PLASTIC SHOPPING BAGS (PROHIBITION ON SUPPLY BY RETAILERS) BILL 2019
Second Reading Speech
Ms KATE WASHINGTON (Port Stephens) (10:33:40): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Today I am pleased to introduce to this Chamber the Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019 on behalf of the New South Wales Labor Opposition, as the shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage and on behalf of the people of New South Wales, who know that it is time to ban the bag in New South Wales. I thank the Hon. Penny Sharpe, who first introduced this bill in 2016. Labor also introduced the bill in 2017 and 2018, but the Government has voted against it every single time. Given the bill has been introduced three times previously and given it recently passed the Legislative Council, I am not going to spend too much time going into the intricacies of the bill. It is a simple bill, and for that matter I refer members to the fulsome second reading speech by the Hon. Penny Sharpe and her previous second reading speech, in 2016.
I do not want to dwell on the multitude of reasons why this bill should pass this House today. Those reasons have been well and truly traversed in this place and in the community. We all know why it needs to happen. Today I want to address the excuse that the Minister has given to the media so far as to why he and his Government will not support the bill today. According to media reports—and I anticipate this view will be aired again today—Government members will not be supporting this bill because they do not have the guts to do the right thing, like every other State and Territory has done. Instead, they are going to prepare a plastics discussion paper. This is not just a disappointing response; it is pathetic, embarrassing and miserable. It is pathetic because it is now blindingly obvious that the Government has no plan for plastic pollution.
The Government is proposing to prepare a discussion paper. Why would the Government have to prepare a discussion paper at this point in time? Because the Government has no plan, no strategy, no clue after 8½ years in government. After this bill being introduced and debated four times since 2015, the Government is now getting out the butchers paper and asking what the fuss is all about. It is embarrassing because we all know that many members on that side of the House support this bill. They have not only said it privately but they have said it publicly. The former Minister for the Environment and current Attorney General, Mark Speakman, publicly campaigned to ban the bag. It is on the public record, but today he is going to vote against his beliefs, against his own convictions, against his community and against the environment.
In 2014 the member for Heathcote, Lee Evans, campaigned to ban the bag but today he will be taking his orders from John Barilaro. Speaking of taking orders from John Barilaro, even the current environment Minister, Matt Kean, knows that this is the right thing to do. He knows, and we know, that the discussion paper will recommend banning single-use plastic bags. Every other State in the country has done so; it is not complicated, it is not hard. Frankly, it is low-hanging fruit and it has been proven to be effective everywhere else in Australia. Only New South Wales cannot bring itself to ban the bag under this Government.
A wise person once said, "Some 50 million plastic bags end up in our oceans and waterways every year, so we have to ban the bag". Who said that? Does anyone in the Chamber remember hearing that recently? It was said here in this Chamber by the environment Minister himself. That was two weeks ago in this place. Why are Government members going to vote against this bill today? There is only one reason. It is not rational, it is not reasonable and it has nothing to do with their roles as policymakers or local representatives. It is politics—petty politics in its purest form will be on display today, if Government members choose to vote against this bill. Simple maths shows that if only a fraction of the Government members who have publicly campaigned to ban the bag actually voted for this bill today, it would pass.
Finally, it is a miserable response because without this sensible action, even taking into account the big retailers acting on their own, more than 133,000 single-use plastic bags will pollute our environment each and every week. Every week of delay, every week that those opposite take to scribble on a piece of butchers paper to decide if they need a plan, another 133,000 single-use plastic bags enter into landfill and our waterways. That is 7 million plastic bags every year in New South Wales. On average, those bags are only used for about 12 minutes each and then they take 1,000 years to break down, entering our waterways and our oceans, suffocating marine life, killing birdlife, polluting environments, causing real harm to humans.
Today I have a proposition for you, Minister: You can have the bill; it is all yours. You can call it what you like and you can run with it. This can be a government bill, because we on this side of the House just want to see an outcome on this. We want bags banned in New South Wales. They are causing harm. That is why we have introduced bills now four times to this Parliament, but the past three times the Government has voted against it. I hope those opposite might look into your consciences and perhaps consider supporting the bill we have moved today. Minister Kean can even rename the bill. It can be a Government bill and he can rename it what he likes. He can call it "This is not a Labor bill" or "Matt Kean for Premier if only John Barilaro will get out of the way bill". He can call it what he likes because we on this side of the House want an outcome—and we want it today.
We want it for the sake of the environment, for the sake of our kids and for the future generations. I ask everyone to think back to last year when a petition signed by more than 12,000 people was presented to this Parliament and debated. The signatures were obtained by a then 14-year-old girl from the Premier's electorate, Sophia Skarparis. When that bill was debated in this place and not supported by Government members, she cried. Sophia cried because of the hard work that she had put into getting the signatures handwritten on a petition that was then introduced and that she presented to the Premier. When the Premier did not even bother to show up during that debate, she cried. That is a shameful reflection on this Government. There have been other petitions, including another 12,000 signature petition in 2015 tabled by the former member for Coogee, Bruce Notley‑Smith—one of your own.
What has the Government done since then? It has done nothing. It has failed to act and failed to introduce its own legislation. Legislation was drafted in 2015 but it was not introduced because the Government was too scared of banning anything. The greyhound debacle was such a mess that those opposite decided that banning anything else would be political kryptonite. The Government has sat on this ever since, even though it knew back then that it was the right thing to do. It still has not acted. In New South Wales right now teenagers are doing more to clean up plastic bags from our environment than this entire Government. Over the past two weeks I have travelled up and down the east coast of New South Wales, from Batemans Bay to Tweed Heads, meeting with community groups who want to see plastic bags banned in New South Wales. I thank the many members of the Boomerang Bag movement who are sewing fabric bags from recycled fabrics in towns right across the State—at Bowraville, Tweed Heads, Tea Gardens, Dungog and Berry just to name a few.
Mrs Melinda Pavey: Bowraville.
Ms KATE WASHINGTON: I mentioned Bowraville just then, Minister. You were not listening. You have your head down because it is a bit embarrassing for you to listen to the debate today.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): I am glad to see goodwill amongst members, but comments will be directed through the Chair.
Ms KATE WASHINGTON: I thank the many people who participate in beach clean-ups in many of our communities and in many of the Government members' communities every week. I thank the groups advocating for change at a local level like Plastic Free Port Stephens, Plastic Free Bronte and Plastic Free Kiama, all of whom I recently met with. I thank the businesses and councils who are already on board and doing what they can. I say to the Government members, your communities get this. They want this. They want you to act and they know that you should have done this years ago. If Government members fail to back this bill today, they fail to back the communities that they support.
Community groups are working hard alongside local councils and businesses. They are doing all they can to reduce reliance on single-use plastic bags and to reduce plastic pollution. They cannot do it alone. They need the support of this Government. That is what they are saying to me and they are no doubt saying it to the Minister as well. The complete failure of leadership and cowardice of the Government, which has left it to private enterprise to do all the work and heavy lifting, has not only left our environment exposed to harm, but it has also left retail workers exposed to harm.
