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Nambour Civic Centre
3 October 1997

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

Well, thanks very much, Councillor Culley and to you and members of your Council; other distinguished local government leaders and councillors and members of staff; to Jennifer Simpson, the convenor of this organisation; the Honourable Neil Turner, MLA, the Member for Nicklin - and a very hard working Member that he is. At this stage, a quick apology from your local Federal Member, Alex Somlyay, who would have liked to have been, but was unable to be, here today. Representatives of conservation and environmental groups; other distinguished guests; speakers; and ladies and gentlemen.

Well, I'm delighted to be in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, Nambour area today. It's always a pleasure to be here, particularly so when you've spent the last week in Canberra. The events of last week, I might say, have impacted upon your economy. I intended to stay on the Sunshine Coast last night, but people would think I am having a good time! So I wasn't able to. But, ladies and gentlemen, it is a delightful area, and one that I've known fairly well over the years. I am pleased you put the sugar mill next door to me so it would make me feel like my home town of Ayr.

But your theme is a very important subject, one that deserves the attention that this conference is giving it, and that you obviously give it by being here. I bring apologies from the Federal Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill, who unfortunately wasn't able to be here.

This region is a very, very special place, and just by looking around you and seeing the expanding tourism activities and the growing population, it's obvious that a lot of other people agree that it's a very, very special place. As you all know, expanding communities such as the Sunshine Coast and the hinterland, by their very nature, generate more commercial activities. This means more waste.

Pursuit of development must be balanced with a concern for the environment and this is the ongoing challenge for Government's at all levels. Sustainable lifestyles are those which use, conserve and enhance our communities' resources so that ecological processes are maintained, and the quality of life for both present and future generations is increased.

The Commonwealth Government is committed to making people more aware of environmental issues by getting society as a whole motivated to make commitments to sustainable practices. The challenge is to put in place effective programs that turn environmental awareness into informed action. The task here is to encourage community and industry to have another look at the waste they generate, and determine if the trash that they generate can become someone else's treasure.

Today, I want to just briefly talk about the importance of environmental management and some national waste reduction initiatives. Reducing the amount of waste entering the environment is one of the Coalition Government's major environmental commitments. Each year Governments at all levels are increasingly being confronted by the issue of how to manage the growing pile of waste that is being generated in our society. It is generally acknowledged in Australia, and elsewhere, that the traditional approach - the old approach - of just dumping waste in the ground or in rivers or oceans is no longer acceptable because of the adverse impacts upon the environment.

But despite this growing realisation, Australia is still sending approximately one tonne of waste per person per year to landfill. This is a staggering volume of valuable recoverable resources that is being wasted. The Government recognises that the Australian community wants this waste of such valuable and recoverable resources to be stopped. When you consider that 18% of the average Australian family's total Greenhouse Gas Emissions come from household waste alone, the positive impact upon the environment of reducing this is all too obvious.

The structure of government in Australia and the nature of the waste issue means that achievement of national waste emission targets cannot be the responsibility of any one level of government alone. It relies on a partnership between all levels of government, business, industry and the broader community, working together to create environmentally sound systems for minimising and recycling the waste that we generate.

The Commonwealth Government's role is to provide leadership and coordination across ,strong>all levels of government; to establish a national information base from which good policy and programs can be developed; and to ensure that Commonwealth Government policies and the operation of Federal agencies are consistent with the goals of waste minimisation.

The main features of the Commonwealth's waste policy include a commitment to achieve a national 50% reduction of waste going to landfill by the year 2000; secondly, to support a wide range of national waste minimisation initiatives through the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council; and a $5 million Waste Management Awareness Program funded from the Natural Heritage Trust to further promote waste minimisation and recycling; and also to improve waste minimisation in all Commonwealth agencies and activities.

And while it is important to understand what the Commonwealth Government does do, it's also very important to appreciate what the Commonwealth Government does not do.

Waste management is the responsibility of local, State and Territory governments. With the exception of implementing Australia's international obligations in relation to import and export of hazardous waste, the Commonwealth does not have a role in regulating waste management.

Waste reduction however, is a different matter. The national target of a 50 per cent reduction in waste going to landfill by the year 2000 is based against 1990 per capita levels. Targets like this one are an important device to motivate industry and the community into action; and to identify the barriers to industry best practice to be overcome towards, and onwards, from 2000.

