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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 1063

Senator MOORE (11:18 AM) —I rise to make some comments on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010. Again, I say that it is really important that this issue, which has been on the agenda for a considerable period of time, is given the opportunity for open discussion in this place. I am not quite sure whether Senator Bob Brown will be speaking as fulsomely on this bill as on the previous bill, but nonetheless the principle of having the opportunity for us to have the discussion must be supported and must be, in many ways, rewarded.

As with the previous bill, this bill was actually given the opportunity to be discussed by a Senate committee in 2009. At that time the Environment, Communications and the Arts Committee did have a series of public hearings around the process. The interest of the public in the area was evidenced by the number of people who provided submissions and who actually came up for the public hearings. There continues to be an issue in that there needs to be awareness of the issue to which the bill relates. As I said in relation to the previous bill, there must be full engagement of all those people who are stakeholders in the process—and, in the end, through a cooperative arrangement, with an understanding that the end result must be to the benefit of all Australians, we will be able to reach an outcome.

In that sense, I think the legislation we have in front of us actually cuts through, to an extent, and cuts off the kind of involvement that we are seeing taking place in industry and also across the states—because the issues around this bill actually need the full engagement of all state governments, and the ministers at that level, to commit to having a process that will work, that will be effectively costed and that will come up with an arrangement in which people can have confidence and through which the knowledge and the clarity of the process can be shared.

The bill seeks to establish a government run—and, in this sense, a Commonwealth government run—container deposit scheme that will collect a deposit from importers and producers of beverage containers under four litres. I do not actually have the product in front of me, Mr Acting Deputy President, to show you what up to a four-litre container means, but people in the area know, because they are the ones who are making the purchases on a regular basis.

The bill provides for a full refund to a consumer when containers are returned to the collection point. The actual amount of the environmental deposit could be varied by regulation, so it follows the standard process in this chamber. As we see regularly in Commonwealth legislation, it will start at a certain amount and can then be increased by regulation through the parliamentary process.

According to the bill we have, the scheme will be implemented and run by a Commonwealth department. I do not think Senator Ludlam has actually created a name for the new Commonwealth department, but the process would be run by a Commonwealth department.

Senator Birmingham —You can give it a name!

Senator MOORE —We might be able to have some kind of contest, Senator Birmingham—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—to develop an effective name for a new Commonwealth department. The department’s functions would include—and these are the preliminary functions as set out in the bill—collecting the container deposit, authorising premises as collection depots and transfer stations and providing grants or other financial incentives to encourage the use of recyclable and reusable containers. The bill goes on to say that the department could fund and support the creation of markets for collected beverage containers and materials, provide financial support for kerbside recycling services, help to offset the collection industry’s costs under the scheme—and that was an issue under discussion at the environment committee’s hearings—and fund product development into the future.

The scheme proposed by this bill is far broader than the current container deposit schemes that are currently in place in a number of states as we speak. We know about the South Australian scheme, because it has been much lauded and talked about in many public meetings that I have attended. A container deposit scheme has been in place in South Australia since the 1970s. I am sure that Senator Birmingham can tell us exactly how it came into being and how it is working. It is a matter of fact that when people talk about this issue they regularly refer to that which is operating in South Australia. The Northern Territory parliament recently passed legislation for a similar scheme to be introduced there.

The scheme that is in this bill, though, is not the same as that which we see working in South Australia and hopefully in the NT. The scheme in South Australia and the one to be introduced in the Northern Territory are based on an industry run arrangement. Industry are fully engaged and are organising, running and owning the scheme. The bill before us would introduce a different mechanism over the top of these two existing arrangements, which would increase the regulatory complexity and possibly the potential cost to industry and the community.

It is not absolutely clear in the bill or from discussions that have taken place how exactly the scheme presented by this bill would be funded. This is an important point when considering a piece of legislation that would if passed immediately create responsibilities for government. How this would be funded and the budgetary implications are not clearly spelt out. In fact, as we have heard, the bill proposes the creation of a new entity that would have particular functions and would need—as we always say in this place—to be effectively resourced so that whatever the purpose of that organisation is they would be able to confidentially commit to completing the task before them.

It is suggested in the bill that the proposed scheme be funded from unclaimed deposits and revenue from recovered resources. Under the bill, the deposit is returned in full. The bill does not provide any funding for the operation of the scheme, including administrative infrastructure for the collection and refund of the deposit and capital investment in collection, transport and recycling infrastructure. As we know, the infrastructure basis of any legislation is critical to its effectiveness. Consistently in Senate estimates, when we talk about the implications of and activities under legislation already in place, we have ongoing discussions about whether the infrastructure resources have been effectively planned and implemented. Key to any effective system at a national level must be an understanding of the funding implications and the infrastructure needs, particularly when we have quite specific duties spelt out in a bill. One of they key aspects of this is that it is not clear if any shortfall between the income that is generated by the scheme in the bill and what needs to be expended should be covered by the Commonwealth. That is something that any government would be concerned about looking to the future.

The Environmental Protection and Heritage Council, the EPHC, has been as we know investigating national options for addressing package waste and litter formally since 2008. It initiated a regulation impact statement in July 2010 to assess a number of options, including the national container deposit scheme. Because of the complexity of the task, we need to ensure that there is effective consideration given to a range of options. One size will not fit all. It rarely does for any issue, but that is particularly true for the ever present and growing issue of waste and recycling issue and how our community will respond. It is most important that we look at a range of operations and that variations in area and need are reflected in the government response.

As I said, the Senate inquiry into this bill when it was introduced in 2008 found that there was insufficient information to assess whether a national container deposit scheme would increase recycling and decrease litter at the least cost to the community. That is a core point and one which is part of consideration through the regulation impact statement. The need is clear and agreed. Public interest is clear and agreed. The effective response must be carefully considered, planned and implemented. The bill we have before us is but one option out of a range. That is not to say that there should not be consideration given to Senator Ludlam’s bill. But my belief is that we need to look very carefully at the regulation impact statement that is being developed and be aware of the ongoing evolution of knowledge and awareness about this issue.

This is not an issue that is peculiar to Australia. The fight to ensure that human beings do not further damage the planet through their waste is very important and the subject of much discussion internationally. Part of the role of the EPHC is to ensure that that knowledge is assessed and reflected in the Australian environment so that we can get the best result.

The government’s product stewardship bill—currently under development, I trust—will enable the establishment of national product stewardship schemes, including schemes addressing packaging, such as container deposit schemes. The Environment Protection and Heritage Council have agreed to undertake a consultation regulatory impact statement on the options. There has been agreement from the EPHC to consider a range of options in the regulatory impact statement, one of which will be the kind of process that is before us in this bill. Only then will we be able to ensure that the issues have been effectively responded to by the government. I have spoken about the cost, and that is one thing that needs to be taken into account when we are looking at any changes.

I certainly think we can, through the debate we are having now, focus in even more on the issues and ensure that people have the clearest understanding of the shared concerns. As I said earlier this morning in relation to another bill, no-one can self-select out of this debate. It impacts on all of us. If we are going to maintain our environment and maintain our community health we need to effectively find, through all levels of government—engaging with the states in particular, through COAG—ways of ensuring that we have a scheme that is owned by the community, that is effectively resourced by government and that will make a difference to what we do on a daily basis.