In Parliament

Bill - Environment Legislation Amendment (Circular Economy and Other Matters) Bill 2023



Thursday, 2 November 2023.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (10:11):

I rise to speak on the Environment Legislation Amendment (Circular Economy and Other Matters) Bill 2023. I stand here today having expected to be speaking on this Bill yesterday, being the first day of the container deposit scheme’s operation – the first day.

You would have thought that the Government would have brought in the Bill to be gleeful and gloat and celebrate the first day, but they did not. What they have done is shelve the Bill onto Thursday, where the Government often will put Bills that are difficult and when they are embarrassed.

I can understand why this Bill has been put on Thursday, because the Government over the last week has been incredibly embarrassed with the rollout of the container deposit scheme. It is absolutely chaotic.

The rollout of the container deposit scheme follows a week of frankly pure chaos in terms of policy rollouts, but this one was particularly bad. I will go into detail in relation to both the Bill and the rollout issues. I try to be kind in the way I describe things, but yesterday in relation to this Bill I said that the Government completely stuffed this one up. That is the only way to describe what we have seen in relation to the rollout of this policy, this policy that has had a five-year rollout. This is a problem and an issue that we have seen coming for five years.

You would think, with a five-year lead-up, the Government would have had enormous opportunity to develop policy and implement policy properly. I know that Victorians, quite broadly, are environmentally minded, and that is what they wanted to see. I think that all Victorians had goodwill in relation to the circular economy and wanting to bring in a container deposit scheme that brought in the best not only from Australia, where the scheme operates in other jurisdictions, but also from around the world.

I am sure that I speak for many when I say the delays in accepting the fact that we needed a scheme took too long in terms of the Government’s acceptance. The Coalition led in calling for a container deposit scheme to be implemented in Victoria and committed to a policy to do that. The Government finally – belatedly – agreed to follow the coalition’s calls. In the good spirit, I think, of all Victorians we had hoped that with a five-year rollout, with having an opportunity to review what was happening around the entire world in terms of container deposit collection, the government would have had the capacity to get this one right. How disappointing it has been for Victorians to see a rollout that is – there is no other way to describe it – completely stuffed up.

This policy was handed over to the new Minister, from memory, about a month ago. I do not know whether to feel sorry for the Minister or not, but the Minister was handed a policy that the former Minister clearly had not got right and had not completed before handing it across. I can just imagine the poor Minister being handed the brief and attending his first briefing on the container deposit scheme and thinking, ‘How am I going to get this done in a month? How am I going to be able to roll this out in a month’s time as the Minister and put my face to this policy?’ Well, it was terrible. No wonder it was announced yesterday five minutes from his home in Oakleigh rather than as a big grand scheme in the city or by a big media conference inviting –

Roma Britnell: It wasn’t in the city?

James NEWBURY: Well, we will get to why it was not announced in the city – that was because we have no container deposit collections. Even if the Minister wanted to do it in the city, he could not have done it in the city. It was announced quietly yesterday in his suburb five minutes from home, because the policy rollout has been so completely stuffed up.

What we have seen over recent years – I start with this point in relation to the Bill. This Bill is the completion of a number of pieces of legislative work in relation to the circular economy. It would be fair to say that 90 per cent of the container deposit scheme has been legislated, so the legislative provisions for much of the scheme are in operation; it is just that the 10 per cent that has not been legislated includes the financial operations and the legal contractual operation of the scheme. The laws that allow the contracts to work and the funding scheme that makes the system work have not passed the Parliament – for a scheme that was introduced and commenced yesterday. It has not even passed the Parliament, despite that occurring yesterday.

When you look at case law around Australia you can see that there are serious issues in relation to the operation of this scheme and whether or not levies are applicable.