Without the support of government, without a community education campaign and without a strategy that people understand and get behind, thousands of retail workers—some of the a lowest-paid workers in the State—have been left bearing the brunt of consumer confusion and frustration at the checkout. They have been at the frontline bearing the brunt of this because those opposite failed to act and give the community the awareness it needs to support retail workers in their jobs. I thank the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association [SDA] for supporting retail workers and for doing what the Government should have done: undertaking a community awareness campaign to stop the harassment and abuse of retail workers.
Some confused consumers have really taken it out on retail workers and obviously there is widespread community support, but that does not mean everybody understands the disproportionate damage being done to the environment. One of my own children, while working in a retail shop, was subject to abuse because of this confusion. They also witnessed an enormous amount of abuse towards other retail workers. It has been entirely unfair on them. This bill sensibly provides for a six-month community education campaign in a six-month transition period to improve awareness, reduce abuse and improve the understanding of consumers when they are at the checkout. On the assumption that the Minister will not support this bill today and that he will tread a similar path as he has in the past, I urge him to give retail workers a thought by allowing a decent community awareness campaign and also undertaking a long-term assessment of the impact on retail workers of customers in using different bags, which can be larger and heavier.
I acknowledge the work done by the National Retail Association, which supports banning single‑use plastic bags. It represents the very retailers that would be affected by this legislation and it supports this ban. It is unfortunate that the Government is not listening to the National Retail Association and is also ignoring a host of other groups which have been for this change for years and asking the Government to act. I acknowledge the Boomerang Bag Alliance, World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF] and the many other environmental groups that have been urging the Government to move on this and ban the bag in New South Wales. Everyone knows this has to happen. We need to ban the bag in New South Wales. Every other State and Territory has banned the bag. We can do it here today—right here, right now.
For the benefit of the Minister, we do not need to create a discussion paper. We already know what the problems are and what the solutions are. The Government has already completed a discussion paper. The Environment Protection Authority [EPA] prepared one in 2015 entitled "Plastic shopping bags: Options paper: Practical actions for plastic shopping bags". There is already a paper—done in 2015 by the Government's own agency—that clearly steps through options for dealing with plastic bags. It clearly states that the community and businesses want to see leadership from Government.
The Government has ignored that paper. To now propose a discussion paper is almost offensive to the many people who have been campaigning on this for so long. Those opposite have no excuse. There is already enough out there on this. I urge all Government members to support Labor's bill today. Show some courage and some leadership. Back the communities that you represent because they want you to back the environment. Come on, New South Wales. Today we can ban the bag!
Mr MATT KEAN (Hornsby—Minister for Energy and Environment) (10:46:46): I thank the shadow Minister for her hard work on this very important topic. Our planet is suffocated by plastic. It permeates every aspect of our lives. Since the 1950s the world has produced 8,300 million tonnes of plastic and up to 12 million tonnes of plastic are discarded into our oceans annually—that is nearly a dump truck every minute. It is a disgrace. Last year, a whale was found dead with nearly six kilograms of plastic bags in its digestive tracts. Televisions and newspapers have image after image of oceans, marine life and coastlines suffocated with plastic. It is utterly acceptable, especially for a State and a nation that thrives off its beach culture.
Shockingly, only 7 per cent of plastic produced has been recycled, while more than half has been discarded in landfill or leaked into the environment. We are facing a global plastic pollution crisis that will require a comprehensive response. Plastic is everywhere. It is in our clothes, utensils, food packaging and takeaway containers—and yes, it is in our bags. Because plastic is so pervasive, banning the bag alone will not solve this monumental problem. We need a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we produce, use and manage plastic. This is why, instead of just dealing with plastic bags in isolation, we need a comprehensive plastic strategy for New South Wales. My vision is to see New South Wales lead the nation when it comes to tackling the challenge of plastic waste and recycling.
I want to ban the bag but that alone is not the silver bullet that Labor members would have us believe. It is part of a much bigger challenge. If Labor was serious it would withdraw this bill and work with me in a bipartisan manner to deliver not just a ban on single-use plastic bags but to deal with other single-use plastics—cutlery, straws, coffee cups and takeaway containers, to name a few.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): Members who are interjecting will settle down. I understand this bill will elicit strong interjections, but it is a little early for that. The Minister will be in silence..
Mr MATT KEAN: This is not just about plastic bags; this is about straws, cutlery, coffee cups and a whole range of issues that need to be tackled in a comprehensive manner. Our environment is not just being harmed by single-use plastics. We need to address other plastic litter that enters our environment and build on our nation-leading container deposit scheme. In addition, we need to deliver end markets for plastic products to encourage recycling and investment in industry in this State. This is not just about banning one product; this is about changing how our economy uses, re-uses and disposes plastic. Members cannot achieve that sort of reform with the one-off political stunt that Labor is trying today. My offer to members opposite and to every other political party in this Parliament is to provide a bipartisan approach to managing plastic in our economy, in our environment and in our food stream so that we can deliver not just a great headline—
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): The member for Swansea, the member for Gosford and the member for Canterbury will come to order.
Mr MATT KEAN: I want to offer Labor members and every other member of Parliament an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way not just to get a great headline but to get a great result for our environment and for the people of New South Wales. I am asking members to work with me to deliver that objective. That is my focus. I want to work with anyone who is interested in protecting our environment. This Government has a proud track record when it comes to dealing with the issue of plastic waste. This Government delivered the container deposit scheme in New South Wales: the biggest single litter-reduction program in this State's history. No-one has done more to reduce the volume of litter in this State than the Liberal-Nationals Government.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): The member for Gosford will settle down.
Mr MATT KEAN: We have a great track record when it comes to protecting our environment and reducing plastic litter in New South Wales. I want to build on that by delivering a comprehensive plastic strategy for the environment and for the people of this State. Our container deposit scheme has seen almost 2.5 billion containers returned. That has taken litter out of our parks, streams and oceans.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): The member for Maitland will come to order.
Mr MATT KEAN: That has engaged the community to clean up our environment. It has been a stunning success and we want to build on that. This is not an outlier for Liberal-Nationals governments; this is who we are. Our Prime Minister is leading the nation on the issue of tackling plastics in our environment. I congratulate him for that work. Liberal-Nationals governments are Conservatives and they believe in serving our environment.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): If the member for Heffron is going to interject, I suggest he do so from his seat.
Mr MATT KEAN: Liberal-Nationals governments both State and Federal—
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): There is far too much audible conversation in the Chamber. I know that members are excited about this bill. If members interject one at a time at least we can understand them and determine whether or not they are witty. There are far too many interjections. Members will respect the Minister and the Chair. The Minister may continue.
Mr MATT KEAN: The behaviour from Labor members shows what a stunt they are pulling here today. I have offered an opportunity to work in a bipartisan manner to deliver a comprehensive plastic strategy for New South Wales. Labor members interject, heckle, laugh and treat the environment with disdain. They are interested in a cheap headline, not a solution to deal with this very serious problem.
