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Litter Amendment Bill 2018

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 1 August 2019

Tags: Waste, Legislation, Plastic

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens are happy to support this litter amendment bill. It is part of a package that needs to occur in Tasmania, a package of legislation to send a clear message and to set a culture in Tasmania that supports a clean, green brand, which is the image of Tasmania that we want to signal to the rest of the world. Not just for markets, and from a financial and export market point of view, but to encourage people to come and visit the state as tourists, to come and live here as residents, and, fundamentally, for ourselves as an island community of people as a statement for how we want to live on our island and what sort of culture we want to set for ourselves, as much as for anybody else in how we live and the behaviour we expect of people in the community. This is important.

I was a councillor on the Huon Valley Council before I became a member of parliament. Waste, as any councillor will attest, is core business for councils. It is also very expensive and very difficult to manage. There are many issues, and I support this legislation from the point of view of giving councils some tools to work with to strengthen their response to illegal dumping. It happens in local council areas. Sadly, illegal dumping in many parts of regional Tasmania occurs far too frequently. It has long been used as a way of stalling on introducing a waste levy in Tasmania, and Tasmania is one of the last states, if not the last state, to introduce a statewide waste levy. We have other states which already regularly put over $100 per tonne for waste that goes to landfill as a mechanism for incentivising recycling, reuse and just the non-creation of waste in the first place. We are well behind the eight ball in that regard.

I note that the Government's draft waste action plan talks about introducing a statewide waste levy. The plan as proposed is far too weak in its ambition. There is absolutely no reason that we need to wait yet another two years to introduce a statewide waste levy. There was a Blue Environment report done and it was accepted by all councils in Tasmania that we have a statewide waste levy. That went to all parties before the 2014 state election and all parties were publicly very vocal in their support of a statewide waste levy, not the least the Liberals. When the Liberals won the state election in 2014 that waste levy that was supported by all councils and supported by the evidence of the value it would bring local councils in reducing kerbside waste and reducing waste to go to landfill being better for the environment and providing some finances for both the state Government and local councils to create capacity in the recycling/reuse waste sector, that waste levy sat on then environment minister, Mr Groom's desk and was never signed by the minister. It was sitting there waiting to be signed.

It has been sitting there waiting to be signed by successive environment ministers. One-by-one they come and they go in this Government and they never sign the waste levy. It is a phantom that is yet to appear.

Mr Gutwein - Here I am.

Dr WOODRUFF - Well, bring it on. Bring it forward.

Mr Gutwein - It is part of our waste action plan, you know that.

Dr WOODRUFF - I know, but it is too late, we cannot wait two more years.

Mr Gutwein - Of course you can, you have waited this long.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, the state has been waiting for five and a half years. It has been sitting on your desk. It must still be sitting on your desk. Look into the folder that is sitting in a filing cabinet -

Mr Gutwein - I've only been the minister for two weeks.

Dr WOODRUFF - Go and have a look in the filing cabinet. It will be catalogued under W for waste levy somewhere. You will find the hand of probably minister Groom somewhere on the outside of the file. Open it up, sign it, and off we go.

Mr Shelton - What about the five years before that? Why didn't it happen then?

Dr WOODRUFF - There is no reason to wait. It was not prepared, Mr Shelton. It is all very well to scoff about things that have not happened, but councils came together -

Mr Gutwein - It is exactly what you are doing.

Dr WOODRUFF - It did not exist. What a joke. You cannot talk about why something was not signed if it did not exist. A comprehensive study was done across Tasmania a number of times to make sure that it would not have any unintended consequences for local councils and everyone was in agreement, bring it on.

I am saying that it is part of the package. It is often raised that the reason that we cannot have a waste levy in Tasmania is that it might mean that there will be more illegal dumping. There is no evidence that that would be the case. Even if it was the case, that there might be some more illegal dumping, this Litter Amendment Bill provides the opportunity for people to be found and charged with some, what looks like to me, pretty reasonable levels of penalties.

I encourage the minister to look at the submissions to the draft waste action plan in relation to the waste levy. Many people have made a similar point that 2021 is too long to wait for a waste levy.

Perhaps we can do this now during the second reading debate to prevent us going into the Committee stage of the bill. I had some questions about the infringement notices that would be expected as the minister said in the second reading speech:

If enforcement action is required I expect that the service of infringement notice for offences will be the first way the new act will be enforced. Infringement notice penalties will be set at 10 per cent of the court penalties.

Minister, I take it then that the 10 per cent of the court penalties, fines of up to 200 penalty units can be exacted for an individual and up to 500 penalty units for a body corporate and that there are lesser penalty units depending on the amount of waste that has been dumped. So, it would be 100 penalty units for litter that was between two and 10 cubic metres in volume, which is the equivalent roughly of one large truck load. This would mean about $163 a penalty unit, $1630. Could you help me out with the maths on the fly? I am just wondering what is 10 per cent. Perhaps you can do that in your response.

Mr Gutwein - As I said in the second reading speech, 10 per cent of what is prescribed, so 50 penalty units for a bag is the court offence, 10 per cent of that will be five so the penalty units 168 so it is around $860.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. That sounds eminently reasonable. Perhaps you could also provide a bit of information about what is required for enforcement. This is a difficult area. Is it required to catch a person in the act? Is it like we were talking about putting surveillance cameras? This particular part of the amendment bill details offences if people damage surveillance cameras or remove them.

