This inquiry has shone a light on the importance of strong national leadership by the Commonwealth when it comes to waste and recycling. This leadership was present under the former Federal Labor Government that introduced the Product Stewardship Act, which this bill is seeking to amend. Labor established the first co-regulatory scheme for computers and televisions—a scheme that to this day remains extremely successful. At the 2019 election Labor committed to establishing a national container deposit scheme. Since Labor made this announcement, all states and territories have now committed to introducing state-based schemes.
The Coalition have chosen to take a hands-off approach which has resulted in a drop in Australia’s plastic recycling rate to a low of 9 per cent for the year 2018-19 and only acknowledged there was a problem after several trading partners decided to ban imports of Australia’s waste in 2018.
Labor Senators note the compelling argument for a mandatory product stewardship scheme for plastics and packaging that relate to those objectives contained within Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) 2025 packaging targets. We welcome the commitment made by industry members to take action in reducing the impacts that their products can have on our environment.
According to APCO’s submission, the rate of recycling for plastic packaging in 2016-17 was 16 per cent. Since this time APCO have released the 2018-19 data which shows a very small improvement to 18 per cent. In light of the very poor improvement in recycling rates Labor members are concerned as to whether the target that ‘70% of Australia’s plastic packaging will be recycled or composted by 2025’ is achievable with the current regulatory settings. If APCO and the Morrison Government are confident these voluntary targets are achievable then they should not have a problem in making these targets mandatory to ensure all participants are accountable for their actions.
Labor Senators acknowledge some single-use disposable plastics are unnecessary and harmful—they should be designed-out and eliminated as soon as possible. We note that some state and territory governments are taking action to ban items like those listed in this Bill.
In the spirit of national leadership, it simply does not make sense to have states and territories tackle such reforms without coordinated support of the Federal Government. Nevertheless, it is not responsible to introduce such a reform through a private Senator’s bill without the rigour of a regulatory impact statement and a detailed analysis that can only be delivered by Government.