Ms Jenny Aitchison: Point of order: I will clarify with the Minister that the Labor Party does not disdain the environment; this is its response to it.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): There is no point of order. I have called on Opposition members to settle down. Unfortunately, the Minister immediately baited Opposition members. If that type of behaviour continues, it will be difficult to maintain decorum in the House. The Minister will continue.
Mr MATT KEAN: Members on this side of the House paid the utmost respect to the shadow Minister when she put her case to support banning the plastic bag. The same level of respect to my genuine offer to deal with this problem is not being afforded by members opposite. The member for Gosford and others have treated this as a complete joke. I think it is absolutely disgraceful that members do not take the issue of plastic seriously.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): The Minister will direct his comments through the Chair. The member for Gosford will come to order.
Ms Liesl Tesch: Point of order: The Minister will direct his comments through the Chair.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): I have asked the Minister to do just that. I also ask that the member for Gosford respect the standing orders. There are two sides to this debate. The Minister has the call.
Mr MATT KEAN: Opposition members have treated my offer with disrespect. This stands in stark contrast to the way in which Government members treated the shadow Minister's pitch to ban the plastic bag in this House. I am committed to banning the plastic bag but we need to go further. We need a comprehensive plastic strategy to deal with a whole range of other plastics that are permeating our environment and damaging our oceans. Banning the bag alone will not solve this problem. We need recycling and end products to create value in plastics, to build industry and create jobs. We also need to change behaviour. There are a range of things that need to be done to tackle this issue and we are committed to doing that.
Liberal-Nationals governments both State and Federal stood up and protected our environment. Liberal‑Nationals governments saved the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling. Liberal-Nationals governments ended whaling in Australia. Liberal-Nationals governments created the NSW Environment Protection Authority. The Liberal-Nationals Government led by Liberal Premier Tom Lewis set up the National Parks and Wildlife Service. That is a legacy that we need to recapture and that is a legacy I intend to rebuild. I am offering the Opposition an opportunity. If they seriously care about our environment, take me up on this opportunity to work in a bipartisan manner to deliver a comprehensive response to dealing with the scourge of plastic in our natural environment.
I want to see this done. The challenge is whether Labor members will accept this opportunity and work with me not only to tackle plastic bags but to tackle a whole range of plastics, to develop end markets, to develop recycling and to deliver a better result for our environment and for the people of this State. Our Liberal tradition is grounded in Edmund Burke's philosophy that society is a covenant between past, present and future generations. That philosophy does not just apply to our economy, it applies to our environment. These two things are not mutually exclusive. If the Liberal-Nationals Government is being honest with itself it is incumbent on it to protect its natural environment and to reduce the impact of plastic.
This is exactly what I intend to do as environment Minister. That is what I will take to Cabinet, that is what I will take to the party room and that is what I intend to deliver. Instead of members opposite grandstanding on one single issue it would be better if they would work with me to deliver a great result for the people of New South Wales and for the environment of this State.
Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) (10:58:34): Before I talk more generally about the Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019 it is important that the Minister puts on record that he took the bill to Cabinet and was rolled, which is why we are in this situation today where the Government opposes this bill.
Mr Matt Kean: Point of order: I make my point of order under Standing Order 129. The Leader of the Opposition is being completely irrelevant. I have not taken any such measure to Cabinet. She is deliberately misleading the House.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): There is no point of order. The Leader of the Opposition has the call.
Ms JODI McKAY: I am sorry the Minister is so sensitive, but this is an incredibly important issue. I am very proud to speak in support of this bill today. Before I talk more generally about the bill I again thank Kate Washington, our shadow environment Minister, and I also acknowledge our previous shadow Minister, Penny Sharpe, who has done an incredible job over a long period in bringing this bill to the House. This is the third time that this bill has come before the Parliament and it is, of course, from Labor in defence of our State's precious environment and waterways. I am so disappointed, as the shadow environment Minister said, that we are still debating this issue today. I am disappointed that we have had three attempts by the Labor Party to get this through. I am disappointed that we are the last State in Australia to be in this position. It seems extraordinary that even Queensland has passed this legislation and here is New South Wales as the environmental laggard on this issue.
South Australia was the first to implement this legislation some 10 years ago. Earlier today the shadow Minister and I were talking to the media about the importance of this bill. As we were moving toward the media conference we were approached by a couple of people who were visitors to this State from South Australia. I told them what we were doing and they could not believe that New South Wales is still in this situation. The woman said to me, "We have passed this. We passed this 10 years ago. I have my reusable bag in my purse." And I said to her, "Yes, we are still in this state because we have a Liberal-Nationals Government."
It is important to note that we have a government that talks about how far ahead New South Wales is on every other issue. We know that is not true but we know that particularly on this issue we are the environmental laggards. We are so far behind. Against all odds and after significant pressure from the Opposition Labor's bill did pass the Legislative Council last month. What we know is that in the House today the Government cannot hide any longer. It passed on successful policies adopted by other States. We know that this works. Labor is not putting through the Parliament today a bill that has not been tried and tested—it has been and it works.
The bill also includes sensible exemptions for reusable plastic bags—bags used when shopping for fruit and vegetables, for instance, bin liners and even the bags to clean up after your dog. It also includes a two-year review and it has a transition period, which we think is important when you are introducing a new and important policy like this. But I think it is important to say to this House why this is so critical and why Labor believes in this. It is because single use plastic bag, on average, is used for just 12 minutes and of course what we know is that it takes a thousand years in landfill for it to degrade. We also know that it is even longer when it ends up in our waterways. Of the 6 million tonnes of rubbish dumped into the world's oceans every year, 80 per cent is plastic bags. Because of this, 30 per cent of the world's turtles and 90 per cent of seabirds have now ingested plastic debris. The evidence is there and it is shocking evidence. Those of us on this side who care about the environment and who want to see significant policy change are aghast that members of the Government walk into this House today and oppose this.
Labor is not the only organisation supporting a ban on single use plastic bags. Retailers want a ban. As we know, major supermarkets including Woolworths and Coles have already acted when this Government will not. They have put in place a national ban. But we must go further, and every State except New South Wales recognises that. We are seeing 12 million plastic bags being discarded into waterways and in the environment every year. I know this has enormous impact on the MPs on this side, MPs in areas that include the Georges River and the Parramatta River. In my electorate and those of the member for Summer Hill, the member for Canterbury and the member for Heffron we are talking about the Cooks River. These are the same rivers that are drying up across our State. The Government refuses to act on any element of the crisis impacting on our waterways.
I also acknowledge the support of the crossbench members on this issue. We appreciate the support of the Greens and the Independents—including you, Mr Temporary Speaker—on this important issue. We also stand with community groups, activists, concerned citizens and the millions of people across New South Wales who are sick of their State's fundamental lack of action on this issue. This Government stands alone in its opposition to a policy so universally accepted that every stakeholder in the community, every other State and Territory Government and even successive environment Ministers in this Liberal-National Government support it. The member for Pittwater, once environment Minister himself, has previously said that plastic is a peril that threatens our environment and the wellbeing of our community. He talked about "the dead seals and dolphins that wash up on our shores with bags stuck in their stomachs". That is incredibly graphic. The current Minister knows this but he refuses to act because there are colleagues within his Cabinet who will not support this, who do not believe in this.
