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by Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell,
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers for the Environment, Sport and Territories and Local Government
Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour
27 May 1996
The Coalitions historic Saving Our Natural Heritage package will of course be the focus of significant political and public interest over coming months because of the important resource implications for the environment.
I know these issues are of vital interest to many at this convention.
Many will have read of the so-called $8 Billion Beazley Budget Black Hole.
For many Australians the contemplation of eight thousand million dollars is difficult to place into a context that can be readily grasped.
Members of the former government would like us to believe that it is some illusory figure generated by boffins sitting at computers deep in the bowels of some grey Canberra building pouring over economic models.
For those of us who have had to look at the impact of the Beazley Blackhole, department by department program by program it is easier to focus on.
The previous government left many programs without resources for the next financial years and made many commitments to many sectors of the community without providing any funding. This occurred in the Department of Environment Sport Territories and Local Government.
It has made our task a hard one in the initial weeks.
However it is important not to lose sight of our quest in this process.
Our fundamental quest as a Federal government and as a nation is to restore hope for families and businesses, to rebuild an ”opportunity society.
This quest was at the foundation of all of our policies and is part of why our environment package and it’s funding is so vital in the policy mix.
It is no more acceptable to hand to our next generation an economic mess than it is to hand to them an environmental mess.
Sound economic policy is intrinsically linked to sound environment policy.
Economic waste equals Environmental waste.
Environmental waste equals Economic Waste.
Building hope for families and small businesses does mean building a strong foundation economically and environmentally
The Saving Our Natural Heritage election statement made a series of direct commitments in areas of immediate relevance to this Convention, on issues such as waste management, the National Pollutant Inventory, climate change, cleaner production and air and water quality.
I will cover the major elements in the Governments commitments so far as they are relevant to hazardous and solid waste in the course of this address.
We have only been in government a short time, but we can point to one significant achievement already. A fortnight ago the Senate passed the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Amendment Bill 1996. Debate on the Bill began in the House of Representatives last week. This Bill enables Australia to meet its obligations under the Basel Convention, which establishes international rules governing trade in hazardous wastes.
• The Basel Convention was negotiated in the late 1980s and signed by Australia in 1989. Australia's enabling legislation, the Hazardous Waste Act, was also passed in 1989. Australia ratified the Convention in 1992 and it came into force in the same year. It became apparent one to two years after that that Australia’s legislation was very much out of step with the mainstream of international opinion over what the Convention meant and how it should be implemented - that is, we were not meeting our international obligations.
• The realisation that our Act was deficient began a long process of consultation with interested parties about amending the Act. Amending legislation was introduced into the Senate in June 1995, and the then government introduced further amendments later in the year. But although debate began, the legislation was not passed by the previous government.
• We introduced the Bill in the first sitting week of Parliament and it passed the Senate the following week. We can expect the Bill to pass through the House of Representatives shortly.
• Our speed and willingness to pass this legislation, especially with other major government legislation also before the Parliament, is an indication of the seriousness with which we view issues of this kind.
• Action on the domestic scene has proceeded in parallel with a very dynamic international debate. The Basel Convention itself imposes quite stringent controls on trade in hazardous wastes.
In September last year an amendment was agreed to at the Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to restrain trade even further by banning some forms of trade completely. In particular there was agreement to ban immediately exports of wastes for final disposal from one group of countries (basically developed countries) to all other countries; and to ban from the end of 1997 such exports for recycling and recovery operations. This was done through an amendment to the Convention, known as the Ban Amendment.
• The Government is yet to consider its position on the Ban amendment and would see no immediate need to do so. The amendment will not come into force until three quarters of the Parties to the Convention have ratified it, and it will not come into force for Australia until we ourselves have ratified it - and that would mean giving it domestic legislative force.
I understand that the debate leading up to the Ban Amendment has been a heated one, both domestically and internationally, and the government will want to give very careful consideration to the issues before arriving at any decision.
• But one helpful outcome from the Ban debate has been renewed momentum within the Convention for a much greater degree of clarity about what wastes fall under the Convention and what do not. This issue has created difficulties for the Convention since its inception. The ban debate forced countries to focus on resolving the definitional issues so that both the Convention itself and the Ban amendment if and when it comes into force, can be implemented with a degree of certainty.
• The Convention's Technical Working Group has been working since last September on drawing up detailed lists of wastes and has now made significant progress. We would expect that work to continue, and a Technical Group has been established to provide expert advice on these definitional issues both for our own purposes and to contribute to the international discussions.
