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Used Oil Management Conference

Speech by Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

6 August 1997
Brisbane City Travelodge

[ Media Releases and Speeches ]

Mr Chairman, Distinguished guests, particularly those from overseas, Hon Brian Littleproud - Queensland Minister for the Environment, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for your invitation to open the Used Oil Management Conference today. I welcome you all to Queensland and assure you, particularly those from overseas that this magnificent day is just a pretty ordinary one for Queenslanders.

My congratulations to the Queensland Department of the Environment, Australian Institute of Petroleum and the Oil Recyclers Association of Australia Ltd for organising this important forum.

The pursuit of development balanced with concern for the environment is an on-going challenge for governments at all levels. Sustainable lifestyles are those which use, conserve and enhance our communities resources so that ecological processes are maintained and quality of life for both present and future generations is increased. The Commonwealth Government is committed to raising awareness of environmental issues and motivating all sectors of society to make commitments to sustainable practices. The challenge is to put in place effective programs that transform environmental awareness into informed action.

The draft Environmental Code of Practice for the Management of Used Lubricating Oil, developed by the oil industry and facilitated by the Queensland Department of Environment, being launched here at this Conference is a positive step forward in transforming environmental awareness into informed action. This Code of Practice aims to ensure that used oil is collected, and reused or disposed of in a manner that is environmentally sound.

Today, I would like to talk to you about the importance of environmental management and some national waste reduction initiatives.

Reducing the amount of waste entering the environment is one of my Government's major environmental policy commitments. Each year Governments at all levels are increasingly being confronted with the issue of how to manage the growing pile of waste that is being generated by our society. It is generally acknowledged in Australia, and elsewhere, that the traditional approach of just dumping waste in the ground or in rivers and oceans is no longer acceptable because of its adverse impact on the environment.

Still, we are sending approximately one tonne of waste per person per year to landfill in this country. This is a significant volume of valuable recoverable resources being wasted and one of the most valuable of these recoverable resources is oil.

The Government recognises that the Australian community is determined that this waste of such valuable and recoverable resources be stopped.

The structure of government in Australia and the nature of the waste issue means that achievement of the national waste minimisation target of a 50% reduction in waste to landfill cannot be the responsibility of any one level of government. It relies on a partnership between all levels of government, business, industry and the broader community - working together to create environmentally sound systems for minimising and recycling the waste they generate.

The Commonwealth's role is to:

The main features of the Commonwealth's waste policy include:

While it is important to understand what the Commonwealth Government does, it is also important to appreciate what the Commonwealth does not do.

Waste management legislative and other arrangements are the responsibility of local, State and Territory governments. With the exception of implementing Australia's international obligations in relation to import and export of hazardous waste, the Commonwealth does not have a role in regulating waste management.

Waste reduction, is a different matter. There is broad agreement that reducing, reusing and recycling waste is most successfully achieved through a national approach involving cooperation between all sectors of the community.

The national target of a 50 per cent reduction in waste going to landfill by the year 2000 is based against 1990 per capita levels. Targets, like this one, are an important device to:

The national target is something for Australians to aim for, although each State, Territory and local government will have its own way of implementing this. Although this target is framed in terms of reduced waste to landfill, the policy reasons behind it are far broader, relating less to landfill scarcity than to a broader set of longer term environmental and economic concerns including the environmental impacts of landfills and the inefficient resource use implied by the amount of waste we generate.

Various Australian industries are already making an important contribution to helping achieve the national target through:

This draft Code of Practice developed by the oil industry being launched here at this conference is a good example of industry self-regulation. It is encouraging to see industry taking the initiative in managing the environmental impacts of their operations rather than governments being forced to intervene. Environmental protection should start with individual responsibility.

Waste oil that is discarded without alteration or treatment to the land, sea or other waterways is regarded as environmentally hazardous to some degree. Used oil contains toxic substances such as lead, sulphur and other heavy metals, which are a threat to human health and the environment. When dumped in landfills or tipped down drains waste oil can find its way into the sea and other waterways. Used oil spread on roadways as a dust suppressant dries out and resulting dust has the potential to contaminate water and crops. The cumulative effects of these actions are undesirable and most importantly can be avoided. Disposal of used oil to land was once widely accepted and practised until consequences became apparent. One incident is the well known contamination of Times Beach in the USA that led to the abandonment of the township as a result of spraying dioxin-adulterated waste-crankcase oils on roads to control dust 1.

Australia has had its used oil incidents too.

At Kingston, a suburb of Brisbane, a disused gold-mine pit had been used during the late 1950's as a dump for acid-sludge from an oil re-refining process. In later years, after the area had been turned over to a residential development, the sludge appeared at the ground surface. A major program had to be undertaken to clean-up the site and to relocate and counsel affected residents1.

The EPA of Victoria in 1986 discovered that PCB-rich oil, drained from electrical transformers, had been mixed with reclaimed oil and distributed to six locations throughout Victoria as fuel. The clean up involved the recovery and disposal of the contaminated oil and decontamination of each of the sites1.

These examples illustrate why used oil is perceived as a threat to the environment.

To this end, ANZECC member governments are looking to increase the collection of waste oil from households and industry and have acknowledged the need to develop new environmentally acceptable disposal and management options for used lubricating oil. I note that this conference will address issues from the impact of oil on the environment to economic aspects of managing used oil. I expect the benefits from improved oil recycling to be high. These include:

I was intending to enliven this speech at the start of your Conference with an "industry" joke - but most people think politicians are too slick and oily already, so perhaps I'll leave it alone!


The development of sound environmental practices today will help to make the 50% reduction target possible and ensure that our children will enjoy a high quality environment. Success is dependant on industry and community commitment, recognising waste as a resource and avoiding it or exploiting it through the development of recycling enterprises.

I thank you once again for the opportunity to participate in the opening of the Used Oil Management Conference. It is conferences such as this that allow barriers to such action to be identified and overcome. I wish you every success for a productive congress and look forward to hearing your conclusions.

1 "Used Lubricating Oil: Generation, Recovery and Reuse in Australia" - prepared by Technisearch Ltd for the Waste and Resources Advisory Committee, Australian and New Zealand Environment Council, February 1991.
Commonwealth of Australia