Let me put on record what the cost of this Government's inaction is. It is so important to put inHansard, to put on the record in this Parliament, because with every decision we make in this Parliament there comes a reaction, there is something that flows from it, and what flows from this is that every single week that they refuse to act, 234,000 additional plastic bags will enter our rivers and waterways. That is one million more plastic bags every month discarded into our streets and gutters where they will sit for the next 1,000 years. Think about that when the Government says it needs even more time to come to some consensus that the rest of Australia came to a long time ago.
Today the Minister has said in this place he will oppose this bill and he has indicated that he wants to work in a bipartisan way. We will work with him on his plastics strategy—we believe in that—but why will he not work with us, when he knows that every week he delays there are more than 130,000 plastic bags entering the waterways and the environment in this State? It is an indictment on his Government that he refuses to support this legislation when he believes in it. I cannot believe that we are in this situation simply because he has been rolled in Cabinet. I cannot believe that he has not been brave enough, as he has on other issues, to stand up to those bullyboys in Cabinet and say, "No, this is the right thing to do." Let's do the right thing, Minister, and ban the bag. We urge the Government to finally do the right thing, on its third opportunity, after more than two terms of inaction on this front. Do the right thing today. This is the Minister's opportunity. I will work with him on his plastics strategy. We believe in that. What does he believe in?
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT (Baulkham Hills—Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (11:07:35): The crocodile tears coming from the Leader of the Opposition have been absolutely appalling. If she were only as committed to cleaning up the pollution in Sussex Street as she is to cleaning up the pollution in New South Wales then this place would be sparkling. The crocodile tears coming from Labor today are appalling. I am one of a growing number of conservatives who believe that the environment is important and believe that we need to make the environment the cornerstone of all Government action.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): There is too much noise in the Chamber. I ask that the general chatter be taken down a level, please.
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: I am one of a growing number of conservatives who believe we must be good custodians of the earth. I am sick of the Left, the Labor Party, trying to make the environment its own political pet, because it is not. We all have children. We are all in favour of making sure that we leave this earth cleaner, better, more prosperous and more fertile than what we gained. The crocodile tears coming from those opposite and the blatant falsities dished up by the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Minister for the environment are breathtaking. The Minister for Energy and Environment is quite right: This is simply legislation for headlines. There is nothing more to it. The New South Wales Coalition Government is made up of some of the best environmentalists in the country—they are called farmers, ably represented here by The Nationals. The Coalition Government believes in a comprehensive, full strategy to address all of the plastics polluting our society.
I come from an electorate that is considered middle class. People do not vote Green in my electorate; in fact, they do not even vote Labor. They have a very strong conservative bent and I am very proud of that. But every person in my street has solar panelling. Every person in my street has four garbage bins—three for recyclables. Every person in my street is involved in Return and Earn programs to ensure not only that parklands, rivers and streams in north-western Sydney are clean but also that we get something positive out of it. That is why, when I came into this place as a backbencher alongside the member for Pittwater I immediately advocated for the Return and Earn program. I am a great advocate of it. I can categorically say that the Minister for Energy and Environment has been taking the Cabinet and the party room with him every step of the way on these policies. For the Labor Party to claim that it has environmental credentials above and beyond those of the Government and the Minister is a disgrace. Its attempt to hijack environmental policy is a disgrace.
Ms Kate Washington: What?
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: I note the interjection from the shadow Minister and member for Port Stephens. Speaking of pollution, if we are going to clean up something in this place it would be her mouth and her language. I cannot believe that she thinks that she can stand up here. It is a matter of public record that she is the first person to use—
Ms Anna Watson: Point of order: This is a Minister of the Crown speaking to a female member of Parliament in this way about cleaning up her mouth. He is a disgrace and he should withdraw that comment. Mr Temporary Speaker, I ask you to ask that the Minister withdraw that language to a female member of this place.
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: What language?
Ms Anna Watson: Talking about her mouth. You are a disgusting Minister of the Crown.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): The member for Shellharbour has made her point. She will resume her seat.
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: I am not withdrawing it because it is inHansard.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): Will the Minister withdraw his comment?
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: I will not withdraw my reference to her language used inHansard.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Greg Piper): The Minister has made his answer clear.
Mr DAVID ELLIOTT: Of course we need to ban the bag. It needs to be part of a comprehensive plastics strategy. This, again, is cheap, lazy policy from the Labor Party because it believes that the only way it will get any credentials is by addressing one single issue. But it is not one single issue. I cannot believe that the Labor Party seems to think that we should promote this legislation, and yet in the same speech the Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that this is a bigger issue. She referred to the creatures of the sea and the environmental issues. But our side has the best environmental credentials in the place. As the Minister said, it was a Coalition Government that introduced the National Parks and Wildlife Service. It was a Coalition Government that introduced the Protection of the Environment Administration Act. Whilst we are, of course, a conservative Government, it was Federal Labor who wanted to mine uranium in the Northern Territory.
Members opposite have the gall to stand up and tell us that we on this side are some sort of environmental vandals. We are not. We want a considered approach. We want an approach to this policy that will see a comprehensive attack on plastics because we believe the only way to tackle environmental degradation is through good policy. Not once in Labor's 16 years in government did it address any of these issues. Those opposite still cannot work out if they are in favour of coal or against coal. They still cannot work out if they are in favour of mining coal in the Hunter Valley or against it. They still cannot work out if they are in favour of the Return and Earn policy or against it. They still cannot work out whether they believe that the mining industry is their friend or their enemy. As far as I am concerned, that shows bipolarism of the worst degree. The Parliament has every right to reject this legislation and to go away with all parties, including the crossbench members and The Greens, and make sure that we have a comprehensive approach not only to the environment but also to plastics. I urge members to oppose this legislation.
Ms JO HAYLEN (Summer Hill) (11:13:49): The Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019 will end the shameful situation in which New South Wales remains the only State or Territory not to have banned single-use plastic bags. This is the second time the bill has been introduced and I will be proud to vote for it. I will be voting for the bill on behalf every child who has spoken to me about phasing out single‑use plastic bags. I will be voting for the bill on behalf of the constituents in my electorate and the volunteers who tirelessly work to clean up the Cooks River, as well as waterways, beaches and parks across our State. I will be voting for the bill on behalf of consumers who have already taken action to change their behaviour but want to see leadership from the Premier and the environment Minister.
Plastic bags are choking our planet. The Boomerang Alliance estimates that 180 million bags are disposed of into our natural environment each year—an average of 5.8 bags per second. New South Wales residents alone use three billion single-use plastic bags, which is one‑third of all plastic bags used across the country annually. It takes 85 times more energy to recycle a plastic bag than to create it, which means that 97 per cent of plastic bags are discarded rather than recycled. The average time for which a plastic bag is used is 12 minutes but that bag takes 1,000 years to break down. The problem is very, very clear but so, too, is the solution.
