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The Need for a National Approach to Packaging Policy

Keynote Address to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? A Conference Exploring Policy Regulatory and Co-operative Framework for Packaging Waste Reduction

by Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment

Hotel Inter-Continental
117 Macquarie Street, Sydney
8th August, 1996

As Parliamentary Secretary in the Environment Portfolio, I am delighted to have this opportunity to present this Key Note address here today.

As Parliamentary Secretary to Senator Robert Hill, the Minister for the Environment, I have the great pleasure of assisting him with his crucial portfolio at time of great challenges and even greater opportunities.

I also have policy and administrative responsibility for the Australian Antarctic Division, the Bureau of Meteorology and the exciting Green Corps proposal.

Although Senator Hill has a keen interest in this area of the portfolio and would have liked to have been here today, he has asked me to address this conference on his behalf as he must honour a commitment to visit the Cape York Peninsula as we speak.

May I begin by taking this opportunity to thank our hosts here today, the Association of Liquidpaperboard Carton Manufacturers and to make special mention of the association’s Executive Director, Gerard Van Rijswijk (RESWICK), who I know has worked extremely hard to ensure that this conference is a great success.

Conferences such as these play a vital role in achieving the partnership necessary to reach our recycling goals and to explore the opportunities and challenges to manage our waste better.

The notes that I received from my Department suggested that at this point I tell you, in some detail, why waste management is important.

I have no intention of doing so, as your presence here today indicates to me that you know that waste management is both an environmental necessity and an economic opportunity.

In fact, I believe that most industries heard that message and recognised the potential many years ago.

I have often read media reports that criticise the performance of some industries or industry members with regard to their waste management practices. This criticism has often been warranted and appropriate and should not be discouraged.

Most industries however, deserve recognition and congratulations for meeting the environmental goals which have been set and for the responsible manner in which they have achieved these goals.

Indeed, some industries have excelled well beyond expectations and devoted enormous resources to implement environmentally friendly practices.

It is unfortunate that these achievements have not received the public recognition that they deserve.

Over the recent months I have heard numerous complaints about the way in which the former Commonwealth Government exercised its responsibilities on the waste management issue.

I have also heard arguments that question not only the way in which a Commonwealth Government should exercise its responsibilities but question that responsibility itself.

The Commonwealth Government has a key role to play in waste management for four reasons:

Firstly, it is a national problem. That is, it is not geographically confined to a given local government area, region or state. It is an issue which concerns all Australia and its Territories;

Secondly, the State of our natural environment needs urgent attention and the Commonwealth Government has an obligation to recognise and address this need;

Thirdly, in respect to rules and regulations affecting industry, the Commonwealth Government has an obligation to ensure that there is a level playing field across State and Territory boundaries; and

Fourthly, and perhaps most significantly, the Australian public demand it.

Earlier this year, the Coalition recognised that the need to invest enormous capital into our environment had become a necessity after literally decades of neglect.

The Coalition announced what is arguably the most comprehensive and ambitious environmental policy in Australia’s history. The policy was aptly named....Saving Our Natural Heritage.

The waste management section of our policy opened with the statement that "the Commonwealth must take a national lead in encouraging a reduction in the volume of material entering the waste stream and the amount of that waste which ends up as landfill."

In tune with this statement, the new Government recognises the ANZECC agreement that requires reduction in waste going to landfill by 50 per cent by the year 2000.

This will be achieved through the National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Strategy and the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) National Kerbside Recycling Strategy.

Whilst we remain committed to achieving targets, this Government is hearing industries’ needs and recognises that targets alone are inadequate.

The former Government’s policy only concentrated on post consumer packaging, and gave relatively little attention to industrial wastes and non packaging wastes.

While the industries covered by the National Kerbside Recycling Strategy have generally met their waste reduction targets, the policy has emphasised recycling and generally ignored the reduction of waste during production and use.

Substantial gains in waste reduction can be made by taking a broader approach.

My Government will take a more comprehensive and co-operative approach to waste reduction than in the past.

A broader range of industries and waste streams will receive attention in waste reduction initiatives, so that all those contributing to the problem will have a role in contributing to the solution.

I have also noted comments regarding green waste. As we have heard, green waste constitutes a significant proportion of current landfill.

In comparison to other waste, Green waste has received little attention and provides an opportunity to make considerable reductions in landfill.

I know that many industries feel that the former Government failed to develop a consistent nationwide approach. We have heard that message.

The Howard Government is committed to a National Co-operative Strategy and recognises that it will have to take a leading role in this regard. We will give the waste management framework certainty, visibility and consistency through a National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) for waste reduction.

I would like to emphasis the co-operative nature of our approach.

The former Government failed to consult widely with industry. Industry did not receive the representation it deserved on various committees and advisory boards. Again, we have heard industry loud and clear.

