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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2040

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (11:59 AM) —Water is one of the key critical environmental challenges for Australia—indeed, after climate change I think it is the most serious issue—and there have been manifestations of this in recent times. Over in Perth they are now going to proceed with a desalinisation plant costing an estimated $350 million simply because there are no local sources of water to meet that city's water needs. In Adelaide a great deal of work is being done on salt interception schemes around the Murray River, aimed at preventing the deterioration of Adelaide's drinking water, which if nothing is done, by the year 2020 will not meet the World Health Organisation guidelines for two days out of five. In Melbourne, my home city, we are now on stage 2 water restrictions, and in Sydney and many other cities there are very serious water issues as well. The question of water use and water efficiency that is before us in the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 is a very serious challenge facing this country.

The purpose of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill is to provide for the establishment and operation of a scheme to apply national water efficiency labelling and minimum performance standards to certain water use products. The aim of water efficiency labelling is to encourage the uptake of water efficient products and appliances in domestic and commercial areas. This bill's objects are to conserve water supplies by reducing water consumption, to provide information for purchasers of water use products and to promote the adoption of efficient and effective water use technology. It provides for the establishment of a national water efficiency labelling and standards scheme to be implemented cooperatively by Commonwealth, state and territory governments; for penalties to be put in place for those who fail to comply with the registration, labelling and minimum efficiency and performance requirements; and for an enforcement regime.

It is estimated that the bill would reduce consumption of water in households and non-residential buildings by five per cent by 2021. I would say that that is an admirable objective which the opposition supports, but in fact it is an inadequate objective. We really need to use water better and reduce our consumption of water in households and non-residential buildings by five per cent in a much shorter time frame. We need to reduce water consumption much more rapidly than by 2021.

It is also expected that there would be some greenhouse gas reductions through reducing water heating associated with these measures. The legislation is being funded from savings identified in the Measures for a Better Environment package and it picks up on recommendation 4 of the Senate inquiry into urban water use. It is my understanding that those who have been consulted, including the product suppliers and retailers, have actively supported the introduction of this scheme and that it has not been opposed. It addresses the mandatory labelling of most water use products but, in relation to mandatory performance standards, it only applies to toilets. It is the view of the opposition that the legislation is weaker than it could have been, that the environmental benefits would not be fully realised and that there is a case for standards to apply more broadly. It is our belief that water efficiency performance standards ought to apply to more water use products. On that basis I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that:

(1) the Government has failed to deliver water efficiency standards for indoor water use products other than toilets, forgoing a significant opportunity to reduce household water consumption even further;

(2) the Government should be condemned due to the failure of the Measures for a Better Environment package, from which funding has been drawn to finance this Bill, to deliver environmental outcomes; and

(3) the Howard Government should adopt Labor's Framework for a National Water Policy”.

Having moved that amendment, I turn to some of the aspects of Labor's framework for a national water policy, which seeks to get better water management in urban Australia. We make these observations against the background that Australia is one of the highest per capita consumers of water in the world. In Australian households each person uses around 350 litres per day, yet our national reuse of effluent is just 14 per cent. If we could do more to reclaim and reuse stormwater, treated sewage effluent, treated industrial discharge and grey—household waste—water, we would be in a much better position to deal with shortages and it would boost our environment and our economy.

An integrated approach which considers all sources of water available to urban areas is needed to achieve a significant improvement in water use efficiency in urban areas. Reclaimed water can be used for a whole range of purposes, such as irrigation of city parks and sports ovals, industrial purposes and cooling water. Surplus floodwater can be used to recharge natural aquifers, and safe, treated urban effluent can be used on crops. There are many other uses besides. A Labor government will be working with the states and territories to improve water quality and the environmental outcomes of urban water management. Federal Labor will be investigating incentives for promoting stormwater and waste water reuse and the integration of these issues in strategic planning of urban areas.

I would also like to mention the problem of ocean outfalls. Large and growing human populations on the coastal fringe place pressures on coastal ecosystems, particularly through the disposal of sewerage waste in coastal waters. There are over 140 sewage outfalls discharging into the ocean and estuaries within the vicinity of beaches in Australia. Federal Labor will work with state and local water authorities to dramatically reduce the amount of water being discharged via ocean outfalls. We also want to reduce urban water demand. Increasing reuse will reduce the need to build costly water storages, which have been shown to have serious impacts on the ecology of Australian rivers.

We want to use the COAG process not only for urban reuse of water but for implementing voluntary and regulatory initiatives to promote water saving measures such as rainwater tanks, water saving showerheads and tap fittings, dual flush toilets and increased use of grey water. Just yesterday I was talking about water issues to one of the representatives on a delegation of young American political leaders visiting Australia. He made the observation that in Australia he was yet to find a sensor based tap which, when it is not being used, automatically turns off. In the United States these are standard. He said to me that there is pretty much nothing else available in the US. We do have those taps in Australia, but they are by no means as common as they ought to be. They are just one of the water saving measures that we ought to be encouraging and setting standards for in legislation like this.

