Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020

Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020


I'm very pleased to sum up the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 and associated bills. These laws will become Australia's first-ever National Recycling Act. These are significant bills which I've had the privilege of helping to develop alongside my friend and colleague the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, and alongside the recycling sector, environmental groups, industry and experts. These bills will give Australia, for the first time, a comprehensive and national framework to improve recycling, reduce waste and achieve better resource recovery.

I thank honourable members who have contributed to the debate on these bills. These bills will accomplish better environmental outcomes in Australia and across our region, keeping waste out of landfill and out of our waterways and oceans. These bills will also achieve economic benefits. Australia will be creating value by transforming waste streams back into valuable resources. This better, smarter way of dealing with waste creates jobs, value and prosperity. Our nation can become more self-reliant and self-sufficient in key industries including manufacturing and remanufacturing.

A few short years ago, indeed for most of Australia's history, federal governments in Canberra were not especially involved in waste and recycling. When Australians put their bins out on the kerb, what happens next has always been—and remains—a key responsibility of state governments, who, in turn, have often devolved it down to their local councils. Yet there are many reasons why our government is the first federal government in Australia's history to step so heavily into waste and recycling policy. Recent events have proven that there are, increasingly, national and international aspects to waste and recycling. When we see waste here in Australia being shipped not just around the world but also trucked or transported hundreds or thousands of kilometres around our nation, often past suitable recycling facilities, in order to take advantage of the different levies or rules or the arbitrage that exists between the states, then we know that the patchwork of state laws is letting us down. Furthermore, state governments are not as naturally equipped to deal with aspects of international trade, including sudden external shocks when other countries change the rules on what recyclable materials they will receive.

So this bill implements our strong decision to stop the export of waste glass, mixed plastics, whole tyres and contaminated paper and cardboard from Australia to all other countries. As the Prime Minister has said, it's our waste, it's our responsibility. And it must be noted that the Prime Minister's personal interest and passion for this area of policy is another factor in our focus on recycling. I want to thank the Prime Minister for his keen interest and for making me the Commonwealth's first-ever assistant minister with responsibility for waste reduction. The Prime Minister knows that recycling is one of those challenges where the coalition's record of practical action and achieving tangible outcomes can make all the difference.

The Prime Minister, I am sure, also sees the opportunity for Australia to help our friends and neighbours in our region, particularly in the Pacific, to deal with their serious challenges when it comes to reducing waste and our shared challenge of reducing maroon debris in our oceans. Most importantly, the Prime Minister understands how important it is to the Australian people we represent that we achieve better outcomes in recycling. Australians don't want to see the contents of their recycling bins being rejected at overseas ports or hear that their mixed plastics have ended up in rivers or oceans because other countries' recycling processes couldn't adequately deal with them. Australians don't want to be shocked, as they have been too many times in recent years, to discover that the contents of their recycling bins were dumped at their local landfill right alongside their general rubbish.

So, while the federal government is not taking overall constitutional responsibility for these policy areas, we know that we can use some tools available to us at the federal level of government to move the dial. We can move the dial through our leadership and through our engagement with the community, with industry and with other levels of government. We can use the opportunities available to us to make the case for stronger action, for more consistency and harmonisation in Australia's approach and for extending the planning horizons for recycling policy in our nation. That's why it was an important foundational step last year when the environment minister and I worked together with the states and territories and local government to agree on the National Waste Policy Action Plan. It sets ambitious targets with measurable milestones for reducing waste and improving recycling over the next 10 years and it clearly identifies who is responsible for leading, funding and taking various actions.

Following the plastics summit earlier this year in Canberra, the Prime Minister at COAG secured the final agreement of all state and territory governments for the laws contained in this bill that will stop the export of the unprocessed or contaminated waste streams I listed earlier. In July, the government announced our Recycling Modernisation Fund, which, together with contributions from the states and industry, builds a $1 billion transformation of Australia's domestic waste and recycling facilities. In short, we're building, here in Australia, the recycling facilities and infrastructure we need to process our waste streams we've been sending offshore. We want to co-fund the local facilities we need in every state and territory around Australia—for instance, to sort mixed plastics, to process single-plastic polymers and to turn the recovered materials into pallets or other commodities that can be picked up and used by Aussie businesses, making the next generation of fantastic products.

So, as these laws come into force together with the record investments for recycling funded in our federal budget and together with our other recycling announcements and reforms, Australians can start to gain confidence that, when they do the right thing and put something in the recycling bin, it will actually be recycled, it will be recovered as a resource and it will support jobs, our environment and our economy.