Previous legislation clearly has been found not to have had an adequate head of power, and the 2022 legislation that we dealt with in this Chamber last year to allow for contracts to be rolled out in relation to the operation of the scheme has been found to raise legal questions in relation to those contracts. There are clearly legal questions as to whether or not the powers that were provided last year through this Parliament could broadly enough speak to the contracts that have been signed. We do not know what is in the contracts, because they are commercial in confidence, but the fact that we have a bill which admits that the legal head of power may not cover what has been signed, I think, should be greatly concerning.

It should be greatly concerning for everybody in this place that we have a system that was rolled out yesterday where there are serious enough legal questions that a Bill is in this place to try and fix the contracts that are currently – supposedly – in operation. You would question whether or not there are legal questions in relation to them; I think that is a very fair question. The Government has not adequately explained that, other than to say ‘We accept the premise enough to need to have new powers passed by this Parliament to ensure that they are’. In a best-case scenario, the Government manages to pass this bill in two weeks. We will have contracts in place for two weeks, and I would say there are very serious legal questions about the operation of those contracts. That is deeply concerning.

The funding arrangements – what happens in relation to money over the next two weeks? In relation to measures in the current bill, what happens in that regard? What is the legality of collecting money under the premise of powers that are currently before the Parliament and have not even been passed yet? It is concerning. The Coalition has deep concerns about the rollout of this Bill.

I move, by way of Amendment:

That all the words after ‘That’ be omitted and replaced with the words ‘this house refuses to read this bill a second time until the government commits to:

(1) publicly release an update on the progress of the rollout of the container deposit scheme, which commences on 1 November 2023, noting that:

(a) only half of the estimated 600 consumer collection point sites have been publicly confirmed, with no sites announced in Melbourne’s central business district;

(b) no meaningful communication has occurred with businesses on their disposal of containers, nor commercial agreements put in place to enable business who generate the bulk of container waste to dispose of containers in an environmentally friendly way;

(2) publicly state what the government intends to do with the additional charges collected from industry and the community that are not dispensed through the scheme; and

(3) consider the cost-of-living impact on consumers of a scheme that is designed to impose operational costs on the beverage industry, who will in turn pass those costs on to consumers.’.

If I may start in relation to the Amendment by speaking to the first point, and that is the rollout of consumer point sites. We know that a container deposit scheme works if consumers are invested in taking part and they have a capacity to return the cans. Those are two of the most important principles, I would have thought, in making this scheme work – having community buy-in and having places in the community where those cans can be returned. As of Friday morning, there was a commitment to 600 sites, and on Monday morning there was one publicly declared site. I felt terribly sorry for the Premier being forced out following that point being made publicly to announce a number of sites. The Premier was forced to go and clean up the chaos of this policy and announce the release on a Friday afternoon of the number of sites, to mop up the mess of this policy chaos. At the time roughly a third of the promised sites were then announced.

When those sites were announced, it came on the back of serious industry figures calling for a delay in the scheme, because industry experts knew that the delay in announcing sites would have an impact on the community take-up and confidence in the system.

I refer to Jeff Angel from Boomerang Alliance, who is on the government’s own advisory group for the scheme – who is on the government’s own advisory group – who said on Friday:

I have concerns. For a state that said it was going to be the best in Australia and it had learnt the lessons from the other states. I don’t think that’s happened.

And further:

It’s a symptom of bad decision-making.

He then spoke shortly after the Premier’s announcement of a third of the sites and said:

… a lot of these locations are over-the-counter drop-offs … and they’re really not sufficient.

These are very powerful words from someone who is actually on the government’s own advisory committee.

So, the Boomerang Alliance called for a delay in the scheme, a delay to make sure we get it right, so that the community could buy in in the way that it wants.

The Coalition has said for the longest time in this chamber that we not only supported the scheme, we pushed for it to become government policy first. It was I think the fourth speech I gave in this Parliament. The fourth speech I gave in this Parliament was about this scheme. It is something that many people agree on and support very, very passionately, and I have certainly been one of them.

So, for five years it has been a matter that has been spoken about very strongly, so much so that the coalition announced a policy and was the first of the two major parties to do so.

