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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 2810

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (11:19): This amendment by the Greens to add clause (c) to the objects of the Product Stewardship Bill 2011 is certainly a well-intentioned amendment and the spirit of the amendment is in some ways difficult to disagree with. Certainly it is a statement that we would hope would be an outcome ultimately of product stewardship schemes in the operation of this act and that there would eventually be, as a result of product stewardship schemes, a reduction in the amount of virgin resources used in product through a higher use of recycled materials. That is something we would hope and expect. This bill will provide for product stewardship schemes that will see, we would hope and expect, an increase in the amount of materials recycled at the end of product, and obviously those products or those materials will be recycled into some other products and will be a substitute for virgin resources.

However, we do not see that there is a need to add this extra part to the objects of the bill, and we do not see that there is a need for a couple of reasons. The objects as they currently stand certainly do not exclude this as a point of consideration. Subclause (1)(a) of the objects is to reduce the impact that products have on the environment throughout their lives and subclause (1)(b) is to reduce the impact that substances conĀ­tained in products have on the environĀ­ment and on the health and safety of human beings throughout the lives of those products. Neither of those subclauses exclude, I think, what Senator Ludlam is attempting to achieve by virtue of paragraph (c). Indeed, both are relatively broad.

I would make the additional point that of course there are some circular aspects of this act in terms of the way products are accredited for their application. To have a scheme accredited, to have a product stewardship scheme applied, there is a criterion where the minister deems that doing so will meet the objects of the act. That means, that in addition to the product stewardship criteria, which we will debate in a second, the objects are one of the two tests. Obviously, if you inserted paragraph (c) to the objects, there would be a new, additional test for consideration. I suspect that this would not be Senator Ludlam's intent, but it would be possible that, in the way the bill is written at present, all objects would have to be met for something to be accredited, and that would mean that paragraph (c) would have to be met along with paragraphs (a) and (b).

That may not be the case for some schemes that people would wish to accredit. In fact, in particular, when we were working through the product stewardship criteria, we found the importance of issues around hazardous substances and the need for this bill to comply with Australia's international obligations in the treatment of hazardous substances. These are not necessarily substances that will be recycled, and certainly not substances that will be recycled in a manner that would displace the use of virgin resources in making other products. This is simply a way of ensuring that a scheme is in place for the safe and sound management of hazardous substances. I think there is a potential risk that by inserting the proposed paragraph (c) as one of the objects we could create a trip-up within this legislation that would impede its effective operation.

For the reasons that we think the intentions are good but they are by no means excluded by the existing objects and we think there could be some inadvertent issues with the operation of the bill were it to be passed with this amendment, the coalition will not be supporting the amendment. But we hope and expect that, as I said, the sentiments in the amendment are an actual outcome of the operation of this legislation.