This is not the first time this Government has had the opportunity to legislate on the issue. Labor tried to pass this bill two years ago, only for the Government to vote it down. In 2018 young environmental activists secured a 10,000‑signature petition to ban plastic bags in New South Wales. What was the Premier's response? It was, "Let the market manage itself." Well, the market has not managed itself. Coles has stopped 17 billion single‑use plastic bags ending up in landfill. Woolworths has said that it has issued three billion fewer plastic bags. But that is a drop in the bucket considering five trillion plastic bags are produced every year.
Real action will take real leadership and once again, with this bill Labor is showing how to deal with the issue. Local communities will not wait. In fact, many of them have taken matters into their own hands and introduced plastic bag bans at the local level: Kangaroo Valley in the electorate of Kiama, Mogo in the electorate of Bega, Oyster Bay in the electorate of Miranda and Huskisson in the electorate of the South Coast. Those communities are sick and tired of waiting for their State Liberal representatives to put the health of the planet before politics. Members opposite had another opportunity today to back those communities and their own communities, support the bill and ban single‑use plastic bags. But they have signalled that they will not, and what is their excuse this time? It is, "We need a review of all plastic in New South Wales."
I want to be really clear: I absolutely support taking holistic action on plastic pollution. Every young person in my community and, I am sure, all of the communities represented in this place talks to us about this all the time—plastic straws, plastic bottles. They are passionate about it, and for good reason. But there is absolutely no scenario in which we cannot review plastic pollution and also ban single‑use plastic bags at the same time. It is not revolutionary. I reckon we can do it at the same time. The Minister's review will tell us exactly what we already know: We need to ban single-use plastic bags. This is nothing more than a veiled attempt by the Minister to give the appearance of environmental action whilst actually doing nothing at all.
Let me save the Minister some time. In June 2018, the Federal Government's Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications held an inquiry into waste and recycling. That inquiry told all Australian State and Territory Governments to phase out petroleum‑based single‑use plastics by 2023. It has already done the work, so why do we not just do that now? Every State and Territory Government has looked at the problem in detail and resolved to ban single-use plastic bags—every one except New South Wales. Again I want to be very clear: Even the environment Minister agrees with himself. I will directly quote the Minister. He has said:
I'm certainly very concerned about single-use plastic bags, and plastics in general polluting our natural environment, … That's something I want to tackle head-on.
We do not need another inquiry. We can tackle the issue head-on right now. If the Minister wants to do that I invite him to support Labor's bill and band single-use plastic bags now.
Mr MARK SPEAKMAN (Cronulla—Attorney General, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence) (11:19:30): I emphatically support the environment Minister, his statements and his actions. I support him on the need to end the use of single-use plastic bags. I support him emphatically on the need for a holistic approach. Plastic pollution is a grave threat to our planet. It threatens food safety and quality, human health and coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change. Marine wildlife like seabirds, whales, fish and turtles mistake plastic waste for prey, and most die of starvation as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris.
Wildlife suffers from lacerations, infections, reduced ability to swim and internal injuries. Floating plastics also contribute to the spread of invasive marine organisms and bacteria which disrupt ecosystems. Invisible plastics have been identified in tap water, beer and salt, and are present in all samples collected in the world's oceans, even in the Arctic. Toxic contaminants can accumulate on the surface of plastic materials as a result of prolonged exposure to seawater. When marine organisms ingest plastic debris these contaminants enter their digestive systems and accumulate in the food web.
Plastic, which is a petroleum product, also contributes to global warming. If plastic waste is incinerated it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing carbon emissions. Shocking statistics have been cited on both sides of the Chamber today and we know what a serious threat plastics are to our environment, including the food chain and our marine environment. That is why I stand by what I said in 2014 about the need to end the use of single-use plastic bags, and it is why I support, wholeheartedly, the efforts of the environment Minister to take a holistic approach to this.
I accept the need to end the use of single-use plastic bags but let us put this into context. The shadow environment Minister issued a media release in my electorate which claimed, "Globally, 80 per cent of the rubbish that ends in our oceans each year is plastic bags." That is manifest nonsense. We know that plastic bags ending up in our marine environment are a problem, but it is a small piece of the overall plastics problem. The Keep Australia Beautiful National Litter Index reports on litter volume per thousand square metres in Australia. Beverage containers grossly outweighed and out-volumed plastic bags.
Plastic bags made up 0.23 per cent of the litter stream in Australia. When the Government introduced the container deposit scheme, it was reported that litter from beverage containers represented about 45 per cent of the litter stream. I am not denying the need to take action to end single-use plastic bags, but let us put this in context. The context is that with its container deposit scheme the Government is addressing a volume of litter, landfill and debris that is at least 40 times greater than that represented by plastic bags.
Ms Jo Haylen: Well done! But let's do the bags too.
Mr MARK SPEAKMAN: Thank you for that accolade, member for Summer Hill. One of the proudest achievements that I will have as a member of Parliament is being the Minister at the time we legislated for the container deposit scheme. We hear the cries today from the Opposition about delay after delay but why for 16 years did the Labor Party in New South Wales fail to introduce a container deposit scheme? If the Opposition were focused properly on litter reduction and plastic reduction in New South Wales it would have brought in a container deposit scheme in its term of Government.
The Opposition should take up the environment Minister's offer of bipartisan cooperation—or multi-partisan cooperation because we have The Greens here as well—on a holistic approach to plastic reduction. In her speech in reply I would like to hear the shadow environment Minister address what the Labor Opposition here in New South Wales is doing about the Labor laggards in Victoria, who have not introduced a container deposit scheme. So whilst in New South Wales the Labor Opposition members are talking about taking action on plastic bags, which represent 0.23 per cent of litter in Australia, they should be getting their laggard Labor colleagues in Victoria to take action on drink containers, which represent at least 40 times more than what we have here.
The Government also introduced voluntary agreements to phase out microbeads and micro plastics. I congratulate my predecessor Rob Stokes, the member for Pittwater, for the great action he took in phasing out microbeads in personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products. We need a comprehensive strategy to deal not just with plastic bags but all single-use plastics. That includes straws, cutlery, cups, food containers and packaging. I welcome the Minister's intention to develop one. That involves banning products but it also involves developing new products and investing in research and development for replacement products.
Probably more important than recycling is avoiding the use of plastics in the first place. We have heard today about low recycling rates. It is often incredibly difficult to get these products recycled. It is far better, in a circular economy, to avoid the use of these plastics in the first place. This action should not be—and is not—the monopoly of the Left. Centre Right governments are quite capable of taking firm action on plastics. We have seen, for example, the conservative Government in the United Kingdom commit to the phasing-out of avoidable plastics within 25 years. Centre Right political philosophy is not just about the economy; it is environmental. We talk about fiscal conservatism and living within our economic means. To me those on the Centre Right should be just as committed to living within our environmental means.