Industry groupings and companies with an interest in hazardous waste issues can contribute to this work by participating in various consultations and discussions and by putting up test cases which help to clarify areas of ambiguity. Anybody here with interests in this area should contact the EPA in Canberra.
• One of the things that distinguishes Australia from many other developed countries is that we have never established high temperature incineration facilities here for destruction of a wide range of hazardous wastes. Those of you who have followed the debate over the past ten years will be very familiar with the reasons for that. Australians have shown themselves unsympathetic to incineration as a means of disposing of any kind of waste, let alone hazardous waste.
The government has not considered this issue explicitly as yet, nor does it have any specific plan to do so. It is difficult to see why we would wish to establish high temperature incineration in Australia given the cost and the known antipathy of the public. However with rapidly changing technology it needs to remain under review.
• A further reason for caution is the apparent success of the alternatives developed for disposing of that class of hazardous wastes known as scheduled wastes. The most recent survey of such technologies by the Department of the Environment identified 13 different groups of technologies, with three specific technologies commercially established in Australia and a further six established overseas.
Most of these technologies would appear to be competitive in cost terms with a greenfield high temperature incinerator.
• I would hope to see the current scheduled waste process continue to the point where Australia’s stockpile of these wastes and particularly the stock pile of pesticides wastes, is well and truly on the way to final destruction.
• It remains true, nevertheless, that more hazardous waste goes to landfill in Australia than in many other countries. The absence of incineration facilities is one reason, but probably not the only one. Waste minimisation efforts in industry have yielded considerable success in reducing waste water and pollutant emissions; but they may have done so by encouraging the creation of smaller quantities of more concentrated, more hazardous wastes.
Other industries continue to create volumes of hazardous wastes despite the best efforts of governments and others to encourage waste minimisation and cleaner production. And of course, there are some hazardous wastes generated by accidents or error.
• I do not see it as likely or appropriate that the Commonwealth should undertake substantial capital investment to provide means of treatment or disposal for hazardous wastes. I believe that the Commonwealth's role is to create the operating and policy environment in which opportunities for private sector investment can be pursued, as has happened with scheduled wastes. And the best solution of all is for those currently producing waste to ensure that effort goes into reducing the amount of hazardous waste generated.
The Government's programs in cleaner production and waste minimisation are designed to achieve this outcome, and I will come back to these in a moment. But it is also important that landfill prices and acceptance criteria are set in such a way as to ensure that prices reflect real environmental costs, and that human health and the environment is properly protected.
We have enough contaminated sites inherited from the past that we do not need to deliberately create others for our children to inherit. This is an area where we all look to State and Territory governments for action.
• On Friday the Minister for the Environment Senator Hill addressed issues relating to Cleaner Production at the launch of an EPA booklet on Cleaner Industries Case Studies. The sort of hazardous and solid wastes we are addressing at this Convention is the legacy of past industrial practice. While we must fix the ills of the past, we must also change our ways to protect the future. Prevention is always better than cure and the best way to handle waste is to make as little of it as possible.
• Industry should be both environmentally and economically efficient. More and more, we are recognising that the two go hand in hand. Production must and can be cleaner.
• Recycling waste is an obvious, and relatively simple approach that many companies have already embraced. Cleaner production approaches include recycling but go much further. They seek to increase efficiency and introduce technologies and practices that prevent waste production.
• Cleaner production techniques range from improved industrial housekeeping to new environmental management technology designed to reduce environmental degradation and conserve natural resources.
• However, implementation in industry has been patchy, both here and in countries like Germany and the Netherlands where industry has had a longer history of environmental awareness.
• Internationally, individual countries in Europe and Asia and organisations such as the OECD and UNEP recognise the key leadership role of national governments in developing policies and encouraging implementation of cleaner production.
• The Commonwealth Government is taking such a national lead through a series of cleaner production initiatives undertaken by the EPA. Saving Our Natural Heritage included a commitment to promotion of cleaner production as a major competitive advantage for Australian companies trading in the international market place.
• Many businesses, particularly small businesses, find it difficult to access information on new technologies and management practices. Many have little time to attend seminars and seek out new techniques. Yet new techniques are there and companies that embrace them find economic as well as environmental advantages from having done so.
• On the other hand, companies that have successfully implemented cleaner production are keen to hold on to their advantage and are not always willing to share the 'secret' of their success with competitors.
• The Commonwealth Government has a key role in both protecting the environment and in encouraging the competitive advantage that improved environmental efficiency can bring to all Australian industry.