I presume registration numbers of cars might be seen or vehicles might be identified through surveillance cameras or through sightings or photographs from people. Is it the case that if rubbish is found and it has addresses or names and stuff in the rubbish, is that sufficient to provide a conviction or does a person or their vehicle have to be identified?

Mr Gutwein - If you have written to a constituent and they had screwed your letter up and put it into the bin?

Dr WOODRUFF - That is right. It is uncommonly difficult to find these things. People do - surveillance cameras are very useful in the digital era. It is a possibility that we will be able to have more convictions than we used to in the past, that is certainly the case. I hope that they get widely used by councils, particularly in areas where there is ubiquitous dumping and there are certain areas in the state where it happens more often than not.

Ms Standen - What if somebody dumps a trailer load full of asbestos, for instance?

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, that is right. Asbestos and things. Things that are expensive to tip. While the minister is getting a bit of information about that I will just make a few more comments about waste.

As the member for Franklin, Ms Standen, has already mentioned we are at a precarious situation in Tasmania, as are many other countries with regard to recycling. We have countries increasingly particularly, set by the standard that China has made, refusing to take waste for recycling that is contaminated and is not clean recycling material. It is a fantastic move that countries like Cambodia, Malaysia, and China are pushing back against being used as the dumping ground by countries like Australia, Canada, the United States and European countries. Many countries around the world for too long have been simply outsourcing their land fill to poorer SouthEast Asian countries, typically who have established recycling units. People get paid a pittance to go through and separate, not only to recycle the waste but to have to separate it or deal with the land fill issue in their own country. Good on them.

On the back of that, it has made us all sit up and have to take account of the waste that we produce. Tasmania is fortunate, I understand, in having glass recycling ability on island although it still needs to be sorted. We are in a precarious situation potentially if the five southern councils that have contracts with SKM Recycling find themselves in a situation where SKM becomes insolvent, closes up shop and does not take that recycling material. I understand that councils are actively in conversation with other companies and we will just have to wait and see where that lands.

However, this is not a situation which is going to get less precarious unless we take responsibility ourselves for developing an on-island recycling capacity for more than glass. There is great opportunity here for innovation in a future-thinking government. I am not sure that this one is, but a future-thinking government ought to be looking at creating industry in Tasmania around plastic recycling so that we can make use of materials and be able to generate building and construction materials which other countries are investigating, developing industries to do that, as well as the sort of products that are already being made - park benches, playground mats and stuff like that. That is the kind of small scale stuff but really thinking ahead for the future of the island to be able to take responsibility for our own rubbish and to make something of it is a win/win that we have to investigate urgently.

In the meantime, regarding the waste action plan which has been put up by the Government, I hope there is a tsunami of responses that the minister takes note of which make the pretty obvious point that the targets that have been presented are too weak. We need to have much stronger targets to reflect the reality of the mountain of waste that we are producing and the amount of rubbish that is going into the waterways and is burdening us as an island with landfill that we are rapidly running out of space to be able to take.

It is also important that we do not lose consumer confidence in recycling. There is a momentum behind consumer confidence which has taken decades to build and we have to be very careful that we keep the confidence of people in the credibility of recycling. Unless we keep that confidence, once broken it is not easy to repair. It is like any relationship. A fracture never repairs as well as an unbroken bone. We need to keep up the viability of the recycling industry and everything that this Government can do to put downward pressure on the production of waste and to find opportunities for recycling and re-use will benefit consumer confidence and will increase the circular economy, which is what we need to be creating in waste, as in all things. This Litter Amendment Bill is part of sending that signal of putting downward pressure on waste as well as functionally reducing the amount of waste that can end up in waterways and in the marine environment.

That goes to another question I wanted to raise with the minister, and I see that Mr Ford from the EPA is here. Thank you for your attendance, you might be able to provide some guidance to the minister if he does not remember it. Perhaps the minister could remind us what the penalties are for marine debris. I know Ms Standen mentioned littering on the water but I do not believe this covers the marine environment.

Mr Gutwein - It does for state waters.

Dr WOODRUFF - Could you please make it clear how this intersects with the other legislation about marine debris and the penalties for salmon farm companies or other fishing companies? We have legislation that covers marine debris already, as I understand, and I am not sure how this Litter Amendment Bill would intersect with that legislation, so I would be interested to hear that.

Plastics in the marine environment that have been produced by aquaculture industries, many forms of fishing and industry, commercial and recreational, on Tasmanian marine waters, are very concerning. There is a huge amount of plastics building up that sink to the bottom that we have no record of and we cannot see, but it is breaking up on the bottom of the waterways and on the benthic layer. We do not know what the impact is on the fish but we hear from scientists it is a fact that fish and every level of organism that swims and inhabits the waters now appears to have plastic in its system somewhere, from the smallest plankton to whales and everything in between, and also birds. We are only starting to understand the impact of plastics on sea life. Of course it has a flowon effect on humans who eat that seafood as well as to the health of that sea life and the longevity and genetic implications for the progeny. It is very concerning.

If the minister could talk a bit about how the littering of companies that work on Tasmania's waterways is going to be enforced more fully than it has been, that would be good. I still have not heard that there has been any significant change in the amount of plastics that people in the boating community are reporting they see which they are concerned about from a boating hazard point of view, as well as the impact on marine life and the beauty of the coastal foreshores around Tasmania.

With that, I am happy to provide the Greens support for this Litter Amendment Bill and look forward to a much-strengthened statewide action plan on waste.