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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

 

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Communique
Environment Protection and Heritage Council

16 April 2004

Ministers focus on cleaning up our air, our waste and our environment


The air we breathe, how we manage our chemicals and increasing waste, and heritage tourism were some of the pressing issues addressed at today's meeting of Australia's and New Zealand's Environment and Heritage Ministers.

Air Quality

Air toxics

Meeting in Adelaide, the Environment Protection and Heritage Council today took a significant step towards protecting the community from harmful pollutants by endorsing a National Environment Protection Measure for air toxics. The Measure includes a guideline and protocols to monitor and report on five air toxics: benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, toluene and xylenes. These air toxics have been shown to be responsible for a range of health problems, including asthma, respiratory illnesses and cancer.

Current Australian data on these pollutants is very limited. This new Measure will provide a much improved information source for both policy-makers and the public on important air quality issues. It will help prioritise and evaluate the effectiveness of air quality programs. It will also provide a sound database for future studies of the risks posed by these air toxics to the health of all Australians.

Research into health effects of air pollution

Protecting our children is the impetus behind today's announcement that Council will contribute up to $300,000 for a study into the effects of air pollution on children's health in Australian cities. The impacts of pollution on another vulnerable group in our community will be addressed, with Ministers also endorsing a study into the effects of air pollution on the elderly. Funding to conduct this study will be sought in partnership with key research institutions.

Both studies are planned to commence later this year and will provide a strong basis for the review of national ambient air quality standards next year. They will also provide invaluable Australian data on the health effects of air pollution on susceptible groups in our community.

Waste

Electrical waste

Australia has moved a step closer to the sustainable management of waste with Ministers welcoming a clear commitment by the TV industry to accept shared responsibility for managing used televisions. The TV industry intends to set up an independent third-party organisation (known as a "producer responsibility organisation") by the end of 2004 to recycle up to 15,000 tonnes of used televisions going to landfill each year. In response to a request from the TV industry, Ministers also agreed to explore regulatory safety-net options to catch any manufacturers or importers who do not participate.

The computer industry has also made progress, and Ministers welcomed a draft product stewardship plan that indicates the computer industry also intend to set up a recycling scheme. Australians currently send approximately 1,000,000 computers to landfill each year.

Across the globe, governments and industries are increasingly adopting a product stewardship or whole-of-life-cycle approach to manage electrical and electronic waste. The progress shown today by the television and computer industries demonstrates that Australia, too, is actively working to manage our impact on the environment and support industries that are sustainable.

Ministers also recognised that Australia, as a significant importer of electrical goods, needs to continue to align itself with international trends in product design including the phasing-out of hazardous substances. They have therefore agreed to investigate measures such as those adopted by the European Union for designing electrical and electronic equipment to minimise hazardous substances.

Waste tyres

In another development on product stewardship, Council welcomed progress of an industry-led initiative to recycle waste tyres and encouraged ongoing discussions between governments and industry. In response to a request from the tyre industry, Ministers agreed to explore regulatory safety-net options.

Newspaper recycling

A particularly good example of industry achieving ambitious targets is the newsprint industry, and Council commended Australia's newsprint industry for leading the world in recycling. The Newspaper Industry Waste Reduction Agreement Mid Term Report shows newsprint recycling has increased from just 28 per cent in 1989 to 73.5 per cent in 2003 - the highest in the world, and very close to the target of 74 per cent by the end of 2005. By recycling this material, the industry is also saving 200,000 tonnes annually from entering the waste stream.

Packaging Covenant

Ministers recognised the contribution over their 5 year life-span of the National Packaging Covenant and the Used Packaging Materials National Environment Protection Measure in reducing waste at all stages of the packaging supply chain, from raw material through to retailers, consumers and recycling. Recent reviews demonstrate the Covenant has been a qualified success and has increased recycling overall, but it needs to be strengthened if it is to continue. Ministers agreed to an interim extension of the Covenant and NEPM to 2005. This interim extension will allow broad consultation amongst all stakeholders to find the best way to continue the excellent cooperation between Australian, State and Territory governments and industry in the sustainable management of packaging waste.

Controlled Waste

To further protect human health and the environment, Council has released for public consultation a draft variation to the National Environment Protection Measure for the movement of controlled waste between States and Territories (controlled wastes are those presenting a hazard in storage, handling and transport). This draft variation recognises the importance of recycling, and will improve existing mechanisms to ensure that controlled wastes are identified, transported and handled in accordance with environmentally sound practices.

Chemicals

National Chemical Information Gateway

Council hailed the National Chemical Information Gateway as an exciting internet initiative that will help householders, schools, small business and the entire community understand chemicals in our environment. The Council will launch the Gateway on Monday 19 April 2004. The Gateway is a web portal that pulls together much information already in the public domain into an easy, accessible one-stop shop. This directly addresses community concerns expressed last year that information on chemicals was difficult to find and reflects Council's view that informed debate on chemical issues is critical to best practice management of chemicals.

ChemCollect

The environment has been cleaned up and human health and trade protected through the successful ChemCollect program. Council released the final ChemCollect report today. Approximately 1700 tonnes of unwanted and deregistered agricultural and veterinary chemicals were collected under the program between 1999-2002. With the majority of chemicals safely destroyed, States and the Northern Territory are working together to ensure those chemicals that remain in storage are destroyed in a timely and environmentally sound manner.

Environment Ministers are also keen to see the industry-driven program, ChemClear, fully implemented. ChemClear provides on-going collections of unwanted registered rural chemicals, which are otherwise non-returnable.

Heritage

Australian and international travellers alike will be able to explore heritage places more effectively, with Ministers today applauding the progress of several significant world-class tourism initiatives.

The initiative to develop Heritage Places and Travel Routes Online for domestic and international visitors will give travellers the opportunity to base their itineraries on specific interests such as heritage trails or themes. Another significant initiative, Welcome to Country, will raise travellers' sensitivities and awareness to Indigenous custodianship of this country. Many initiatives will lead to improved planning for protection of heritage assets with substantial economic benefits for rural and regional areas.

The initiatives are also strongly linked to the Australian Government's Distinctively Australian Program launched by the Prime Minister in December 2003. In addition, the work of the National Tourism and Heritage Taskforce is acknowledged in the Australian Government's Tourism White Paper, which states these are to be pursued through collaborations with States and Territories.

These initiatives have been developed by the Taskforce after extensive consultation in each State and Territory with environment, heritage, Indigenous affairs and tourism agencies. Enthusiastic support was received across most of the initiatives.

Council also agreed to release a major report on incentives and other innovative policy tools for conserving Australia's historic heritage. The report, "Making Heritage Happen", looks at the effectiveness of Australian and international incentives so that all levels of governments can promote heritage conservation by positive means rather than by regulation.

For further enquiries contact:
Dr Bruce Kennedy, Executive Officer
Environment Protection & Heritage Council
phone: 08 8419 1200
bkennedy@ephc.gov.au

Commonwealth of Australia