I am very conscious that our children and grandchildren will look back at what we have done, in 25 or 50 years' time. Future shoppers will not thank us for avoiding the minor inconvenience of having to take their own bags along to supermarkets instead of getting single-use plastic bags, or having to wash cutlery instead of using single-use cutlery. They will not thank us for allowing them to avoid those minor inconveniences but they will thank us if we take decisive action to preserve our planet for their generations. That is what we will be judged on, and that is why I am so passionate about the work that the environment Minister is undertaking to develop a holistic approach to plastics strategy.
I know from talking to my constituents—particular young people in my electorate—how passionately they feel about the obligations that members of Parliament have, as custodians of this planet, to leave the world in a better state that the state in which we found it. So I support the end of single-use plastics. I spoke about this in 2014, and I stand by every word I said, but we have to go further than a policy on single-use plastic bags. We have to develop a comprehensive strategy. I will passionately campaign for that within Government and within my community because I want to leave this world a better place than that which I inherited.
Ms ANNA WATSON (Shellharbour) (11:27:46): I start by saying that what we have heard this morning from those opposite is environmental denialism. Government members have stood in this place for the third time and denied that there is an issue with plastic bags. In contributing to this debate I offer my support for this bill. This bill may have come as a surprise to those opposite, but the New South Wales public is surprised that this has not happened already. Every other State and Territory in Australia has passed legislation to ban single-use plastic bags.
Victoria's ban on single use plastic shopping bags came into effect fewer than two weeks ago. The Queensland ban came into effect on 1 July 2018. Western Australia's ban came into effect on the same day. Tasmania banned plastic bags back in 2013. When you are dragging behind Tasmania you know that there is a real issue. This is not leadership. The Australian Capital Territory's plastic bag ban came into effect in the same year. South Australia was the first State to ban lightweight plastic bags and it did so over 10 years ago, back in 2009.
Why has every other State and Territory in Australia banned these bags? For one reason: Australia uses four billion disposable plastic bags every year—that is 10 million every single day. Clean Up Australia estimates that around 50 million of these bags end up in our waterways and ocean. Likewise, it is believed that globally 80 per cent of the rubbish that ends up in our oceans each year is plastic bags. Perhaps most frightening is the fact that on average a single-use plastic bag is used for just 12 minutes. That same bag then spends 1,000 years in landfill, in our waterways and oceans or on the side of the road. If that does not ring alarm bells for members opposite then nothing will—wake up! The impact of single-use plastic bags on our environment must be taken seriously. All around Australia governments are taking this issue seriously and promoting environmentalism in their citizens—that is, everywhere except New South Wales.
It will come as no surprise to anyone in this House that I believe Shellharbour is the best electorate in New South Wales. We have beautiful beaches, the great Lake Illawarra, Killalea and The Farm, rainforests at our fingertips, rolling fields and bushwalks right on our doorstep. Shellharbour is a haven for surfing, diving and snorkelling. You can spot whales off our coast. Our local undersea cliffs are packed with sea creatures. It should then be obvious why the bill matters to me and to my community. The bill would make our State better. It would only do good things. I cannot think of one good reason why everyone in this House should not support the bill. However, I can think of 10 million reasons why they should: because 10 million plastic bags are going into our environment every single day. They are going into our waterways, rivers and lakes. They are hurting our sea life and bird life. We need to do everything we can to turn these figures around. We do not have time to waste.
When will those opposite stop delaying the inevitable and instead get on with delivering for the people of New South Wales? As the shadow Minister has said, governments should lead. Instead, the New South Wales Government is happy to wait, hold off and let big business take the lead. The supermarket industry in Australia phased out shopping bags well over a year ago. Our Government should be leading the pack, not trailing behind. In the first year supermarkets removed single-use bags from their checkouts it is estimated Coles avoided 1.7 billion single-use plastic bags ending up in landfill. Woolworths avoided approximately three billion fewer plastic bags, or 4,700 tonnes of single-use plastic entering the environment.
No matter how long those opposite stall they will never get the glory for this ban. Every day that they wait to pass this legislation—every day that they wait to catch up to the rest of this country and to the expectations of the citizens of our State—more plastic bags are being distributed in New South Wales. The people of New South Wales will remember that you waited. They will remember that you put petty politics before the future of our environment. They will remember that instead of taking real action you decided to act busy. Make no mistake: This ban will happen eventually. It is a ban that has been praised and applauded in every State in Australia. The only reason it will not happen today is that members on the other side of this House are standing in its way. When Labor votes on the bill we will vote for the people of New South Wales. We will vote for our State's waterways and the future of our environment. If the Coalition members vote against the bill they will be voting only for themselves.
A so-called "plastics discussion paper" is not good enough, not when real action can be taken today. There is nothing to stop that discussion paper going ahead if the bill passes today. It does not have to be one or the other; it can be both, as the member for Summer Hill said in her contribution to this debate. Undoubtedly, one of the recommendations will be to ban single-use plastic bags. That is what history tells us and what the rest of Australia is telling us. The Minister must act today. Recently I joined the shadow environment Minister, Ms Sarah McGuinness and Jasmine Rapela from Plastic Free Kiama at the Kiama Lighthouse to highlight this issue. We took the opportunity to call on my Illawarra colleagues the member for Kiama and the member for South Coast to support the bill. I again call on my local counterparts. Your constituents and your communities want you to support the bill. Vote with them and support the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr JAMES GRIFFIN (Manly) (11:34:08): I contribute to debate on the Plastic Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019. If, like those members opposite, you are interested in the politics of this issue then my contribution will send you to sleep. However, if you are passionate about plastics, as I know some members of The Greens and the crossbench are, my contribution will reveal why the bill is completely inadequate. The global view and science to solve plastic waste have dramatically evolved in the past 18 to 24 months. To be truly effective and visionary this legislation would have provided that all plastic packaging, including shopping bags, should be 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable. The legislation also would have considered that single-use plastic altogether—not just shopping bags—should be a thing of the past and that in the event there are still single-use plastic bags, no plastic should end up in the environment.
Banning single-use plastic on its own, independently of any other action, does not reflect global best practice. It is not part of the circular economy target state, which is the most effective pathway to ridding the environment completely of plastic. There is a global movement underpinned by research and science that supports a vision of a circular economy for plastic, where plastic never becomes waste. It provides a root-cause solution to plastic pollution with profound economic, environmental, and societal benefits. The Government is leading the way, developing a 20-year waste strategy that will include new long-term goals for the sector. Two weeks ago we launched the NSW Circular economy network—the good Minister was here to do that—which lays the foundations for a truly globally leading approach to smashing plastic waste.
