Peter Khalil: I also rise to speak on the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 and the plans for this bill to introduce a much-needed ban on certain waste materials, including glass, plastic ties and paper. Labor will support these bills because there is actually no time to delay when it comes to responsible waste management and protecting our environment.
Introduced by the Gillard government in 2011, the Product Stewardship Act was a major step forward in developing a regulatory framework to encourage responsible waste management in partnership with industry. It was the foundation for the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, which is still the only co-regulatory arrangement and has been largely successful. Since then, virtually nothing has been done by the coalition to build on this progress. That is seven years wasted—excuse the pun. It took a ban on imports from China and several other nations for the coalition government to make a move on this and to act on waste and recycling. How can you take this government seriously on waste and the environment when their signature election commitment, the $100 million Recycling Investment Fund, is simply a repackaging of the existing Clean Energy Finance Corporation? More than a year after it was first committed, the fund remains untouched.
In the meantime it has been clear that there is a serious deficiency in Australia’s recycling capacity. We have lower capacity to recycle plastic than we had in 2005. Product stewardship is a critical element of sustainable waste management. It’s fair to expect that the designers and manufacturers of products will take responsibility for mitigating environmental impacts by seeking to reduce waste in the first place and also by enabling re-use or recycling and incorporating these costs into their business models. The government’s own review found that growing numbers of industry free riders are the primary factor that leads to a failed voluntary scheme, yet their apparently limited response is to facilitate a form of naming and shaming that may influence businesses to take responsibility. If that doesn’t work, they have promised to consider a stronger approach at a later time. This is too much talk and not enough leadership or action. We don’t really have time to wait and see. There is a set of targets to be achieved under the national waste policy from 2018, and we can’t afford to wait and see.
There’s no doubt that the much-needed progress on waste and recycling requires some semblance of national leadership, which is lacking at the moment. I will say that we as an opposition, federal Labor, are up for the challenge. We created the first national waste policy in 2009, establishing a national waste reporting process, and introduced the Product Stewardship Act, under the Gillard government, in 2011. We were glad to note that the long-delayed statutory review of that act confirmed the fundamental value of Labor’s policy, particularly in relation to the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, which I mentioned earlier. Further improvements to compliance that now come under that scheme are both necessary and welcome. Labor has consistently argued for strong national action on plastics and recycling.
By contrast, the Morrison government continues with its failed business-as-usual approach to the issue of waste management. It continues to create media events, like the so-called Plastics Summit in March, whilst taking little or no action or large-scale reform at all. That means worse environmental outcomes but it also means we miss the opportunity to develop new and innovative manufacturing processes and jobs. We need to move towards eliminating single-use plastics and maximising plastics recycling through better design, producer responsibility, improved infrastructure and effective policies on procurement and recycled content requirements. All these measures should be delivered through a nationally coordinated and strategic approach.
The fact is that Australia lacks the ability to sustain a domestic recycling market that will protect our environment and meet the expectations of the community. Up to eight million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans every year. The global consumption of plastic could triple by 2040. In Australia, we only recycle 12 per cent of our plastics and 58 per cent of our waste in total. Some analysis indicates that Australia will need to increase its local plastics recycling capacity by some 400 per cent to recycle and reprocess our own waste into useful and valuable resources. We have a very poor record on plastics in particular, yet Australia stands to be heavily affected by plastics pollution in our oceans, which are so important to us as an ocean continent. As with the issue of climate change more broadly, we are not doing our best to build regional cooperation in reducing plastics across the Indo-Pacific. I think we can do much better by leading by example and demonstrating that we can be leaders in this space.
We’ve seen, however, a lack of leadership in the government’s own budget recently. The Prime Minister made energy announcements and left out renewable energy entirely. He focused only on the threat of funding new gas projects. Labor’s policy is for Australia to become a renewable energy superpower. If elected to government, we will implement policies that will achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Renewable energy will power our future and tackle the climate crisis. As the Leader of the Opposition said recently, the market tells us that the cheapest forms of new energy are renewables. In his recent budget-in-reply speech, he detailed Labor’s commitment to making Australia a renewable energy superpower and highlighted one area in our energy system that desperately needs government attention, the electricity grid. Our Rewiring the Nation plan will invest $20 billion to rebuild and modernise the grid for the renewables age. Australia’s complex tangle of electricity grid connection and congestion and system strength issues is quickly becoming a major barrier to the next big wave of renewable energy investment. The reality is that the grid was not designed for renewables and small-scale generators. So federal Labor is committed to making Australia a renewable energy superpower; rebuilding our electricity grid for the future; driving the transition we need to tackle climate change and create thousands of new jobs; maximum plastics recycling through better design, producer responsibility and improved infrastructure; and effective policies on procurement and recycled content requirements.
Labor knows that we can come out of this recession stronger if we have the vision, if we have the leadership. Only we can deliver the massive reform that we need to both safeguard our climate and create the thousands of new jobs necessary to power that economic recovery. That’s what leadership is about—having a plan for the future, which we’ve articulated.
We are in opposition and we will continue to be critical of the government’s lack of action on waste, which so far has failed to deliver certainty for industry—for jobs—and for Australia’s environment. While the reforms we’re debating are not unwelcome, and nor is any other legislation or policy on this implemented by this government, we don’t think it will be effective in building a significantly improved waste and recycling sector. It falls short again, in short. We need to see action from government when it comes to producer responsibility for waste, to procurement and to the strategic allocation of waste infrastructure if we are to see a major take-up of recycling here in Australia.