• The Government's Cleaner Production Program builds on a series of public and private partnerships with all spheres of government, industry and professional associations, unions, community groups and individual businesses to assist Australian companies to recognise and reduce the environmental impacts of their businesses.
• The Commonwealth Cleaner Production Program also supports the Australia Centre for Cleaner Production and the South Australian Cleaner Production Program who will be outlining their activities later today.
• Through the Government's Cleaner Production Programs, a few Australian companies have already shown that they can match, or better, overseas companies in reducing environmental impacts and achieve cost reductions by going beyond expensive short term end-of-pipe solutions. By moving managerial focus further up the waste stream, they have reduced inputs of energy, water, raw materials and toxic chemicals and reaped the benefits for their bottom line in perpetuity.
• They have achieved this through company environmental audits, environment management systems, eco-design, new technology, life cycle analysis and, most importantly, involving staff in changing work practices to become more efficient. The consultant to this project, Dr Arek Sinanian will detail this exciting and successful project this afternoon.
• The Government also has an important role in taking results like these and making them accessible to all of industry. After all, the real national benefit comes from multiplying the environmental and economic good across the country.
• As mentioned, the Environment Minister, Senator Hill recently launched a Cleaner Industries Case Studies Booklet funded by the EPA. This educational booklet highlights the cleaner production initiatives of nine small businesses in different industries around Australia and shows other businesses how they can achieve environmental and economic benefits through cleaner production.
• For example, the Western Australian company, Premier Plating electroplates over 3 million items a year with chrome, copper, gold, nickel, silver, tin and zinc. Before implementing cleaner production, the company sent 108,000 litres of sludge to the tip every year. The company now recycles 90% of the effluent water within the plant, regenerates many of the chemicals used and sends only 18,000 litres of sludge to the tip.
They have not only reduced water use but have also reduced use of chemicals and transport and reduced tip volumes - no small cost when tip fees were introduced at $120 a litre! The environment has benefited - and so has the company through lower production costs, improved productivity and decreased time spent in operating a complex treatment system and taking sludge to the tip. • Through showcasing innovative, environmentally minded companies like Premier Plating and the ten companies participating in the Commonwealth Government's Cleaner Production Demonstration project; developing case study databases, practical industry handbooks, training videos and conducting seminars; the Government is helping industry move towards a more sustainable - and competitive - future.
• The Cleaner Industries Case Studies Booklet is available from the Environment Protection Agency and at their display stand here at this Convention.
• This Government takes very seriously its domestic and international commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
• In ‘Saving our Natural Heritage’ we announced that the Government will ensure Australia demonstrates it has an effective and credible domestic and international response to the global problem of the enhanced greenhouse effect.
• We are committed to ensuring that Australia meets its international responsibilities in tackling greenhouse gas emissions. The Framework Convention on Climate Change is the Government’s top international environmental issue.
• Australia’s domestic greenhouse response policy will have close regard to our international position and obligations, with the active involvement of the Australian community.
• The Government’s clear and coherent approach will be seen during the major review of the National Greenhouse Response Strategy underway this year.
• We have already signalled the importance of enhancing ‘sinks’ for greenhouse gases, through the link with the National Vegetation initiative, and that we are committed to accelerating the development of cooperative industry agreements to abate greenhouse gas emissions.
• Further, the Government has also signalled the importance of leadership, and will lead by example in the area of energy efficiency.
• My colleague, Senator Parer, is pursuing an integrated market for energy services, which will be important both for our economic competitiveness and controlling greenhouse gas emissions in an efficient manner in this key sector.
• Saving Our Natural Heritage committed the government to establish a National Pollutant Inventory. Since the election we have been looking at the work done so far and I would hope that stocktake will be complete in the very near future. It is apparent that inventories of this kind, which record emissions to air, water and land and transfer of pollutants to sewer or waste treatment facilities, have increasingly become part of the standard armoury of governments in tackling environment protection.
• A properly designed inventory should provide better information for governments on which to base their policy and priority setting activities; a better informed industry sector, motivated to find the environmental and the economic benefits available through cleaner production, and a better informed community, more knowledgeable about the risks in the local environment and more aware of the significance of those risks.
• It has been found elsewhere that programs of this kind have an added benefit of contributing to more efficient and informed markets. Information about pollutant releases is often a guide to other aspects of company performance, and investors are some of the most enthusiastic users of this information.
In the end, better information should contribute to a more efficient economy, and a program like the National Pollutant Inventory can provide nationally consistent information which has just not been available in the past.
• Implementation of the Inventory will build on the outcomes of the very successful trials held over the past year in four Australian cities. It would seem to me that the success of those trials augurs well for the success of the full program once implemented.
