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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 4565


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (21:41): As the director of a family company that actually sells and manufactures products that have a WELS marking on them, I am very pleased to be able to rise tonight to speak on the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhance­ments) Bill 2012, which is designed to enhance the WELS Scheme. As has been pointed out already, the WELS Scheme is about putting water efficiency labels on products supplies, from showerheads to washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, urinals and taps. Because of the WELS Scheme, manufacturing businesses have flourished in Australia in a way that would not have been possible without it.

The star-rating scheme demonstrating water efficiency started in 2005. It is interesting to note that a then Liberal House of Representatives member, Mr Stuart Henry, is now the CEO of the World Plumbing Council. Mr Henry is a plumber by background and he very much understood the efficiencies that you could get within industry by developing a carrot-and-stick approach. Not only does this legislation set out to amend and improve the operation of the WELS Scheme but, probably as importantly, it develops new civil penalties to complement existing offences under the scheme and it also amends some of the existing criminal offences under the scheme.

It might seem odd that we have criminal offences in this area, but it is certainly something that we need to make easier for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and others to proceed with. I am very well aware of importers of products—particularly, in my experience, taps—which have a WELS star rating marked on them but are not WELS rated products. They are such good copies that until they are taken apart you do not know that they are not water-efficient taps. This of course creates very unfair competition for our local manufacturers, who cannot meet the costs of these people who are cheating on the water efficiency system.

Senator Farrell: We'll track them down.

Senator BOYCE: Thank you, Senator Farrell. I am pleased that you will track them down—you now can do so. One of the problems that exists within our entire standards system is that of ensuring compliance. In many cases, the only way that compliance can be measured is when competitors and consumers report defects with the product and that leads people to understand that there is a standard not being met. We need this system to function well, not only because there is an overriding public interest in protecting the water supplies of not just urban Australia but all of Australia but also to protect manufacturers.

I am very pleased that the government, in this particular case at least, has seen their way clear to supporting companies that are doing the right thing and maintaining high standards. We need high standards in order to drive water efficiency in this country. We need to do it in a far more structured and sensible way than some of the rebate schemes aimed at improving efficiency in other areas, such as energy. They did nothing except distort the market and led to cowboy behaviour by people who have come into the industry late and ruined the industry for not only those who been there for many years but also for consumers and others. We only have to think of pink batts. That program was not just economically inefficient but disastrous in terms of the loss of life that was suffered. I commend the government for their enhancement of this scheme, which was initially developed by the coalition.