Since being elected, the Minister, myself, or senior staff, have met with representatives from;

No doubt many of you here today have met with either the Minister or myself, and I would like to encourage those of you who represent industries here today who have not made contact, to do so in the near future.

Within all areas of administration, this Government is committed to wide consultation, a practice which we are determined to maintain.

A co-operative approach, of course, not only includes co-operation with industry, but also with State and Territories Governments, local governments and other interested parties.

I would like to comment briefly on a couple of issues which I am told have been raised at this Conference.

Packaging makes up only a small portion of the total waste generated in Australia..

While the waste created by large commercial operations, such as mining and agriculture, which are distant from major population centres cannot be ignored, wastes generated in and around the major urban centres is of more immediate concern to the community.

Packaging waste is a sizeable proportion of the municipal waste stream. Packaging waste is highly visible and attracts a large amount of community concern.

Secondly, questions have been raised at this Conference about whether the benefits of national recycling initiatives exceed the costs.

It has also been suggested that if landfill disposal prices can be optimised, further Government intervention is generally unnecessary.

The new ANZECC approach to waste reduction is much broader than that taken in the 1992 National Kerbside Recycling Strategy. Industries will be given full credit for source reduction and other initiatives to reduce wastes, as well as recycling.

The Government must take into account community preferences for recycling over increased landfilling.

I would hope that no Government, industry or even green group would support recycling at any cost.

Imagine a scenario in which enormous resources are required to be invested in recycling only to produce a very small return. Resources which could be better used to address more pressing environmental problems.

This in itself would constitute ‘waste’ and should be considered an environmentally unfriendly practice.

An example of high financial and resource investment for little recycled return can be seen under one of my responsibilities, the Australian Antarctic Division. The Australian Government maintains three bases on the Antarctic Continent and one on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

We recognise the importance of preserving the unique Antarctic environment and to this end, the Australian Antarctic Division goes to extraordinary ends to reduce, recycle and reuse.

Currently everything that goes to the Antarctic must be, and is, returned to Australia. All recyclable wastes are separated from the general waste stream and stored for return and recycling in Australia.

Sorting occurs at the point of generation and colour coded bins are located at each station. In addition, each station conducts a weekly rubbish run in which further checking and sorting occurs.

Due to the difficulties of storing large quantities of green waste over winter, the waste is treated by high temperature incinerator.

As traditional composting is impossible in sub-zero conditions, a heated in-vessel aerobic composter, which reduces the volume of food waste by 80% is currently being trialed at one of our bases.

Plans for special waste handling facilities for each of the bases are currently being drawn at an estimated cost of $500,000 per unit.

Last year, in return for all of this investment, our four bases produced a total of $2049.40 worth of recyclable materials.

We have no intention of changing our current practices in the Antarctic. We invest these enormous resources in waste management because we have a moral obligation to do so.

The return for this investment is the knowledge that we are contributing to the maintenance and protection of what is perhaps the last remaining unspoilt wilderness on our planet.

Nevertheless, it does provide an example of the enormous commitment of resources necessary to reach the 100% target which we have set ourselves in the Antarctic.

An example a little closer to Sydney can be seen in the way in which we are transporting recyclable products literally hundreds of miles from collection, to sorting, to recycling.

Transportation is usually by diesel fuel powered trucks. Diesel emissions are fast becoming a major urban pollutant.

I am aware that there literally dozens of such examples.

I am not signalling a change in policy that would suggest that recycling should not be undertaken if it is not cost effective. Nor am I suggesting that we should immediately stop transporting recyclable products by diesel fuel powered trucks.

What we must examine is the economic and environmental costs and benefits of the whole process.

There are clear examples of inefficient recycling practices which have become cost effective with increases in the cost of raw materials. A media report in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend Magazine last Saturday quotes paper as the perfect example.

As industry representatives, I don’t need to tell you that there are very few raw materials that do not have limited reserves and that are not increasing in cost.

What I am signalling, is that this Government will not be asking industry to undertake the impossible with regard to recycling goals. We will talk, consult, and liaise with industry to achieve the best possible outcomes.

In short, more consultation and research needs to occur so we have practical and logical outcomes.

Concerns have also been expressed about the impact of waste reduction targets on the packaging industries. Again, the Howard Government hears your concerns. And again, I can say that unlike the previous Government, we will work with industry to achieve these targets.

Similar concerns were raised about the targets in the 1992 National Kerbside Recycling Strategy.

I have heard that the former Government set what many consider to be arbitrary targets in 1992. I am told that little research and consultation with industry was undertaken.

We cannot turn back the clock. However with a National Co-operative Strategy we will provide sensible and practical criteria for goal setting.

