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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 697

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism) (7:35 PM) —I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill amends the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005. It allows the setting of additional criteria for registration of a product under the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme. To understand the context of the proposed changes I will first give an overview of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme (known as the WELS Scheme).

The scheme was established by the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 and is part of the COAG agreed National Water Initiative. The WELS Scheme is also supported by complementary state and territory legislation to ensure comprehensive national coverage.

The WELS scheme’s objectives are to:

  • Conserve water supplies by reducing water consumption;
  • Provide information for purchasers of water-use and water-saving products; and
  • Promote the adoption of efficient and effective water-use and water saving technologies.

The scheme aims to achieve these objectives by requiring that all water using products specified under the scheme are registered and labelled to indicate their assessed water efficiency when offered for sale. The labels indicate the water efficiency rating of a product, on a scale from zero to six stars, with six stars being for the most efficient products. The labels inform purchasing decisions in the same way as energy rating labels on electrical appliances.

The minister determines which products are WELS products, and the standard to be met by them. I will now briefly explain the origins and intent of this bill.

While plumbing products included under the WELS determination are subject to the WELS Scheme, these plumbing products are also subject to the WaterMark certification scheme which operates under normal state and territory plumbing regulation.

WaterMark testing and certification is intended to ensure that products are fit for use and will not threaten the safety of the reticulated water supply. WaterMark certification is required before a plumbing product can be legally installed, while WELS registration and labelling is required before a WELS product can be legally sold.

This regulatory difference means that in some cases consumers can unknowingly purchase plumbing products that, while legally available, are not able to be legally installed. In addition, the presence of WELS labels on products which are not WaterMark certified may be misconstrued by consumers as suggesting that the products are broadly government endorsed and are fit for use. The proposed change to the scheme will remove this potential source of discredit to the WELS Scheme.

In 2007, following an extensive public inquiry, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage recommended in its report Managing the flow: regulating plumbing product quality in Australia that the Australian government:

… make the necessary legislative changes to establish WaterMark Certification as a prerequisite for compliance with the Water Efficiency Labelling Standards Scheme.

The government agreed in principle, subject to further examination as to how the recommendation could be most efficiently and effectively implemented. The government also wished to avoid inappropriately expanding the Australian government’s responsibilities relating to plumbing regulation. Following subsequent examination of these issues, I and the government are satisfied that the committee’s objectives can be achieved through this proposal.

The proposed amendment will introduce a general provision enabling additional plumbing requirements, such as those established by the states and territories, to be included in the WELS Scheme by ministerial determination.

Once the bill is enacted, a determination made under that provision will make WaterMark certification a prerequisite for all plumbing products required to be registered under the WELS Act.

The industry strongly supports this amendment, which will provide positive outcomes for consumers and plumbers, with only minimal impacts on the requirements for WELS registrants. I commend the bill to the House.