For the benefit of members opposite, in a circular economy waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use and natural systems are regenerated. This means that each piece of plastic is either recyclable or compostable, ideally after several re-use cycles. Instead of today completely ignoring the reason why plastic exists in the first place or overlooking the fact that most consumers now reach for the thicker bag conveniently placed at the automatic check-out, I propose that we can and will do much, much better. Technology is key to solving this problem. Legislation passed in this House to tackle the problem of plastics should think big and be bold. It should move us towards a scenario where we are entirely replacing plastic as we know it today. For example, innovations are creating a substance as a replacement to plastic that breaks down in relatively short periods of time—bags that begin breaking down in the wheelie bin at home. By the time the bag reaches the tip it has gone some way to becoming plant food. If you put it in the household waste bin, by the time the truck comes around it is essentially gone. This technology exists and it should be supported as part of a broader, far‑reaching strategy.
Furthermore, legislation should focus efforts on strengthening our capacity to turn plastic, if it must exist, into a secondary raw material and on creating a world-leading circular economy. Yes, implementing policies such as banning supermarket plastic bags is admirable, but they do not address the root cause of the problem. To be truly effective, what we should support through legislation is scaling concepts like Boomerang Bags. We should support technology and policy that mean we will recycle plastic so that it never reaches the environment in the first place. To be truly effective, we should introduce policies surrounding compulsory recycled content for use in road base, infrastructure projects, public assets and the like. Perhaps it should be legislated that supermarkets promote customers bringing their own bag, like Boomerang Bags—not replacing single-use with harsher, thicker bags, which is the practice that we have seen in other States.
Government should invest alongside industry to achieve a vision that sees the elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and plastic bags through redesign, innovation and new delivery models. This will require a combination of redesign and innovation with industry and their business models—the materials that they use, the packaging that they design and the reprocessing technologies that go into that. Looking to globally leading examples, in January 2018 the New Plastics Economy brought together leading companies committed to working towards 100 per cent reusable, recyclable and compostable plastic packaging by 2025. This was scaled to an industry-wide, global effort in October 2018 with the launch of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.
The Global Commitment, launched by the foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme in October 2018, draws a line in the sand in the fight against plastic waste and pollution. It unites over 250 businesses, governments, non-government organisations, universities, and other organisations globally behind a vision that addresses the issue at its root cause—unlike the bill. To help make this vision a reality businesses and governments commit to a set of ambitious 2025 targets, which is not that far away. They will work to eliminate the plastic items we do not need; innovate so all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.
The Global Commitment builds on and reinforces, amongst other things, the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter, the European Union strategy for plastics in a circular economy, the Commonwealth Blue Charter and the Communities of Ocean Action established by the United Nations [UN]. It will aim to contribute to the implementation of the UN Environment Assembly resolutions on marine litter and microplastics, and several Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], including SDG 12 and 14. Fast forward to June this year and signatories to the pledge account for more than 20 per cent of all global plastic production. Business signatories include six of the top 10 global fast-moving consumer goods companies, including but not limited to, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever and The Coca-Cola Company. It also includes seven of the top 10 global plastic packaging producers, including but not limited to, Amcor, Sealed Air and Berry Global. It also includes five of the top 15 global retailers, including Walmart and Target.
All consumer packaged goods, retail, and packaging producing signatories, numbering 123 in total, have committed to making 100 per cent of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. That represents significant widescale change. The issue of plastic waste is urgent. The impact of plastic on the environment begins not only at the start of the chain, not mid-way through, and not at the end when people are grabbing single-use plastic bags. It must be seen and addressed as the complex problem that it is. The policies that we develop in this place must give plastic waste the appropriate support that it requires. I thank the House.
Mr Clayton Barr: I move:
That the question be now put.
The House divided.
|Aitchison, Ms J||Atalla, Mr E||Bali, Mr S|
|Barr, Mr C||Car, Ms P||Catley, Ms Y|
|Chanthivong, Mr A||Cotsis, Ms S||Crakanthorp, Mr T|
|Dib, Mr J||Finn, Ms J||Harris, Mr D|
|Harrison, Ms J||Haylen, Ms J||Hoenig, Mr R|
|Hornery, Ms S||Kamper, Mr S||Lalich, Mr N|
|Lynch, Mr P||McDermott, Dr H||McGirr, Dr J|
|McKay, Ms J||Mehan, Mr D (teller)||Minns, Mr C|
|O'Neill, Dr M||Park, Mr R||Parker, Mr J|
|Saffin, Ms J||Scully, Mr P||Smith, Ms T.F.|
|Tesch, Ms L||Voltz, Ms L||Warren, Mr G|
|Washington, Ms K||Watson, Ms A (teller)||Zangari, Mr G|
|Anderson, Mr K||Ayres, Mr S||Barilaro, Mr J|
|Berejiklian, Ms G||Bromhead, Mr S||Clancy, Mr J|
|Conolly, Mr K||Constance, Mr A||Cooke, Ms S (teller)|
|Coure, Mr M||Crouch, Mr A (teller)||Dalton, Mrs H|
|Davies, Mrs T||Donato, Mr P||Elliott, Mr D|
|Evans, Mr L.J.||Gibbons, Ms M||Griffin, Mr J|
|Gulaptis, Mr C||Hancock, Mrs S||Hazzard, Mr B|
|Henskens, Mr A||Johnsen, Mr M||Kean, Mr M|
|Lee, Dr G||Lindsay, Ms W||Marshall, Mr A|
|O'Dea, Mr J||Pavey, Mrs M||Perrottet, Mr D|
|Petinos, Ms E||Preston, Ms R||Roberts, Mr A|
|Saunders, Mr D||Sidgreaves, Mr P||Sidoti, Mr J|
|Singh, Mr G||Smith, Mr N||Speakman, Mr M|
|Stokes, Mr R||Taylor, Mr M||Toole, Mr P|
|Tuckerman, Mrs W||Upton, Ms G||Ward, Mr G|
|Williams, Mr R||Williams, Mrs L||Wilson, Ms F|
|Daley, Mr M||Dominello, Mr V|
|Doyle, Ms T||Provest, Mr G|
Ms FELICITY WILSON (North Shore) (11:51:50): The electorate of North Shore has a strong connection to the environment, I would say second to none among Sydney electorates. It is home to incredibly beautiful harbour beaches, the amazing Middle Head and the Sydney Harbour National Park. Not only that, but millions of people from around the world come to my community of North Shore each year to meet Australia's finest native animals—koalas, echidnas, wombats and kangaroos at Taronga Zoo. The people of North Shore care deeply about the environment. They care about the impact we are having on the climate. They care about ensuring our natural environment is protected for generations to come. And they care about the impact that plastics are having on the environment—not only plastic bags, but a range of other plastics. Not only is my community home to Taronga Zoo and its amazing conservation efforts, but it is also home to the Sydney Institute of Marine Science at Chowder Bay. I recently read a Sydney Institute of Marine Science report on microplastics and its findings were shocking. An ABC article on the report that said:
… 27 sites were tested across the harbour, with researchers discovering up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment.
… several hotspots were identified and the worst-affected area was in the pristine-looking waters of Middle Harbour.
