You are here

Container Refund Scheme Bill 2021

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Tags: Container Deposit Scheme, Waste, Recycling, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens strongly welcome this container refund scheme legislation. We have been the party that has been pushing, prodding, shouting from the hilltops for decades now for this kind of legislation in Tasmania. We have been the party, and continue to be the party at the national level, that is pushing for product stewardship responsibility for all packaging products.

We understand that the imperative for this is growing, not decreasing. We have a tide of plastics which is choking landfill around the country; but much worse - it has spilled out, is dumped and is washed out into our waterways, our streams and, ultimately, into the ocean. It is at that point that it is so damaging to the animals that live in the marine environment, and to the food web. What we are seeing is microplastics - the breakdown of plastics as they abrade with seawater and movement over time - break down into tiny, micro parts that can never be recovered from the floor of the ocean and from riverbeds. They make their way into sediment and they form part of the food for small sea life, and work their way up the food chain into large sea animals, fish, things that we humans consume. Ultimately, they end up in our food, in our bodies, whether we eat it or not. Everybody on the planet has plastic in them. Everyone is exposed to plastic that has been leached into the environment.

This is a huge issue for human health. It is a massive issue for sea life, for birds are being choked and strangled by eating plastic that fills their guts and makes them incapable of taking on nutrients that they need for life. I commend the work of Tasmanian scientists, starting with Dr Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania, in bringing to national and international attention the realities of the horrifying amounts of plastic that are disgorging into the marine environment and the impacts, particularly, on birdlife. Now so many other scientists, including Dr Joanna Vince, who is a senior lecturer at UTAS, have published about marine plastic pollution.

The Greens have been pushing for decades because we have listened to the science, we have looked at the natural world and we understand the consequences of plastic pollution.

Mr Deputy Speaker, why has it taken so long to get to this place? It is pretty obvious when you understand how power operates in our current democratic system. We have massive international corporations - Lions, Schweppes, Nathan, Coca-Cola - all of these companies have been very concerned, and fully understand the impact of legislation like this. They have been aware of it, and they have been looking after their bottom dollar from way back in the 1970s when conservationists started to talk about the impact of litter. It was actually back in the 1950s, and that was the origins of the clean-up campaign and that was the start of the gaslighting by the beverage industry in an attempt to deflect from the reality of the damage that their products were doing to the natural world. They created a faux campaign which changed the narrative and now, 70 years later, we are playing catch-up; 70 years too late for many parts of the natural system. It has been that faux narrative which has been attempting to talk about Keep Australia Beautiful, which was also backed by the beverage industry and pushed as the way we could put the responsibility onto individuals and take it away from our collective responsibility to legislate and to mandate the companies that produce products that cannot break down, that are not organic in their origins and cannot be broken down into organic components, that those companies must take responsibility for whole-of-life processes.

This whole-of-life responsibility for products, which is now forming part of our understanding of the circular economy; and I hope that both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party understand that this is actually what the circular economy is about. The circular economy is not about creating products and off they go, somebody else's problem; because the somebody else ends up being the birds, the fish and ultimately the health of us all and in particular of pregnant women, for example, who are exposed to plastics in food. We have seen for over a decade now, studies that show breast milk has levels of microplastics and components of plastic chemicals. This is damaging. It is damaging to the human physiology in ways that we do not yet appreciate. However, the real issue is the whole web of life issue and it is about us taking responsibility, that as just one of the species on the planet, we must work out how our rubbish, our mess, contributes to all the other species - because we do not own this place. We are just one of the many species that are trying to live together in collectivity, on this planet. And so, we strongly welcome this legislation.

I noted that a container deposit scheme will: create hundreds of jobs in Tasmania, including for people living with a disability; will save much more than $1 million in kerbside recycling costs for council each year; will benefit young Tasmanians who are looking for pocket money, for schools, for community groups, for sporting clubs, for the scouts, small business enterprises; will improve the recycling rates of beverage containers in Tasmania that are the worst in the nation; and, also, will help the authenticity of Tasmania's Clean and Green brand for tourism and export industries, in addition to the most important objective, which is to keep beverage containers out of the natural environment.

