Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (12:42): I speak to the motion, and let me say that recycling is the buzzword and so it should be. The world has finite resources. Recycling is imperative for the environment. Recycling is imperative for the world’s resources. And I hope that recycling will become lucrative for regional communities, because I think this is a great opportunity for regional communities to actually step up and say: ‘Some of this industry can be relocated or created in areas where we need expansion in employment.’
That’s what the tenets of this bill, the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020, are about. The bill is about creating an industry in Australia—creating a base business line that private investors can invest in with confidence, knowing that the rules are not going to change around them. As to their supply line, it’s an interesting concept. Normally, when we talk about supply, we talk about component parts and we’re talking about new things, but, in this particular case, we’re talking about old things; we’re talking about rubbish. We need to ensure the supply line for the private investment community to actually build the facilities that we need in Australia to ensure that we recycle our waste.
I’ll start on the regions, because obviously I’m in this parliament representing a very large region. In the regions, it’s been difficult and expensive to indulge in recycling. We’ve had little choice. We’ve been directed by state governments and others to recycle in certain areas. There’s one area that draws my attention. I see a lot of things recycled from the Kimba dump, for instance—well, it’s no longer a dump; it’s largely a transfer station. One thing that we have focused on for many years is recycling paper, but in fact it costs more to shift the paper to the capital centre to the recycling plant than it is actually worth. So this comes as a direct cost to people living in regional communities. I’m very wary, as to all of these new rules that we may bring in about recycling, to see that there are cost-effective ways for all communities to meet those requirements. So we need to build regional capacity.
Obviously, we won’t be building specialised regional capacity. We need to target those things that we create the most waste in and then build the capacity for them. If it were paper it would be far better if we could recycle it in situ, at least in regional centres. The member for New England, who spoke prior to me on this bill, spoke of the possibility of having one-way freight traffic, using empty capacity to shift rubbish back into regional areas so we can create jobs there. I think there’s a lot of merit in that suggestion. We need to guarantee supply, and we do that by banning exports.
In this area of recycling one of the great challenges of the 20th century for Australia was our relatively expensive labour supply. It is still the case that we have a relatively expensive labour supply, particularly in the hemisphere of the Pacific where we are situated. But increasingly industrialisation is being mechanised and computerised. It’s taking the people out. What on earth all the people are going to do in the end we may well ask ourselves—perhaps they’ll make more cups of coffee and groom more dogs; I’m not too sure—but it is a fact. Even in my industry of agriculture we are removing people all the time—not with intent, we’re not looking to get rid of people; we’re just looking for that cost-effective model that allows us to prosper—and so it will be with recycling. I don’t imagine we will see the hundreds of people in recycling lines sorting out all the bottles into the little things. I think we will see investment now that will do mechanical sorting, that will sort out these things by colour. I’ve seen opals sorted by colour mechanically—an infra-red light flashes and a little jet of air blows the opals out into the right bucket. If you can do it with opals, I’m pretty confident you can do it with PET plastics and with a whole host of other material.
We can build that capacity in regional Australia. We have good education levels—sometimes we’d like to have a bit better—and we could run that kind of componentry. We could build that kind of equipment in Australia. That’s what we should be doing. That’s what this $160 million that is on the table out of the billion dollars will facilitate. It’s anticipated that the $160 million will generate three-for-one investment from private industry, giving us a $600 million capacity. That is the money that I will be pointing out to the people in the electorate of Grey who already are involved in waste management and in recycling—we have quite extensive investment in green recycling already—and saying, ‘Step up to the plate.’ Or perhaps there are some new entrepreneurs out there who want to start a plant and have already been approached by a couple of local district councils wondering what they can make.
It’s estimated that the $190 million for infrastructure—I said $160 million earlier, but I’ve checked my notes now; it’s $190 million—will generate 10,000 jobs. That’s exactly what we need in regional Australia—10,000 jobs, or at least a fair share of them. And it will eliminate 10 million tonnes of landfill. I will keep pushing that line, encouraging those people in the industry to chase that.