Another area I want to mention in relation to urban water use is the research effort. The Commonwealth research effort in this crucial area has largely dried up. Labor would renew the role of the Commonwealth in research and development in irrigation, water reuse and innovation. Promoting water reuse research will yield many dividends, including: better design and value from experimental projects and monitoring, covering gaps, integrating project results, ensuring quality control and disseminating information effectively to those who need it. Establishing an urban water research program would support innovation in reuse of stormwater, reuse of effluent, water conservation, water sensitive urban design and urban water planning and management practices. Labor would establish a national program of research and coordination of work presently being done to promote sustainable water use in Australia, with a particular focus on water reuse.

There is a very significant challenge facing Australia in relation to domestic water use. Domestic households account for around 16 per cent of the consumption of mains supplied water in Australia. That is the second largest share of mains water use after the agriculture, forestry and mining sectors, as you might expect. Per household, the amount of water used for indoor purposes appears to be reasonably similar across many of Australia's larger capital cities. The main indoor use is showering, which accounts for around 29 per cent of indoor consumption, followed by toilet flushing and washing machines—about 26 per cent each. Taps over baths, sinks, hand basins and laundry tubs account for 18 per cent, and dishwashers account for one per cent. In terms of overall domestic consumption, it is worth noting that the amount of water used for outdoor purposes varies considerably between cities, with Perth using five times as much per household as Sydney—although some of the Perth supply comes from bores rather than mains sources.

Between 1996 and 2001, the supply of water to households in the main urban areas of Australia increased at around 3.4 per cent per annum. According to information from the Water Services Association of Australia, water consumption in two state capitals is already beyond the safe yield level, meaning that additional supply or effective demand measures are required immediately. According to the association, three other capitals will be beyond the safe yield level between 2012 and 2020. That is a very serious situation. It does require action. Back in December 2002, a Senate committee completed an inquiry into Australia's management of urban water, and they commented extensively on the issue of urban demand management, saying that there is considerable scope to reduce water use and achieve efficiencies so that water efficient appliances, such as dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, washing machines and dishwashers, can dramatically reduce water use in homes. This can be coupled with water-efficient gardens, the use of native plants, minimal lawns and efficient watering systems.

The committee found that the fundamental factor in a successful demand management program is changing behaviour away from habits such as hosing down driveways and gutters, watering lawns during the heat of the day, and having long showers. The committee also recommended that there be a proposed national water policy and that it should set standards including national water efficiency standards and rating schemes for appliances and building systems. That is something which the opposition endorses, and it is contained within our national water policy framework and in the second reading amendment to this bill that I have moved.

What will be the impact of the labelling scheme which is provided for in the bill? According to modelling undertaken in developing the regulatory impact statement, the impact of the labelling component of the scheme will be to reduce total household water use by about five per cent by 2021, as compared with the business as usual approach. No modelling has been done for the introduction of efficiency standards across all of the six products that were considered: washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, showerheads, taps and urinals. The regulatory impact statement suggests that, for water users, the cost of water efficient products will most likely be higher, but consumers will benefit from a net saving because water bills will be lower.

The regulatory impact statement also considered manufacturers and importers—noting that labelling will come into force 12 months after the regulations under this bill are finalised. Consultations with manufacturers and importers indicate that this notice period will be enough to ensure that products are labelled correctly. As water efficiency labelling has an influence on consumer preference, the extent to which the sales of various manufacturers and importers are affected will depend on the water efficiency of their product ranges; manufacturers and importers that offer only products of low water efficiency will obviously be disadvantaged. Clearly, our view is that that is not a bad thing. Our intention is to improve the water efficiency of the products that they supply.

Retailers that carry at least some water efficient models should be advantaged. Those that specialise in low-cost products with low water efficiency will disadvantaged. As the awareness of water labels is likely to build up over time, retailers should have ample time to sell their old stocks and order in more water efficient models. The regulatory impact statement also says that the impact of water efficiency labelling on plumbers and builders is likely to be gradual. These groups will still be free to select or recommend products irrespective of water efficiency, as many do now, and will be able to remove the water efficiency labels before end users see them; however, the labelling requirement should assist those plumbers and builders who take an interest in, or seek competitive advantage from, advising clients on water and energy efficient products. There are already programs under way to raise plumbers' awareness of water product efficiency, including the Green Plumbers program, run by the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia, which gets some funding from the Greenhouse Office.

It is also worth noting that the introduction of water efficiency labelling for various indoor water use products is expected to have only a modest effect on household consumption, and that effect will take some time to materialise. The requirement for labelling foreshadowed by the bill is a positive step, but it is only one aspect of managing the demand for water by Australian households. In this context, it would certainly be worth while if modelling were done on how the introduction of compulsory water efficiency standards to things like new showerheads and new washing machines would affect household consumption.

Water is a very substantial challenge for Australia. It is a substantial challenge for our environment. It is a substantial challenge to get our water use right in rural areas and to maintain healthy river systems. It is also a substantial challenge to get our water use right in urban areas, to take action concerning ocean outfalls, to lift our water reuse and recycling and to reduce our water demand so that we have sustainable practices in our cities and in the country. Against that background, we support this legislation. We do not think it goes far enough. We think the government ought to be acting with a greater sense of urgency. In our second reading amendment we indicate that the government ought to be delivering water efficiency standards for a range of indoor water use products and that it ought to be taking up what is a significant opportunity to reduce household water consumption.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield)—Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Stephen Smith —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.