This directly impacts the people I represent. It troubles me deeply and I know that we must act. The threat posed by plastics in the marine environment is well recognised and the Government acknowledges this. To advise the House, microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are less than five millimetres in diameter. They include microbeads found in cosmetic products, microfibres from synthetic clothing, and broken-down fragments of larger plastic items like plastic bags. While we need to do more as a population, I am proud of the work that the Government has already done in this area. I commend our Minister for Energy and Environment, Matt Kean, for his leadership in addressing plastics pollution.
I am highlight the work of this Government to reduce the impact of our suite of microplastics initiatives. At the Fifth Meeting of Environment Ministers in November 2016 all Australian environment Ministers agreed to a voluntary, industry-led phase-out of microbeads in personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products. The New South Wales Government has taken a leadership role in this work. Together with the Commonwealth Government, we have worked with the industry group Accord to achieve a voluntary phase-out. Data from Accord and an independent audit indicates the phase-out has been very successful. At the Seventh Meeting of Environment Ministers in April 2018 Ministers announced that 94 per cent of cosmetic and personal care products are now microbead free. Together with other Australian jurisdictions, this Government remains committed to eliminating microbeads in the final 6 per cent and examining options to extend the voluntary phase‑out to other types of products. We are also actively supporting research into other sources of microplastics.
We must act, but we must not act in isolation.I welcome the Minister's words about his commitment to a comprehensive plastics strategy and the 20-year waste strategy. I have spoken about microplastics, but we need to take a holistic view of all plastics. We need to look at the impact of the most polluted plastics. A recently released World Wide Fund report looked at the most polluted plastics, which include straws, stirrers, coffee cups and lids, balloon sticks, cutlery, plates, cups, containers, cotton buds, plastic bottles and, of course, plastic bags. I know that these items are frequently found throughout the harbour. A number of community groups in my electorate work on a daily basis to clean up Sydney Harbour and our beaches. In fact, it was in my community of Mosman that Ian Kiernan founded Clean Up Australia Day as he reflected on the impact of waste, particularly plastics, on the harbour and across our oceans.
I welcome the Prime Minister's recent commitment to a cleaner environment through a commitment to growing our domestic recycling industry and his contributions about plastic waste in our oceans. I hope that each of the items listed as most polluted plastics will be considered by the Minister in his upcoming discussion paper on plastics. The Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019 will ban only the plastic bag, and I echo the Minister when he says that we must ban the bag. But we should not do it in isolation; we should do it after consulting with the community and with business.
This weekend I will once again host a stall at the annual Crows Nest Festival, which I note is going single-use plastic free this year in another sign of fantastic community-led initiatives to ensure that we can address the scourge of plastics in our environment. I reiterate that the New South Wales Government is already taking strong, collaborative and evidence-based actions to tackle plastics, even at the microscopic level, in partnership with industry and without bans. I reiterate my opposition to this bill, but I commend the Government's action to reduce plastics in the environment. We will continue to work together to deliver the appropriate outcome for plastics in our environment and in the world.
Ms TAMARA SMITH (Ballina) (11:57:30): On behalf of The Greens, I am delighted to support the Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019. I will keep my contribution to this debate short, as did other members of The Greens earlier, because we want to vote on this bill. Twice The Greens have introduced a ban-the-bag bill, once in this place and once in the upper House. To say that the community, all the stakeholders and the business world are crying out for this legislation would be an absolute understatement. I recently visited a family in the California and in Washington State, and I note that two years ago the entire city of Seattle banned not just all plastic bags but plastic straws, plastic coffee cups and a raft of plastic objects. The ban took effect overnight, yet the world did not end. I genuinely believe that the Minister for Energy and Environment wants legislation that will go further than banning the bag, but we simply cannot wait. We do not need to have all our ducks in a row before we move on a ban-the-bag bill. We know that the supermarket duopoly started to ban the bag and then did not go there, and now there is vacillation around the ban. But in my electorate of Ballina, the grassroots community right across the electorate is taking this matter into its own hands. We do applaud the Government for the Return and Earn scheme. We are looking at lots of amazing opportunities in my region for radical soft plastics recycling, upcycling and all kinds of great innovations that will support people to have jobs in that space. To say that we need to wait while there is further consultation, with all due respect, Minister, is unnecessary. There are models all around the world. I encourage the Minister to look in particular at what Washington state and Seattle have done and simply go for it. It is disappointing that the Government does not support this bill because it is absolutely the next right thing to do. We support the bill.
Mr ROB STOKES (Pittwater—Minister for Planning and Public Spaces) (11:59:52): I speak on the Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019. My views on plastics have been well articulated in this place previously. I have expressed my concern in relation to the proliferation of plastics in the marine environment on many occasions. I know that is a view shared by many people in my coastal electorate of Pittwater and that many of its beach users are familiar with the plastics that are becoming increasingly ubiquitous on our beaches and waterways. It is shocking in this day and age that, of the plastics that are becoming increasingly widespread, particularly since the 1970s, less than 9 per cent are recycled and about 12 per cent are incinerated, globally. That leaves 79 per cent to go into either landfill or waste streams and end up in the marine environment. As someone who has done a fair bit of sailing in my time, I have seen plastics in otherwise pristine environments. It is quite shocking to go through the Arafura Sea, for example, and see plastic detritus lining the tideline of deserted beaches. We have a plastic problem throughout the world.
But what we need to be conscious of doing, and what this bill does not do, is deal comprehensively with the scourge of plastics in modern industrial society. By implementing a piece of virtue signalling legislation which selects only one part of the waste stream and neglects to deal with the other parts, we could inadvertently bring about wider consequences. For example, by banning one particular variety of lightweight plastic bag without any direction as to how retailers might otherwise meet the needs of customers to convey their goods, we could see increased use of heavier plastics. Proposed section 4 (2) (c) of the bill notes that "This section does not prevent a person from supplying bin liners". It continues:
This section also does not prevent a person from supplying a plastic shopping bag of the kind usually supplied by clothing and department stores, because those bags ordinarily have a thickness of more than 35 microns.
On the face of it, the bill directs people to use heavier plastic bags, with some sort of perhaps mistaken assumption—based on evidence that I have not seen—that those bags are more likely to be used repeatedly than lighter weight plastic bags. I use that as an example because there are so many holes in this legislation. It makes the point that we need to deal with the issue comprehensively, which is what the Government is proposing to do.
We would like to do that in a bipartisan way. For example, the bill states clearly that, "The object of this bill is to prohibit retailers from supplying plastic shopping bags to their customers," but it says nothing about the production of single-use plastic bags or their distribution through other means. For example, the bill does nothing to proscribe commercial or industrial uses of lightweight plastic bags. Nor does it direct customers and retailers as to what other alternatives there might be. It is important to note, as other members have done, that this Government has been at the forefront of a progression of reforms. Others have spoken of our leadership role in relation to preventing the use of microbeads, which is an insidious form of plastic in our marine environment. Something else that has not been raised in the debate to date is the Government's work in banning cigarette butts, for example, in national parks, which include more than 50 per cent of the State's coastline.