But I refer back to the Boomerang Alliance, who have made a number of comments. I will refer to a couple. In terms of the refund points, Mr Angel said:

We have some issues with access to refund points because there aren’t enough. There are significant differences in quality and convenience of the points.

And finally:

We don’t want people to have a disappointing experience and be turned off participating.

These are all very valid concerns. People who have been invested in this policy for years are saying, on behalf of the community, that they want the scheme to succeed. We all want the scheme to succeed, but we have to acknowledge the Government has completely stuffed this one up. That is the point here.

I went to the CDS website about half an hour ago and had a look at where the current sites are, because the operator yesterday said to keep looking at the sites because opening hours change and are going to change. Some of the drop-off points may be removed altogether. Well, it has only been going for 24 hours and the CEO of VicReturn is telling people to look on the website because some of the too-few drop-off points might be removed from the website – a day in. A day in we are seeing the operators talk about removing too-few sites.

In looking at the mapping, which is available on the website, we can see in Melbourne one ginormous vacant space where no sites are located – the City of Melbourne, where 160,000 people live. In South Melbourne, Port Melbourne and Southbank there are no sites at all. There would be the best part of 250,000 people living in that area –a quarter of a million, and well above that in terms of commuters coming into those places – where there is not a site for collection. You would think that at the very least someone would have looked at the proposed drop-off point locations and realised there were not enough and things were not quite right – that they would have looked at the map and said, ‘Gee, we can’t have none in the city. We can’t have none in the place where the most collections will occur, the most beverages will be consumed.’ So, all of the businesses, all of the consumers, in effectively Melbourne have no site. That map, I say, was printed about 45 minutes ago from the Government’s website.

In my region – my area and my adjacent area – in the suburb of St Kilda there is not a site. It will be interesting to see how many Members on the other side note that their own communities have not got a site. Elwood in my electorate and Brighton – no sites. The communities of Brighton and Elwood – and St Kilda as well, who are neighbours of my electorate – are very environmentally minded people, and to not have a single site is frankly shameful. Across the road in Elsternwick, Caulfield, Caulfield South, Caulfield North, Armadale, Malvern, Glen Huntly, Ormond, Brighton East, Malvern East, Ashburton, Glen Iris – I could go on – none have a site. It is shocking to think that a Government with so many years to roll out a policy have been unable to do so.

On this policy, from the Government’s point of view in 2018 we effectively saw a collapse of our recycling system in Victoria, which was a concern for everybody. It was not a concern for one side of the Chamber, it was a concern for everybody. In short, the overseas market in 2018 adopted a policy whereby they confirmed they would no longer accept our rubbish. That is probably the frank way of putting it – that they would no longer take our rubbish. That affected us in Victoria, because roughly 46 per cent of all recycled paper and 65 per cent of all recycled plastic was previously exported and processed overseas – so almost half of our paper and two-thirds of our plastic. There was a full system issue in terms of how we managed recycling. So, by 2019 – and I am sure many Members recall – the kerbside system in so many municipalities around this State effectively collapsed. We had about a third of our Councils unable to process waste, and for that third, who represented a huge proportion of the population of the State, their recyclables were going to landfill, which no-one wanted. In 2018 there was an international decision. The Government did nothing for a year. Within a year it affected a huge bulk of the municipalities in our State, so a third of the municipalities waste was going to landfill. By the way, the Government had done nothing about it until a package was eventually announced after all of this waste going to landfill.

Fast-forward another year before the Government announced a recycling policy. So, we had the international decision in 2018 and the collapse in 2019. In 2020 they had a glossy brochure announcement – no actual policy delivery, but a glossy brochure. At least they had done something: they announced with their brochure a commitment, following the Coalition, to a container deposit scheme, as they should have. It should not have taken the time that it did, but nevertheless a scheme was then committed to – so two years almost from collapse to commitment.

