties to match existing criminal offences and to remake some of the existing criminal offences for clarity. This bill will, therefore, insert penalty provisions that will complement the existing offences. Inserting penalty provisions will improve compliance with the scheme and they will more closely reflect the nature and circumstances of the breaches. The offences in part 7 are not all new but are being modified. Strict liability offences are considered necessary so that a person cannot escape liability by demonstrating that he was not aware of the requirements or was reckless as to the requirements.

Water conservation is overwhelmingly in the public interest. That is why it is reasonable to impose strict liability and significant penalties for the offences under the scheme. This will strongly discourage any actions that lead to excessive urban water consumption. However, the bill also provides opportunities for orders for persons to remedy their non-compliance with the act. An example of this would be to order the replacement of an inaccurate WELS rating label with the correct one. In this way, the act's objective of providing information for purchasers of water using products may be better achieved.

Australia has quite rightly been referred to as a nation that is very dry. Throughout this country, 65 per cent of our water is used by the agricultural sector, 23 per cent is used by the manufacturing sector and 11 per cent is used by households. All three of those sectors can improve their water use. We saw considerable evidence of that in the Murray-Darling Basin inquiry where, when speaking with irrigators throughout the system, we saw how they had invested in water efficiency measures right throughout. They showed that you can do much more with much less water.

The same applies with domestic water consumption in this country. In respect to the urban sector, total domestic consumption over the last 40 years has increased as a consequence of population increase. Australians use about 290 litres of water per person per day, although this significantly varies across the country. Despite significant reductions in per capita consumption over the past decade, overall demand is gradually increasing, mostly because of an increasing population. Based on growth forecasts of a population of around 33 million by 2050, using current annual per capita water consumption, we will need at least an extra thousand gigalitres of water to meet urban household, business and industrial needs. A thousand gigalitres of water is the amount that we would dearly like to find to put it back into the Murray River right now. That exercise alone just demonstrates how difficult it is to find a thousand gigalitres of water, yet that is exactly what we are looking at down the track in terms of the projected population growth and our water needs for 2050.

Certainly some capital cities have invested in desalination plants as an alternative supply of that water. But the reality is that desalination plants come at considerable costs, not only costs to establish the plant but also ongoing costs to take the salt out of the water and then supply it to the homes. So it is not the preferred option. It has been a necessary option but it is also a very costly option. So we ought to be looking at other ways to ensure that we have the water that is required for home use and urban use in years to come. Some states have done that by investing in a whole range of products, by actively managing their water demand, by improving regulatory measures, by applying incentives or by using locally collected water supplies such as rainwater tanks, recycled domestic water or even recycled stormwater. In my home state of South Australia, we have already taken many of these steps.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Deputy Speaker AE Burke - Order! It being 2pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.