I said those things, on behalf of the Greens, five years ago. I stood in this place when we moved a motion to call for the Government to legislate to introduce a container deposit scheme. That was five years ago; and now that motion - which only called for the Government to commit to legislation, it did not prescribe the legislation, did not talk about the timing of it, just to commit to it - was voted down by the Labor party and the Liberal party, by every single member of the Labor party and every single member of the Liberal party. Five years ago - another five years wasted.

We have a much longer history which needs to be on the record, for the go-slow tactics of the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, who have consistently heeded the concerns and the heeded the wishes of beverage industry lobbyists when they have come to Tasmania talking about their concerns and their issues. We have it as a matter of record that the beverage industry watches around the world to look at any potential opening, any gap, for legislators or people working at any level of government to introduce legislation, even a by-law, even a policy, which would prescribe that a product stewardship must occur in their jurisdiction or that there must be mandated levels of recovery for plastics and beverage containers. We know this because Greens councillor, Bill Harvey, on the Hobart City Council, when he introduced a motion into the Hobart City Council - I do not remember when, but it would have been probably 2012-13 - to talk about the council banning or disallowing plastic water bottles to be handed out at Hobart City Council events, the beverage industry, the very next day, were in the Mercury newspaper with a letter talking about how it would be the end of the world as we know it. They were on the phone. They were chatting to the premier of the day. They were making sure that there was no-one in government with a stupid idea to back up that very sensible proposal of councillor, Bill Harvey.

Since then, we have the evidence Hobart City Council, thanks to the Greens councillors and their work over decades, we have one of the most forward-thinking councils in Australia with the recycling rates and their waste strategy which are definitely the most advanced in the country. Thanks to the Greens on council.

The history for the Labor Party when there was a joint parliamentary standing committee that began an investigation into waste management in Tasmania in 2004, that final report recommended a container deposit system should be introduced subject to a cost benefit analysis and nothing happened. When Labor got Hyder Consulting in 2009 to do a study for a container deposit scheme in December 2008, despite the fact the report recommended establishing such a system and noted it had the potential to improve recovery rates of beverage containers, Ms O'Byrne chose to do nothing at that point.

The Greens in government did everything we could to push the government, to push the Labor Party to take some action on this. Mr O'Halloran, made the point in a motion there was nothing stopping Tasmania bringing in its own container deposit legislation because both the Labor Party and the Liberals had made a faux argument we had to have a national approach; we could not possibly go it alone as a state. When that was put to bed as nothing more than a distraction, the Labor government was asked to commit to introducing a container deposit scheme in 2010, Mr David O'Byrne, who was minister at the time, said, 'The idea has merit', but no action was taken.

In 2013, Ms O'Connor called on the minister to honour the commitment to the state-based container deposit scheme, but again no action was taken by the Labor Party in government. The Liberals have followed suit and voted down the container deposit legislation motion we introduced in 2016. When we kept introducing this matter, Mr Gutwein, who was the minister at the time, said he '… was committed to working through the process and ensuring that the container refund scheme was implemented when we appropriately consulted with local government to ensure that with local government and with industry we get the settings right'.

For the record, local government has been and has always been a strong backer of a refund scheme. Dion Lester said last year:

It is recognised nationally as one of the most effective ways of reducing litter. Waste is an extremely high priority for the sector and this is one key element where Tasmania can catch up to the mainland states.

That has been a consistent position across the sector over the last couple of years. Mr Lester said:

You could say the sector is becoming frustrated around the lack of action on a container deposit scheme.

I am not surprised because there has been so much inaction but, meantime, while the inaction has been there, we have seen just an increase in the damaging impacts on the marine environment and waterways. Dr Joanna Vince is a senior lecturer at UTAS. She has published in international journals about marine plastic pollution. She said in 2018:

Research shows that on a local level, a container deposit scheme will make a difference in the amount of plastic found in the ocean. Plastic does not disappear and the plastic that was around in 1950 is still around today.