How long has it taken from that point to actual delivery? Three years. It has almost taken five years from the international decision to no longer take our waste for the Government to actually implement a container deposit scheme. I do note in the glossy announcement of 2020 the commitment by the Government to introduce the scheme by 2022–23. Well, we are in the absolute final days of 2023, so the Government on its own commitment had to get its skates on to implement this policy. They did it at the eleventh hour. They certainly have not delivered it.

They have commenced it; they certainly have not delivered it. I think any observer would say that. The Government’s own policy announcement, which took two years to get into a glossy document, commits to a 2022–23 scheme, and three years on from that glossy document, we get to where we are today. I am sure I speak for every environmentally minded Victorian when I say how disappointed we are to see what the scheme is at its commencement. I refer to a number of comments earlier from a member of the Government’s own advisory board – its own advisory board – who have said that the scheme is just not good enough and should have been delayed.

The other point that is raised in the Amendment, which I have referred to, is the rollout of collection points, which is well underdone. The Government committed to 600; we are at about half. Though I do note, as I mentioned, the operator themselves have said, keep checking the website, because we are going to be pulling some of those sites. There has also been no meaningful communication in relation to the business rollout. A consumer can take their can to one of the too few rollouts, but businesses actually are the biggest collectors of these cans. So, what should happen is you should have business arrangements in place where a business operator, like a pub or a club, can take their cans to a commercial site. There should be an arrangement in place so that those trucks full of cans can be taken there and the business gets their money back, acts in an environmentally responsible way and prevents those cans going to landfill, but those arrangements are not in place. It is just shameful. It is absolutely shameful that that would be the case – that we would be starting this and that businesses would not have those arrangements. In the Government’s own writing they have confirmed to me that these arrangements are being finalised and will be agreed to over coming weeks. They have not even got the arrangements in place for businesses. So, where the majority of the cans are being collected, there are no arrangements commercially in place for anything to happen with them. It is just shocking.

The other point that we raise in our Amendment is the cost-of-living impact. We have seen over time the cost-of-living promises broken in relation to this scheme. I note that when the Government first put out their materials in relation to this scheme, they talked about cost increases interstate of perhaps 7 cents or in Queensland 9 cents. Then the Victorian Government confirmed that there would be a 12.5 cent increase on each item. One provider wrote to all commercial operators and said it will be at least 12.8 cents. Well, if you go to any major shopping business online, you will see that the cost on average is almost 15 cents.

Roma Britnell: And we’re hearing 30 cents.

James NEWBURY: There are instances being reported now of 30-cent increases on items. People are doing it tough, and 30-cent increases on each item are serious. When the Minister was asked about it, he said ‘That’s not a matter for us’. Well, of course it is not. We know that the Labor Party, both Federal and State, would not have any understanding of the cost-of-living impacts on people – and certainly no policies to assist them. But the Minister said ‘This is not a matter for us’. So, they implemented a policy that seriously impacts on cost of living and then said ‘This is not a matter for us’ and then more formally they have written to me and said ‘We’ll monitor beverage prices’.

Well, you can keep watching, Government, but we are saying to you, and the community is saying to you, that there have been serious price increases. It is not unreasonable for the Government, which is implementing the policy and has made promises in relation to price increases, to be called out when those commitments have been proven to be false.

The Government said there would be a 12.5 cent increase. That is just factually wrong because in many instances the increase is more than double that. The Government has to look at this policy and work out the cost-of-living impact, and that is why that part of the reasoned Amendment is in place.

Victorians want to see this policy succeed. The Coalition wants to see this policy succeed. We desperately want to see this succeed. We have been arguing for this policy to succeed for years and in this place calling for this policy to be implemented properly. But after almost five years we have a policy whose legal basis and financial basis still have not passed the Parliament, and the Government is trying to rush it through, and whose implementation and rollout has been shown to be so substandard that experts are calling for the system to be delayed. It is a shameful embarrassment and another example of the chaos of this Labor Government.