The national target is something for all Australians to aim for. Each State, Territory and local government will have its own way of implementing this, but there is broad agreement that adopting the 3R's - Reducing, Reusing and Recycling of our waste - is most successfully achieved through a national approach involving cooperation between all sectors of the community.

The national target is framed in terms of reduced waste to landfill. The policy reasons behind it are far broader, relating less to landfill scarcity than to the broader set of longer term environmental and economic concerns, including the environmental impacts of landfills, and the inefficient resource use implied by the amount of waste that we generate.

There is also a significant cost to the community of cleaning up and rehabilitating places from which we derive our virgin resources, as there are further costs in establishing, remediating and managing the landfills in which we seem to hide a lot of our waste.

Various Australian industries are already making an important contribution to helping achieve the national target through making their own significant waste reduction strategies and actions; and also through demonstrating best practice techniques for adaptation by the wider industry

There are currently negotiations going on with the packaging industry to develop a national packaging covenant which involves all levels of government, designers, manufacturers, fillers, distributors, retailers, consumers, collectors, recyclers and importers. This covenant will encompass the entire packaging chain and will address the issue of how the costs of recycling can be equitably distributed.

A significant initiative being undertaken by the Commonwealth Government is the provision of $850,000 over four years from the Natural Heritage Trust Waste Management Awareness Program funds to develop and establish a Resource Recovery Centre. The purpose of the Centre will be to stimulate the development of markets for recycled and recovered materials. The absence of these markets in Australia is one of the major impediments to us using our resources more effectively.

This Sunshine Coast region is home to an excellent example of how we can all pull together to tame the waste stream. Aware that construction is a major source of our total waste produced, the Commonwealth approached five major Australian companies involved in the construction and demolition industries to pioneer best practice waste reduction in their industry across Australia.

The initiative, called Wastewise Construction Program, was established to encourage innovation in the industry. The companies who volunteered to participate in the program are: Fletcher Construction; John Holland; Multiplex; Lendlease; and Barclay Mowlem. Their involvement indicates their eagerness to act as waste reduction leaders in industry.

These companies have demonstrated an excellent range of best practice solutions to waste reduction in industry. One example of their innovation was carried out by Civil and Civic, a subsidiary of Lendlease, on the Sunshine Coast at the Noosa Sewerage Treatment Plant.

Rather than send excavated materials from building sites, Civil and Civic sorted the sand from rock on the site, then used the sand to refurbish the grounds. After completion, the company will sell the remaining sand to horticulturalists or other builders.

Also on site, native vegetation was saved and included then in the final landscaping. Civil and Civic also convinced the developer of the project to allow refurbishment of existing buildings, rather than demolition and reconstruction of new buildings.

And I understand that Barclay Mowlem in Brisbane is also involved in this in a demolition they recently did. They had a major agreement with Sims Metal to recycle metal; the timber has gone for wood-chipping; the paper has gone to Visyboard for recycling; the concrete and other materials have been crushed and sent to the Brisbane City Council for reuse; and so it goes on. Both in Brisbane and Sydney, land fees are getting higher and higher, and that is an encouragement to people to reuse, rather than use landfill.

And I understand that at the Homebush Bay Olympic site, the people doing the construction there, have been able to make considerable savings through recycling and reuse out of transport emission reductions, energy reductions, and of course by the less they had to pay for tip fees.

The development of sound environmental practices today will help us to make the 50% reduction target possible. And it will ensure that our children will enjoy a high quality environment. Success is dependent on industry and community commitment to reduce waste by most importantly recognising it as a resource. When we all have this mindset, it's then that we can exploit waste reduction and recycling through the development of recycling enterprises.

Forums such as this one, allow us to identify barriers to that action that's needed to be identified and overcome. By recognising the treasure in our waste, we can all reap the rewards. By ensuring that it never gets buried in landfills in the first place, it means that we will never have to go looking for that buried treasure in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, my congratulations to the Sunshine Coast Environment Council for their initiative in organising this conference; and also to the local authorities in the Sunshine Coast region for the way that they have supported this forum.

Once again, I thank you for the opportunity to be with you and to participate in this Taming the Waste Stream forum. I wish the conference every success. I wish you productive discussions, and I certainly look forward to hearing of the outcomes of your conference in the future. Thanks very much.

Commonwealth of Australia