Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill | SPEECH


Second Reading

The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (16:44): It is a pleasure to rise on behalf of the people of Stuart and our government as well, of course, in support of this bill. It is also a pleasure to follow the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on this topic, a topic I know she is deeply and genuinely connected to. I think that she just made a very eloquent contribution to this debate. I also appreciate the fact that she indicated the opposition’s support for this bill. I look forward to seeing what amendments she and her opposition colleagues want to put forward, but it is terrific to have on the record that the bill as it stands has their support.

This is a very important topic. I am not a purist. I am not a person who thinks that every single little piece of plastic has to go straightaway. I saw the same movie that the deputy leader was talking about and, while I did not cry, I felt similarly as she did, although perhaps not as deeply. I remember being revolted by some of the things that I saw. I particularly remember the part that she was talking about with the parent birds feeding the chicks what they thought were pieces of food. They actually turned out to be hard plastic that was going to sit in their stomachs. I remember seeing the chicks’ stomachs being pumped out to (1) try to save them and (2) do some important research and identify exactly the harm that had been done.

That said, we are not going to get rid of all plastic across the globe and we are not going to get rid of all plastic across South Australia anytime soon. I am not a purist, in that regard, but I am a pretty nuts and bolts, down-to-earth sort of person. We need to do the best we can today. Tomorrow, we can do better. The day after that, we can do better, and the day after that we can do better. In the same vein as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, we cannot think that we are taking this step and then say, ‘Good. Terrific. We got this legislation through parliament. Both major parties agreed, so that’s terrific. We can move on to something else.’

This piece of legislation is, in my opinion, an outstanding start, and I pay full credit to the Minister for Environment and Water for bringing this to our party room and for bringing this to our parliament. It is an outstanding start. To outlaw the use of certain single-use plastics is a fantastic start. I also like the nuts and bolts pragmatic approach to say that the structure through the regulations will allow us over time to outlaw more and more single-use plastics as it becomes practical and as it is appropriate. Ideally, it would be as quickly as possible, but in my mind the ideal includes a strong dose of pragmatism about what the impacts of that would be.

I think that the minister has the mix just right. The proof of the pudding will be in five, 10 or 15 years when we know, hopefully, that subsequent parliaments, subsequent governments, subsequent members of parliament, premiers, leaders and all the different roles that we fill have increased the list in the regulations with things that are to be outlawed over time.

I would like to compare this issue with one that I am dealing with in my area of responsibility at the moment—in fact, the government as a whole has a strong interest in this—and that is the smelter at Port Pirie. This is a topic that all of us would be aware of. I hope that most South Australians are aware of this. There are people who say, ‘Shut it down. It emits lead. Get rid of it.’ I do not believe that is the case. I do not believe that is the appropriate approach. There are other people who say, ‘It doesn’t matter; it’s been here for a hundred years. It’s okay; it supports the community and we’ve all got jobs. Yes, it might be a bit of lead, but we manage, so just leave it alone. Don’t take any risks with it.’ I do not believe that is the right approach either.

In my mind, the right approach is to say, ‘We must have this business, we must have this operation, we must have this employer in Port Pirie for decades to come, and we must have the smelter emit less lead over time as well—again, as quickly as possible, but with a big dose of pragmatism about it. Don’t inappropriately damage the industry, the community and the world as we know it: guide it, steer it, push it or drag it. Do what you need to do in the right direction in an appropriate way.’

In the same vein, we are working very hard with Nyrstar, the EPA, the Department for Energy and Mining, the Department for Environment and Water and others to say, ‘We know that we need this industry. We know that we value this company and its operations, but we are determined that it will emit less lead over time so that it will do less harm over time, and we want to move that way as quickly as is practical.’

We take the same approach with plastics. There are some single-use plastics—this is a bit of a judgement call, perhaps—without which we would struggle today, but there are some that we will not struggle without. The most immediate part of this transition has to be not so much about removing the use of plastic but moving from single-use plastic to multiple-use plastic or permanent-use plastic, or permanent-use other materials. The most common example that is often talked about is moving away from disposable plastic straws and moving towards paper straws, permanent-use plastics or stainless steel straws—people have their range of preferences here. In different people’s minds there are pros and cons to all of those three examples, but all of them are preferable to single-use plastic.

The Minister for Environment and Water has found a way to bring a very sensible approach to parliament so that we can make the moves that we need to make and have the capacity to make them today but leave the door open to continue down that sensible path. We do not have to come back to parliament with an amendment bill when, hypothetically, we want to move from outlawing single-use plastics used for spoons, knives and forks to down the track outlawing another single-use plastic. It can be done by the government of the day. It can be done by a Liberal government or it can be done by a Labor government. It can be done in a sensible way because the Minister for Environment and Water and the Marshall government have brought this here for us.

It also begs the debate about why just plastic. Well, maybe because there is a lot of single-use plastic that could be removed. Every Clean Up Australia Day, I and no doubt many other people in this chamber are just amazed by what you find when you go out and clean up the sides of roads, waterways, mangrove swamps, a bit of the bush, perhaps parklands in a metropolitan context or, for other members, coastlines. The feature of the day for me is not so much the fact that it is usually a fairly hot day in March, at least in Wilmington where I live, and it is an effort and everybody comes together and it is productive and people are pleased to do it. The feature of the day for me is what you actually find. It astounds me what you find, including things that you would expect to be biodegradable.

The deputy leader mentioned the fact that what we would consider to be biodegradable plastic actually just becomes smaller bits of plastic, and in some cases invisible bits of plastic—that is my non-scientific description—but the plastic is still there. I am regularly amazed by cardboard and a range of other things that you would think would have deteriorated over six to 12 months, or would have biodegraded, in the way that we commonly think of it.

I am amazed by the number of tyres that you find in places that they did not get to by falling off a vehicle that was driving by. These tyres have actually been heaved down into these gullies. I am not suggesting that we remove single-use rubber or we outlaw tyres or anything at this stage. Maybe in 100 years we will get to something like that—50 years would be better—but I am amazed by the litter that I come across.

South Australians in the vast majority are very good about not littering, but there is a small segment of the community that still does it, whether that be their plastic straw from a fast-food outlet or whether that be their car or truck tyre which they deliberately roll into a gully and leave because they just could not be bothered disposing of it in an appropriate way. Car batteries are another item used in an offensive way by people.

There is a range of things at play here. There is plastic, there is pollution, there is deliberate littering, but what the Minister for Environment and Water has done is bring together a very practical approach that allows us to develop over time. But let’s not just assume that that is going to happen. Let’s not just think that it has been set for us and subsequent governments over time, whether it be a year’s time for the Marshall government or 10 years’ time for the Marshall government or, sometime after that, a Labor government. Let’s not just assume that as time goes on it will automatically take care of itself.

I say to every member here: let’s make sure that on a very regular basis we are assessing the next step we can take in regard to removing single-use plastics or potentially even another single-use pollutant. Let’s do it sensibly. Let’s not do it before time. Let’s not do it in a way that has other consequences that would also cause our community great difficulty, but let’s make sure that we are regularly assessing this so that we can be proud of what our parliament is doing.

I am assuming that this will get through both houses of parliament in a fairly swift fashion in the way that the lead speaker for the opposition and certainly the minister in our government intend in this chamber. Let’s get this through. Let’s get it through properly. Let’s consider sensible amendments, and let’s then use this legislation for decades to come to make South Australia the best place that it can possibly be.