We have to stop using it. Because of the avoidable inaction we have had in Tasmania, since at least 2004, it has been on the table for governments to take some action on this issue.

As well as the Labor Party voting against the motion in 2016, there has been - and I want to note this bill before us today has been a gradual process of being regularly hit over the head that has made the Minister for Environment finally understand the overwhelming evidence and the fact as you said in your second reading speech, we will be the last state in Australia if we do not get our skates on and that is the imperative to move.

We are, supposedly, the clean, green state. It is essential we do everything we can to prevent plastic and rubbish going into the environment. It is pleasing to see the Liberal Party has moved on this. However, Labor is still stalling and still obviously doing the bidding of the beverage industry. Ella Haddad attacked the Government when she was the environment, parks and heritage spokesperson and said the Government should be acting with urgency on the issue after the councils backed a container deposit scheme at the Local Government Association conference. She said:

The state government's slow action on waste has left Tasmania vulnerable to considerable reputational risk against its clean green image that has been steadily built over many years.

Ms Haddad, the member for Clark, why do you not listen to the words you said so passionately a few years ago? If you do care so much, then why is Labor pushing to hold off on implementing this bill for even longer than it already has? Why is it pushing for an inquiry in the upper House? That inquiry is a fantastic opportunity to stall this bill and continue to do everything the beverage industry wants, which is just hold off on them having to take responsibility, hold off.

There has been so much time with Labor in government - years and years of Labor in government - and they have done nothing. They did nothing in government. They had all the opportunity in the world. Now they are in opposition and they still, even in opposition, will do everything possible to be the lackeys of the beverage industry and stall this legislation and stop it getting through.

I want to read out the letter from the Australian Marine Conservation Society, a letter that is on their web page:

Dear Leader of the Opposition, Rebecca White,

I am very concerned about the ALP's announcement that you will try to delay the Container Refund Scheme Bill in favour of Coca-Cola's flawed alternative.

I ask you to urgently reconsider your decision.

For decades, ocean lovers have fought Coca-Cola and other big beverage companies who tried to stand in the way of container refund schemes in Australia. After extensive consultation with stakeholders, the Tasmanian government has chosen the best model for the state, the same model being used in NSW and being implemented by Victoria.

This model was supported by environment groups -

I know the Labor Party does not like listening to environment groups, but you would think, at least on a container refund scheme bill, that they might actually understand what this is all about. It is actually about the environment - and ultimately it is about all of us.

As the Marine Conservation Society said -

This model was supported by environment groups and over 75% of submissions to the public consultation. I call on the ALP to recognise the community’s decision.

Beverage container litter is one of the most common types of marine debris found in ocean cleanups, directly correlated with deaths of ocean animals and seabirds.

Tasmania consumes about 260 million drinks a year and for too long they have been littered or wasted in landfill. The objective of the container refund scheme should be to achieve the greatest possible recycling and return of the 10% deposit to consumers, rather than allow bottlers like Coke to keep it. The chosen model maximises the recycling rate and provides plenty of opportunities for charities and community groups to participate.

Please don’t delay the container refund scheme any longer. Every day we wait, we lose more animal lives.

For our oceans,

Boomerang Alliance.

Mr Deputy Speaker, Boomerang Alliance is the organisation that has been pushing for container refund schemes around the country for decades. It has successfully worked with community groups. It has successfully done all the back room work, and all the hard work of keeping track of what legislation is at what stage in every state of Australia. They have been there, Jeff Angel and Robbie Kelman. I want to put on the record their hard work, which they have done basically for nothing. We do not get paid big bucks working in the conservation sector, trying to fight the beverage industries. You are not on the pay of the Grocery Council or Coca-Cola. They are the hard yards, and they have done it because they are goodhearted people. Their work has made it very clear. They have been working constructively with governments in every state - and I note that Mr Kelman is on the advisory committee, I think, along with many other people. They have done constructive work, trying to find the best outcomes.