• The Government foreshadowed a comprehensive waste management strategy in 'Saving Our Natural Heritage'. These initiatives are designed to:
In his speech on Friday the Minister also reiterated the importance of the ANZECC process as an essential tool for implementing Saving Our Natural Heritage. It is a vehicle for forging strong, constructive and cooperative working relationships with State, Territory (and local) Governments. It will also enable the Government to clarify and promote its objectives, and give a clear understanding of the circumstances in which the Commonwealth will become involved in waste management issues. This will help to provide certainty for stakeholders, and avoid duplication.
• The Commonwealth's role in the ANZECC process includes bringing a national perspective to bear on waste reduction and upholding the national interest and the welfare of the entire community. It encourages a consistent national approach to policy and regulation.
• Among other things this reduces market distortions owing to variations in regional practices, assists micro economic reforms and provides greater certainty and stability for investors. I note that industry has made it plain that they want a single national industry waste reduction plan for each industry or group, not a plethora of State plans with differing requirements.
I'm sure many here will have noted the commitment in Saving Our Natural Heritage for the Government to promote single national agreements for waste reduction.
This will be a Commonwealth priority; but it also requires the industries involved to ensure that the national agreements are good ones that deliver to the community a satisfactory outcome in waste reduction rather than a lowest common denominator, least case solution.
The latter will just provide a reason for each State to go its own way rather than relying on the national agreements.
• The resources that the Government can bring to that process and other waste reduction initiatives still have to be worked out in the Budget context. In any event the Commonwealth Government cannot meet all the resource requirements of developing and implementing national waste reduction agreements. Contributions from States and industry are also required.
• I have referred in some detail to selective parts of Saving Our Natural Heritage which have a particular relevance to the subject matter of this Convention. But to do so is to risk having it seen as a fragmented collection of isolated actions rather than a single integrated package for environment improvement.
• Major sections of Saving Our Natural Heritage relate to environmental management of air, water, land, and the marine environment.
• Our commitment to air quality includes a major inquiry into air pollution, especially in our cities and urgent development of our National Environment Protection measure for ambient air quality. The funding of this $16 million commitment is being stalled by the opposition parties.
• We will have a series of programs aimed at improving water quality, including a major effort in the Murray Darling Basin, the National Rivercare Initiative aimed at our other rivers and water ways, assistance for development of integrated catchment management plans, and special attention to the water quality threats imposed by storm water, sewerage and agricultural run- off. The funding for the $163 million Murray-Darling 2001 project and the $85 million National Rivercare initiative are both being stalled by the opposition parties.
• Australia has the largest marine territory of any country in the world since the ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention and Declaration of the EEZ. Our Coasts and Clean Seas Initiative will provide us with the basis for ensuring that we maintain a proper standard of environment protection for these vast areas. An essential part of that Initiative is the development of a comprehensive Oceans Policy.
The $100 million funding for the Coasts and Clean Seas initiative is also being stalled by the ALP-GREEN DEMOCRAT ALLIANCE.
MR CHAIRMAN, as I said at the outset, there is an intrinsic link between the economic challenge that faces our nation our region and our globe, and the environmental challenge.
Our new government is determined to face that challenge constructively.
Those who say fund the package from the budget or fund it from Telstra revenue, have not yet focussed on the essential linkage between economic efficiency and environmental sustainability.
The sale of a one-third stake in Telstra, which will place enhanced pressure on the management of that company to perform efficiently will generate environmental benefits in itself.
Any organisation, private or public that produces a good or service in an inefficient way, if the processes employed include duplication or over-lap of effort or waste human or physical resources are both economically and environmentally wasteful.
A detailed study of the use by the Commonwealth of property resources and specifically office space that I conducted over the past five years revealed that the Commonwealth used 19-25% more space per person than the private sector. A previous review by the Auditor-General showed a significant waste of energy in office accommodation by the Commonwealth. Even though this is a closely defined measure which identified tens of millions of dollars of wasted energy consumption in light and power by the Commonwealth not to mention tax payers money, it highlights the environmental impact of organisations that are not economically efficient.
The Telstra package that is being opposed by the Opposition Alliance is part of an integrated policy package that will deliver environmental and economic benefits to Australia, lower public debt interest, less pressure on domestic interest rates, a more efficient and internationally competitive telecommunications carrier and a permanent funding base (off the budget) for Federal Environmental programs.
Our commitment to these outcomes, and our commitment to work constructively with the community, industries and other levels of government to achieve them is vital to the future of this nation and to our planet.