There are a host of other funding lines, including support for industry to take more responsibility for their products after their useful life. We already know that there is a levy paid in the electronics industry for televisions, computers, printers and computer parts. Their collection is funded by a levy that you and I pay when we buy a new television. What happens to the old televisions and computers afterwards is a bit of a moot point. Most of them are exported for recycling. We’re not banning that at this stage. A few years ago I was speaking with Nyrstar in Port Pirie. They’ve had a considerable investment there, putting in a new smelter. It’s given new life to the city. It will have an interest in the smelting of precious and semiprecious metals for many, many years to come. It is also a great consumer of waste generated in other industries. In fact, the waste from the zinc plant in Hobart is taken and reprocessed in Port Pirie through the smelter.
One of the things they could do is process or break down electronic waste—e-waste. Australia generates a substantial amount of e-waste. At this stage they’re not quite ready, so they’re not pushing the line on this. But, if they were to go down that pathway and invest in making the smelter and the equipment fully adaptable, they would need a guarantee of supply. At the moment, all of our e-waste is shipped to Asia. The gold is smelted out of it. The various parts are pulled down and whatever else happens in the recycling process. We have the capacity to do that in Australia, but it won’t be worthwhile them investing in the equipment needed unless they get the total supply. So the obvious answer is: when the smelters are ready to do so, we will probably need to do exactly the same thing for e-waste as this bill does now for paper, plastic, glass and rubber, to guarantee that they can make a safe investment. It will face challenges. It will mean we’ll be shifting e-waste from Sydney, Brisbane and Perth to Port Pirie, if that’s where the facility is situated. Given some of the freight arrangements around Australia, particularly with coastal shipping, that could prove challenging, but it should be done.
It is a fact that in the nuclear industry—and this is something I know a little bit about—every country that uses nuclear product is under an obligation to the UN to deal with its own waste. Whatever they need to do, whether it’s finding a permanently site, decommissioning it or burying it, they need to do it in their own country. There was a proposal put forward by the Weatherill government in South Australia. They had a royal commission, in fact, looking at the possibility of Australia taking high-level nuclear waste from overseas. That’s not to say world regulations could not be changed or that the idea was necessarily a stinker. It failed, anyhow, but I make the point that every country in the world is required to deal with its own waste. Perhaps that should be the case with all waste. Why do we have the ability to send off baled-up plastic bags overseas for somebody else to deal with? We don’t even know what they do with it, frankly, whether it goes straight into a furnace or whether something else is done with it. I think we all need to take responsibility. As a household we need to take responsibility for our own waste, and as a nation we need to take responsibility for our own waste.
I spoke a little before about product stewardship and the electronics industry. It gave me an opportunity to talk about possibilities for the future of recycling e-waste in Australia. But I point to the bottle and can recycling legislation. Without having researched the subject—and you may well know better than me, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas—I’d say it’s been operating in South Australia for at least 40 years. It’s been a spectacular success. South Australians often remark that you go over the border and there’s rubbish all along the side of the road. It’s taken a while, but the other states are getting there now. The Northern Territory was first, and I think there are a number of others coming on board now. We know that, when you pick up the can of soft drink that shall remain nameless for the purposes of this debate, there is a stamp on it. It once read, ‘Worth five cents if returned in South Australia’. It’s now worth 10 cents, in keeping with the worth of money. That is a cost that is paid by the consumer. When you buy that can that shall remain unmentioned—let’s pretend we’re on the ABC—you pay that 10 cents into a fund which then funds the recycling of the cans and bottles. It makes sense. We are responsible for the whole product, not just what’s inside of it. We are responsible for what the product is put in.
In South Australia, the government has moved legislation to ban single-use plastics in a number of items. Plastic cutlery will cease to exist some time next year, when the law is implemented. They’re waiting for the COVID virus to pass, to allow people to adapt. They’re also banning swizzle sticks and straws. There are different estimates of how many straws Australians use each day, but it’s in the millions. It’s hard to imagine. I nearly always drink my cool drink straight from the can or bottle, but obviously other people like to use straws. And there are other products. We know there are other products. Maybe it’s going to cost a little more, or maybe not. But, in the long term, we know it should be done.
The previous speaker, the member for Newcastle, spoke about the rising plastic content in the world oceans, and that is a very serious subject, and the only way really to curtail that is to curtail the use of plastics or make sure that they go back to a recycler so they’re dealt with in the right and proper way. Certainly, by banning the export of these goods, we can ensure that they are dealt with in a right and proper way in Australia under our supervision, something that we cannot do at the moment.