I have also heard concerns from industry relating to what many perceive to be bidding wars between States and Territories setting higher and higher recycling targets.

Whilst I believe that this approach is generally healthy, in that this competition will ultimately bring us closer to our recycling targets, the Federal Government does recognise the impact that this may have:

It may get you a cheap headline to set grandiose sounding targets, but it won’t help the environment one scrap.

The only effective policy is one which will encourage a productive partnership between industry, the retail sector, the consumer and the various levels of government. In fact, targets that are arbitrary and unachievable are environmentally unfriendly in themselves.

They not only waste the paper they are written on, they offer no encouragement to the industry to achieve them.

May I leave you with a few comments on what is perhaps the greatest environmental debate raging at this time....the partial sale of Telstra and the implications upon recycling.

The Howard Government will place a greater emphasis on encouraging community based activities. In light of this commitment, we have allocated an additional $5 million over five years for waste management awareness programs.

These Waste Management Awareness Programs will encourage higher levels of domestic recycling which will not only help our environment, but provide industry with greater opportunities.

These additional funds are part of the Howard Government’s $1.15 billion National Heritage Trust, funded through the partial privatisation of Telstra.

This package also includes:

The list goes on.

There are a couple of points that I would like to make on this issue.

The Federal Government intends to privatise one third and only one third. The remaining two thirds of Telstra will be retained by the Government.

This will be enough to encourage a more commercial philosophy into the company, encourage its modernisation and assist it to become an internationally competitive multi-media company. It will also allow Australian business and families to invest in what we believe will be a solid and potentially lucrative investment opportunity.

What we are essentially doing is transferring funds from one government asset to perhaps Australia’s most important asset, and the asset in the greatest need of maintenance, our environment.

The financial returns from the sale will not be immediate. It is a long term investment, an investment for Australia’s future, an investment for the generations to follow.

The State of the Environment Report, released only last month, clearly indicates what we as a nation must do to address the environmental degradation of past generations.

The sale of Telstra will provide a long-term and identifiable source of environmental funding, free from the vagaries of annual budget negotiations.

An unreported, and perhaps not so controversial aspect of the Telstra sale, relates to the very environmental nature of Telstra itself. A significant benefit from the partial privatisation of Telstra is that large inefficient government-owned enterprises are bad for the environment.

Inefficient enterprises of any size are bad for the environment, they waste both human and physical resources. An enterprise the size of Telstra that is inefficient logically wastes massive amounts of these resources.

The Australian Democrats have put forward what they consider to be an alternative. An alternative which poses an enormous number of questions and presents several anomalies in Democrat philosophy.

The Democrats suggest that the Government should maintain a one hundred percent ownership of Telstra, but also maintain the programs proposed in the Natural Heritage Trust.

We can assume from this that the Democrats have no philosophical objection to the actual programs within the Natural Heritage Trust.

The Democrats suggest that the Government should fund the Natural Heritage Trust programs through the profits of Telstra. Seven percent of Telstra’s profits is the figure Senator Kernot has nominated.

We can therefore draw from this that the Democrats have no philosophical dilemma in using funds drawn from Telstra to fund the Government’s program.

The operating profit, before abnormal items were deducted, in last financial year was $2.9 billion. The Democrats’ seven percent would therefore constitute roughly $200 million.

Unfortunately, it is at this point that the Democrats become a little difficult to follow.

Where the Howard Government would raise the funds through the partial sale of Telstra, the Democrats would have it borrowed. Borrowed from where is not entirely clear.

The funds raised by the partial sale of Telstra is additional funding. Funding which would otherwise not be part of the budget.

The Democrats, by using Telstra’s profits, want to remove $200 million per annum from the national budget.

This $200 million would have to come from somewhere.

Not surprisingly, the Democrats are not entirely clear where the funding should be drawn from: additional cuts to welfare, infrastructure, education, family services, or even from the modernisation of Telstra?

Finally, may I leave you with this thought on the Telstra issue;...........When government ownership of a telecommunications company is balanced against an environment in desperate need of rehabilitation, it is my view and the view of my Government, that our responsibilities toward our environment far outweigh the desire to maintain a one hundred percent government ownership of Telstra.

You would think that people genuinely sensitive to our environmental needs would agree with this statement.

If the minor parties continue with their intention to block the sale of Telstra needless to say, there will be no additional funding for waste management awareness programs, and our environment will not receive the maintenance it so urgently requires.

The opportunities that present themselves to industry in the package will also be lost.

It is my sincere hope, that the opposition parties who hold the balance of the power in the Senate, base their decisions upon Australia’s environmental needs and future, and not upon an outdated and environmentally unfriendly ideology that the Australian Government must wholly own the telecommunications network.

Thank you once again for this opportunity to address you.

Commonwealth of Australia