Chapter 2 of this bill creates a framework for stopping the export of problematic, unprocessed or contaminated waste streams, including plastics, glass, paper, cardboard and tyres. The minister in her second reading speech outlined the operation of this framework. Future exports will be managed through a licensing and declaration scheme through an online portal and, as detailed by the minister, significant penalties are proposed for those who fail to comply with export requirements or who make false declarations. We also propose to publish the list of licence-holders for transparency that can help empower whistleblowing against anyone who tries to do the wrong thing.

Chapter 3 of this bill turbocharges Australia's approach to product stewardship. This is about empowering industry and businesses to take responsibility for their products to encourage better design, better manufacturing outcomes and better recovery at the end of life for products. Product stewardship is probably best known to most Australians through successful schemes like Planet Ark's scheme for printer cartridges or MobileMuster for mobile phones. In fact, Australia's very first product stewardship law, created by the Howard government 20 years ago today, was the product stewardship act for oil. That scheme has grown so successfully that it now achieves the collection and recycling of over 300 million litres of dirty, used oil each year out the back of mechanics, service stations and factories. There are now dozens of schemes like that established in Australia, achieving significant success, yet it's also widely acknowledged, including in the recently released review of the existing Product Stewardship Act 2011, that product stewardship in Australia can achieve much more with the right improvements. Taking up the recommendations of our review, the government is enacting many significant reforms to turbocharge product stewardship and set it up to achieve much, much more over the next 10 years.

While the existing act has been somewhat successful at encouraging the creation of new schemes, it would be fair to say that most existing schemes pertain to individual products or categories of product. We want to see product stewardship in Australia applied more widely and more ambitiously, particularly to resources and material streams. We want to see new schemes that can recover and recycle materials regardless of what products those materials are contained within, such as, for instance, schemes for agricultural plastics or soft-plastic packaging. To encourage more ambitious product stewardship in the years ahead, we're putting product stewardship at the heart of this new recycling act and we're expanding the existing objects of the act. Notably, we're bringing sustainable product design into the objects of the act to encourage producers to properly consider their product through the life-after-use lens, from design and materials used through to recycling, remanufacturing and disposal. We're also proposing to make it easier for industry and businesses to set up schemes and to have them accredited. These reforms are accompanied by two other very important measures. First, we've established Australia's first Product Stewardship Centre for Excellence to provide mentoring and advice from some of the best minds behind some of our existing successful schemes. Secondly, we're investing $20 million to support the creation of new schemes or the expansion of existing schemes through our National Product Stewardship Investment Fund.

The bill also proposes reforms that will boost the benefits from having an accredited scheme and the effectiveness of schemes overall. For example, the existing act has always allowed the minister to publish a list of priority areas where the government wants to see new schemes created; we're strengthening that by granting the minister the power to set a ticking stopwatch whereby, if no scheme is presented to the government by the deadline, the government makes clear it is likely then to proceed to regulation. Gone are the days when priority items like batteries sit on a priority list for years without action being taken. The free-rider problem is also often raised as being a factor that can hold back the success of many schemes under the existing act, and that's why we're adding a new dimension to the priority list process, to give the minister a regular opportunity to celebrate schemes and organisations that are doing fantastic work but also to publicly call out free riders who are not participating in an accredited scheme that's available to them. I know that industry and consumers alike will welcome this indication that the federal government wants to embed a more active role here in encouraging scheme outcomes as well as the government setting out a formal process to publicly name and shame those that are letting us all down.

Product stewardship done right has the potential to contribute significantly to Australia meeting many of our targets for 2030 under the National Waste Policy Action Plan. As a result of the reforms in this bill and the government's other initiatives and incentives, I expect to see dozens more product stewardship schemes spring into existing in Australia, I expect to see dozens more schemes become accredited and I expect to see many more schemes working closely with our government to stamp out issues like free-riding. Ultimately, I hope to see all these schemes become more successful, improving product design and increasing the recovery of products and materials that would otherwise be going to landfill. Otherwise, as the minister described in her second reading speech, our government stands poised to use the co-regulatory and mandatory powers contained in this bill whenever targeted interventions are needed.

In the next stage of the debate, I'll place some further thanks on record, because there has been extensive consultation in developing this legislative package. In summing up, I simply want to observe that to live in Australia is to live in a sanctuary. It's true in so many ways, and it's reinforced by the events of this year. Australians are fortunate to be the custodians of both a country and a continent. That provides significant benefits to us, and it also entails significant responsibilities. By introducing Australia's first ever national recycling act, the Morrison government is taking significant and practical steps to fulfil Australia's responsibilities to our environment and to our nation's future. I commend these bills to the House.