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12 March 1991 - Current

Page 2533
13 August 2019
ASSEMBLY Second reading Frank McGuire
Mr McGUIRE (Broadmeadows) (17:24:26): Australia must fast-track a circular economy. Turning waste into energy is critical, and the sooner we are able to deliver on this result, the better it will be to protect our communities from health risks, improve the environment and, hopefully as well, cut energy costs. This is a particularly crucial issue to my constituents. There have been fires in waste stockpiles in Coolaroo and Campbellfield. If you remember the Coolaroo fire of two years ago, it burnt for almost two weeks and sent toxic smoke plumes right across Melbourne—as far as St Kilda on some reports. We are now in a situation where China has forced this to a crisis point by their cutbacks to importing our waste. This is the issue that we are confronting. The Andrews Labor government has taken a strong position to try and address these matters through the minister and also in the Parliament with an inquiry. It was really good to see that at the COAG meeting there was a coordinated approach and a united strategy for Australia to work towards banning recyclable waste being exported overseas. The ban, while it will not be immediate, will include all levels of government giving their environment ministers the role of figuring out a time frame for plastics, paper, metals and glass to be taken out of the broader waste system. This is a good national initiative and a good collaboration. I am sure the Australian public are delighted to see that we have this approach. Because of the significance of this issue, particularly to my constituents, I have been looking internationally at what is the world’s best practice, what the options are that we have and particularly how technology can actually drive these initiatives. If you have a look at what they have done in Copenhagen, they have a giant incinerator there, and they are actually importing waste from the UK. Their argument, which will obviously have to be put to the test to make sure it stands up to scientific scrutiny, is that the steam that is emitted from this giant incinerator actually has less pollutants than the ambient air around Copenhagen. If this can be proven and the science stacks up, I think that this is potentially at least one piece of technology that we could look at—as I said, there will be others from other places internationally as well—or examine and see whether we can actually turn this around and say, 'Okay, instead of the waste being a liability, can this be turned into an asset, and can we actually then look at how we can harness the waste into energy and use it in that way? Do we have the ability to actually do that?’. If you have a look at what Copenhagen is trying to do, by 2025 this once grimy industrial city is aiming to be net carbon-neutral, meaning that it plans to generate more renewable energy than it consumes dirty energy. This is what they are attempting to do. There was an interesting article in the New York Times earlier this year about why this matters. It goes to the issue that half of humanity now lives in cities and the vast share of planet-warming gases comes from cities, so the big fixes for climate change need to come from cities too. They are both a problem and a potential source of solutions. This is now where Australia is, because of the sets of circumstances beyond our control with what has happened with China and other countries saying they do not want to take our waste anymore. Can we turn adversity into an opportunity? Can we look at what needs to be done and how we deliver it? Of course this will have to happen over a long period of time—there will be short, medium and long-term strategies—but in the case of Copenhagen, which I do want to cite because I think it is worth examining, what they are trying to do is change people’s behaviour, which is also being addressed in this bill, from how people get around to how they heat their homes and how they treat their rubbish. The city has already cut its emissions by 42 per cent from 2005 levels, mainly by moving away from using fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity. This is the critical point. If we can actually say, 'Okay, we have all these councils; we have this waste. They are stuck trying to work out what happens if a company fails, closes its doors or faces a punitive response for being outside the law. What happens then? Can we look at how to best convert waste to energy?’. I think this is a model worth examining. I have actually scrutinised this, and we need to see the science to make sure that it stacks up and it is bulletproof. I just think that this is at least one example, and I know there are others internationally. The model would be to look at what is world’s best practice, what is fit for our purposes and what can be adapted. But it is an issue that concerns all of us, and I think that that is the critical point that needs to be addressed. If we have a look at this bill before the Parliament, this is another piece of legislation in a suite of reforms that is being put forward to address this ongoing problem. We know that in Victoria the community supports action to cut out what has now been called the 'plastic addiction’. During the three-month public consultation period the government received more than 8000 individual responses in overwhelming support of banning plastic bags. The Victorian community wants to see decisive action to reduce plastic pollution, and that is what this bill, as yet another piece of legislation in a whole suite of reforms, delivers. Seventy-six per cent of Victorians are already taking bags when shopping, so the change and the socialisation of this is occurring. That is positive. To put it into perspective, in the past Australians have used up to 10 million plastic bags every day. That is an extraordinary figure—that is 4 billion every year. We are creatures of habit. You can get into these habits. You just put your hand in the cupboard for the plastic bag, or you go and do the shopping and pull it off to wrap up things that do not even need it. Then that has a domino effect, and that is the behaviour we are trying to address. About 150 million plastic bags end up in our oceans and waterways, contributing to an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the ocean every year. This is unsustainable. Although the plastic is lightweight and low cost, it does not go away. It breaks into pieces and ends up in landfill or as litter and can cause long-term harm to the environment and wildlife. That is the chain reaction. How do we intervene? How do we address custom and practice? How do we switch to preventative action? How do we then address what people do with their waste? Then, longer term, can we have a strategy that turns that into energy, and can that be harnessed? Wouldn’t it be great to have cuts to energy bills for communities, particularly those where we are trying to bring the industries back? If we could get a coordinated strategy on that, I think it would be in the public interest. It would be good for the environment, it would help climate change issues, it would address the personal issue of feeling at least some satisfaction that the way we manage this is in the public interest and in the national interest and it could hopefully reduce the cost of power. I think that would really deliver the circular economy argument and help people so that their change of behaviour delivers a benefit to all of those areas: the environment, our personal lives and the cost of living. I commend the bill to the house.