They are really clear that this is a totally unnecessary stalling tactic by Labor to continue to stand up for beverage companies first. There is no doubt there are questions about the details of this bill. The Greens have questions, and I will go into Committee and ask them. We are not waiving this through without a lot of serious questions that need to be answered by the minister, but there is no reason why Labor cannot do its work here.

Do the work. Ask the questions. Why have you not done the work with stakeholders? Why do we need to have more stakeholders? There have been endless submission processes, endless opportunities for engagement, and when you get conservationists from around Australia, the Greens and the Liberals lined up on something like this, you would think that you could read that there is really nothing much left to fight about. It really does not happen very often.

Ms White - Any time the Liberals and the Greens line up together is nothing to worry about, is that what you are saying?

Dr WOODRUFF - No, you purposely misstated me. I said there are serious questions to answer. That is exactly what I said, but that does not mean that we do not support the bill. We do support the bill. We do understand that it is actually important.

There is a huge amount of power involved in this situation, so why you would want to give it to one body - which is what Queensland has, and it is a great way of making sure you just get the minimum recycling that you possibly can - rather than providing a situation where we ought to be maximising the recycling rate in Tasmania? That is, fundamentally, what this is about.

We have concerns about the lack of detail in the bill. So much of this is left to regulations. We are concerned to hear more about the tendering processes. It is not good enough to say 'just standard government tendering processes'. There is clearly a requirement to have as much transparency, independence and expertise as possible.

I am concerned that no targets are mandated to be established by the bill. We are concerned that there are no objects in the act stating that this container refund scheme must provide for consumer accessibility, and must prioritise consumer accessibility. We know from other states that that is essential for a container refund scheme to maximise the recovery rate. If it is not easy and it is not close, then it is not going to happen. There are only so many hours in a week, and most people just do not have the time to wait on a Saturday morning for a couple of hours at some kerb to hand in their recycling. We have to make this reasonably available for everybody in Tasmania.

I do not understand, as the Leader of the Opposition said, why the minimum number of containers to be recycled for free is 20 000. I would like the minister to answer why there has not been a differentiation between the scale of large container producers and small container producers, or large suppliers and small suppliers. There is clearly a difference between Coca-Cola and a small microbrewery or a small cider place in Tasmania; there is no doubt. Who pays for the 20 000 by every single supplier? That is a lot of product that does not get paid for - and who pays for that?

I would also like the minister to answer where the intersection is between this bill and the Waste and Resource Recovery Bill. The waste levy bill has a lot of detail about a board and the board establishing a waste strategy, but that is a separate bill, and I do not see in here that there is any dissection with that bill. I want to understand how they are going to work together.

Before I conclude, I make a point about the last time we stood here to talk about the container refund scheme - when we moved a motion to introduce this legislation. It was five years ago, in October 2016. In the Chamber at the time was a Scouts group from southern Tasmania, from the Blackmans Bay/Kingston area. The Greens had been working with them on this issue, and they could see that the container refund could be a welcome source of funds. Every local Scouts group is responsible for raising their own sources of funding, and they spend far too much time fundraising to cover the basic things that troop leaders should be doing. There is no doubt that it might be used by Scouts groups and many other community groups who want to make some money to cover the expenses of running their halls.

I cannot talk about the Scouts without talking about the fact that it is a disgrace that this Government does not recognise Scouts and guides as their own peak body, and that they ought to have peak body funding status. We will continue to wave that flag for the Scouts, because they do that really important work.

We want to make this scheme as accessible for everybody. Community groups have a concern that there will not be the accessibility under the model that is proposed. This is a concern that Labor seems to be whipping up, but it is the case that this bill does have plenty of opportunities for engagement.

I would like the minister to talk about the donation button that has been discussed on reverse vending machines. There has been some conversation. There is nothing in the bill about that. How people can choose to give their refund to a particular charity or a group and how hard will it be to get on that list? Is it going to be a very exclusive club of hand-picked groups or can any group register to be on there so we could choose to give it to the scouts in Kingston or the Sexual Assault Support Service? Many other bodies are worthy and should receive that money.