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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

The Hon Carmel Tebbutt
Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (New South Wales)

Outcomes of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council meeting; e-waste; container deposit legislation; plastic bags

Doorstop interview, Wrest Point Convention Centre, Hobart
22 May 2009

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GARRETT: Thank you for coming to meet with us this afternoon following the conclusion of the EPHC meeting here in Hobart, which has been a very successful meeting. And I am pleased to have my state colleague, Minister Carmel Tebbutt, with me as well.

Today environment ministers made a number of important decisions. And these include a breakthrough on e-waste; a commitment to the development of a national waste policy; to advance product stewardships on e-waste in relation to tyres, computers, and televisions; and my expectation is that we will finalise those arrangements by the end of the year.

And as well, to initiate a really important scheme, called Fluoro-cycle, to make sure that we are able to recycle those lights and lamps that contain mercury and prevent that mercury going into the waste stream.

What is important about today's meeting is that environment ministers recognise how important e-waste is and we have broken through on that issue and my expectation is that we will have good, positive and final actions to be taken by the end of the year on computers, televisions and the like.

I want to place on record my appreciation of the industry - of the television industry, of the computers industry, of the recycling industries generally - who have been very supportive of product stewardship arrangements. And I am delighted that state ministers along with the Commonwealth have agreed on an appropriate course of action there.

Additionally, we have had the opportunity to discuss matters of heritage and other matters of common interest. And, critically, we have also been provided with the responsibility of playing an active role in the question of the treatment, use and regulation of chemicals in the Commonwealth. That came about as a result of a Productivity Commission recommendation and I am pleased that the EPHC now has that additional responsibility as well.

So this has been a good meeting - a breakthrough on e-waste, the establishment of a specific scheme to recycle mercury in lamps called Fluoro-cycle, an agreement to have the development of a national waste policy so we can get co-ordinated on waste happening across state borders.

Environment ministers leave Hobart, I think having done a good job for their constituencies and good job for the nation.

And I now invite Minister Tebbutt to add some remarks.

TEBBUTT: New South Wales very much welcomes the decision here today to put in place a national system to recycle and reuse e-waste - computers and TVs.

We know that on average households have about seven television and computer items. So this is a big issue for our communities and we really want to work now with industry to get the best possible scheme that will deliver on the needs of the community and will make sure that we reuse and recycle the materials involved in both computers and TVs in the most efficient and effective way possible.

So we will be looking at what is the most supported option when we come back in November. But we have taken that decision and we will have an e-waste recycling and reuse scheme which I think will be welcomed by everyone.

New South Wales is also very supportive of the work we have done on green jobs and jurisdictions have agreed to collaborate and co-ordinate their work. There is lots of really good things happening right across Australia with regards to green jobs and we welcome that.

We also welcome the other decisions to look further at a container deposit legislation scheme; to do the choice modelling, to see if there is a willingness in the community to pay for a container deposit legislation scheme and to come back and have a further look at that issue into the future.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] completely resolved yet, the container deposit scheme?

TEBBUTT: No, what we have agreed to do is that we will do some choice modelling, so we will get a better understanding of the community's willingness to pay and how much they are willing to pay if there was to be a container deposit legislation scheme.

Clearly, a CDL scheme has a lot of community support but there is a cost to introducing any such scheme and so we want to make sure that the benefits would outweigh the cost. And this is the next step to having a look at that issue.

JOURNALIST: Minister Garrett, why couldn't today the ministers come up with the new scheme to look after TVs, tyres and computers. Why do you need six more months to work out this recycling scheme with the industry?

GARRETT: The work that council did and the choice modelling that Minister Tebbutt has referred to on this issue shows that the community is willing to make a contribution to recycling of e-waste. What we now want to do, having made this decision today to have a national approach to recycling e-waste, is work through those appropriate details with the industry. There are some technical issues that need to be resolved with officials in the industry and my expectation is that those matters will be satisfactorily resolved between now and when we meet again. And, knowing that, be in a position in November to actually have a national scheme introduced and in place.

JOURNALIST: Could you just explain what those details are? What has to be worked out?

GARRETT: There are a number of matters which relate to at which particular point you decide to apply a measure to encourage the business of recycling. Is it something which happens on an industry by industry basis according to the options that they identify as important, or do we aim to do something which is effectively more overall and more general. They are matters for industry and for officials to determine. The important thing about today, and let's be really clear about it, is that we have agreed, as environment ministers, that there will be national product stewardship arrangements in relation to e-waste. We will have a national e-waste scheme. And that is what the community has been asking for, that is what industry has been asking for. And today that is what the ministers have agreed will happen.

Working through those final details will take some months but my expectation is that that work will be concluded and we will be in a position in November to go to that next step.

JOURNALIST: Is it basically that either the industry will regulate it or it will be state government legislation that needs to be worked out between now and November?

GARRETT: Again, let us work through the details of what the most effective and appropriate way of rolling this scheme out will be. What we know is that people want it, the industry wants it and governments are more than willing and able to make that happen.

JOURNALIST: What about on plastic bags, minister? Do you think every state should follow South Australia and get rid of them?

GARRETT: On the question of plastic bags, it will be up to the individual states to determine what measures they want to approach. And some states have taken a position such as South Australia, others haven't. It depends very much on firstly recycling arrangements that are in place. There are a number of schemes out there that the retailers themselves operate in terms of reducing plastic bag use. The Commonwealth is committed to continuing research on biodegradable plastic bags; I think that is going to be an important issue in the long run. But ultimately people will make their decisions on this, on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. We certainly look very strongly to see where jurisdictions go with it.


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