SPEAKING ON A BILL | ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AMENDMENT (BANNING PLASTIC BAGS, PACKAGING AND MICROBEADS) 2016

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan): As Mr Davis said, when the bill was before the house last time, it was referred to a committee. We did spend a great deal of time taking evidence from witnesses, we had a number of submissions as well put to the committee and we heard from various stakeholders in relation to aspects of the bill. Now the committee has put out a recommendation. I was on that particular committee as well. It was a good committee, on some references.

The committee put out a number of recommendations — in fact, three recommendations. The first recommendation was that:

The bill should explicitly exclude plastic bags that constitute an integral part of product packaging prior to sale.

That is basically one of the concerns that was raised in relation to some products currently needing to be packaged using plastic to prolong the life of those particular products. I think that was acknowledged, and a differentiation was made between that and single‑use plastic bags, so that is one of the recommendations the committee put out. The second recommendation was:

The committee is of the view that this issue warrants further consideration in implementing any future legislative framework.

The reason behind that particular recommendation is that there have been a lot of various views in relation to implementation dates and what the particular legislation should cover or not cover, and there was the issue about the microbeads as well and the packaged goods. We heard from a number of witnesses in relation to, for example, polystyrene where people are using packaged boxes to deliver fruit and vegetables to various markets. It has become a very complex issue, so the committee formed the view that further work needed to be done basically before we finalise the legislation.

I want to commend Ms Springle for bringing the bill to the house. I do not want that to be misconstrued, that we do not support that direction. I will come back to that in a minute. I wanted to make that point.

The committee also noted:

… that legislation enacted in South Australia, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory is narrower in scope, relating only to single‑use plastic bags.

The committee found that:

… it is not clear what form a federal legislative ban would take should a voluntary ban fail.

Some of the arguments we heard from in particular the retail industry were that if you have a particular ban in a particular state, it might contradict other states and it might cause some problems. I do not necessarily agree with that, but they were some of the arguments that we heard and hence why finding 6 of the committee talked about what we would do in the federal jurisdiction.

Finding 7 reads:

The committee notes that the bill does not provide for a fee to be charged to purchase plastic bags at point of sale; it goes instead with a ban on ‘supply and sale’.

Which then brings us to recommendation 3:

The government undertake a formal assessment of the impact of the bill on communities, families, individuals, businesses and the environment.

Whilst the government has not formally responded to the committee’s report, we can take into account the announcement by the Premier on Tuesday, 17 October, which made it clear that an Andrews Labor government will look at banning single‑use plastic bags in the state of Victoria. Further, this morning Minister D’Ambrosio launched a discussion paper which asked for feedback about how Victoria can reduce the impact of plastic pollution on the environment, and that will include a ban on plastic bags. So basically the government has responded, and it has accepted that a ban on plastic bags has to happen, and it is going a bit beyond that by looking at all of the associated plastic products and the impact they are having on the environment, the landfill et cetera.

This picks up on the committee’s three recommendations, which as I mentioned earlier, actually emphasise the need to make sure the legislative framework is done correctly and there is a focus on consultation with the larger community in relation to how we can actually arrive at that point — what is the best possible framework to put in place to ban plastic bags and to deliver on the spirit and the intent of what the committee have deliberated on and what the Greens bill proposes so as to make sure that we tick all these boxes and deliver these outcomes?

Against that background I understand there are a number of amendments that have been proposed by the Greens and by the opposition. I think there may be a clash between the Greens and opposition amendments, but that is probably another reason to look at what the government announced yesterday and today in relation to banning plastic bags. I think it would be wise to basically follow the process announced by the Premier on Tuesday, which is that there will be a total ban on single‑use bags. There was the announcement made this morning by Minister D’Ambrosio to start the community consultation process, and I am sure there will be discussions with the various parties, with the Greens and the opposition, in relation to a tidy up of legislation or a bill to capture the issues that were put together by the committee and various parties to make sure that we have got the right legislation brought back to this place. Then hopefully we can have an effective ban on single‑use plastic bags, which personally I will be supportive of; if Aldi can do it, I am sure Coles and Woolworths and other providers can do it.

I do not think there is any disagreement from anyone about banning single‑use plastic bags. I think the question before this house and against the background I have just outlined is that we need to make sure that the bill is redrafted in such a way where we take the community with us and address whatever concerns might come out of the discussion paper launched this morning by Minister D’Ambrosio. We can then come back with a bill which will enjoy the support of all parties.

With those comments, unfortunately we will not be supporting the bill, but I do not want that to be misconstrued: we are supportive of the principles around what the bill is trying to achieve; I have addressed that, the Premier addressed that on Tuesday and Minister D’Ambrosio addressed it today. It is just a matter of making sure we get it right and bring it back to this house, and then hopefully we will have a bill that everyone is happy with. With these comments I will sit down.

18 October 2017