SPEAKING ON A BILL | ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AMENDMENT BILL 2019

Mr Melhem: I also rise to speak on the Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2019. The bill will introduce a ban on all single-use lightweight plastic shopping bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less. We know that the matter or issue in relation to plastic bags has been the subject of ongoing debates in this country for a long, long time but more in recent times, and we know the major supermarkets have had a ban on single-use plastic bags in Victoria for quite a while and this is actually working reasonably well.

This bill will also apply to banning the use of bags made from degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastics, as we know they have a comparable impact on the environment. There was some debate when the issue was raised in this place about 18 months or two years ago and it was subject to a committee inquiry which I was part of. There was a debate about what sort of bans could be put in place in relation to single-use plastic bags:—do you exempt degradable or biodegradable bags or do you consider a full ban on single-use plastic bags? My view is—and I think this bill will address that issue—that if you want to ban single-use plastic bags you might as well go all the way and ban the lot, because these degradable and biodegradable bags still break down, they still finish up in the waterways and they still finish up in our oceans, and we know what damage that can cause to the environment and particularly the marine environment. There is some debate that maybe some of these bags can be used—for example, to put into use for kitchen waste and so forth because they can be degraded—that there are many applications and that they become degraded very quickly.

If we look at the experience in major supermarkets which introduced them, I think it was in July last year, some people thought the sky was going to fall and people were going to really struggle. I was one of them. We thought: how are we going to cope? Because for many, many, many years we would basically get our shopping, put it in single-use plastic bags, carry them out to the car, go home and use some of these bags for our rubbish bins and various other activities around the house. So it was quite convenient really, and then you ask yourself the question: how am I going to get used to not having them anymore? So it took a while for me personally to get used to making sure—and now I have—of having at least half a dozen re-usable plastic bags in the back of my car. I have even got some other bags which are basically material bags and heavy duty bags. It is sort of as if I am programmed. It is amazing. If we put the case out to people and we train people, we can be trained. I think I have been trained really well now with that, and I go back to another example.

When we had the drought with water restrictions in the mid-2000s, we trained the population in Victoria to be waterwise. We had the 155 litres per person. It took a while, but I think we managed to basically convince Victorians that we needed to conserve water, and that worked. In fact today, 20 years on nearly—or close to 20 years—we are still conscious of the use of water and not wasting water. This bill will go one step further and build on what the big supermarkets have put in place—the ban on single-use plastic bags—to now apply that across the state, and I think it is a great thing. It has been in the psyche of Victoria now for over 12 months. I think we are now ready to say to Victorians, as of 1 November 2019, we no longer should be using single-use plastic bags.

The ban will also apply to bags being provided at retail outlets, including supermarkets, fashion boutiques, fast-food outlets, convenience stores and service stations. So fundamentally the ban will prevent retailers from providing shoppers with a banned plastic bag. As I said, I think it is a matter of training people, and now we have to make sure we have got our bags with us and it is just a matter of getting used to it. There has been wide consultation taking place in developing and putting together this bill so we make sure we take the people with us. As I said earlier, that is nothing new. It has been talked about for a long, long period of time, and I think Victorians are now ready to basically look at implementing a policy like this. The explanatory memorandum of the bill states: Banned plastic bag is defined to mean a bag, other than an exempt plastic bag, with handles and that comprises, either wholly or partly, plastic, whether or not that plastic is biodegradable, degradable or compostable and has a thickness of 35 micrometres or less at any part of the bag, or a prescribed banned plastic bag.

The definition includes reference to biodegradable, degradable and compostable bags but the inclusion of these types of bags is not to limit the scope but rather avoid confusion about whether they are exempt. The definition allows for specific types of bags to be prescribed as a banned plastic bag where the need for certainty or clarity arises. It also states: Barrier bag is defined to mean a bag that comprises, either wholly or partly, plastic and does not have handles and is used to carry unpackaged perishable food. There are some exemptions: Exempt plastic bag is defined to mean a bag that comprises, either wholly or partly, plastic that is a barrier bag or is an integral part of the packaging in which goods are sealed or provided for sale or a prescribed exempt plastic bag. So it is very important that we not be confused that we are basically just putting a total ban on plastic. In certain instances some packaged foods—for example, meat et cetera—is not necessarily covered by the ban. This bill hopefully will enjoy the support of all members.

I am sure some members might have some issues with that, but I think definitely if you ask Victorians the overwhelming number of the population will support this ban on plastic bags, and I am looking forward to the implementation of this and that becoming law, which will take effect on 1 November this year, because it is something we ought to do. I will finish off by mentioning one of the issues this house is currently considering and the government is working on. This house has sent an inquiry to the Environment and Planning Committee in relation to waste and recycling. Obviously that is one of the issues the committee is considering. I am pleased we will be able to report to the committee that we do not have to be too concerned about that issue because the government have already acted and legislation will be implemented, hopefully by this afternoon, so that from 1 November 2019 single-use plastic bags will be a thing of the past in Victoria. That is a role we can play in addressing the environmental disaster caused by single-use plastic bags and where it is littering. Hopefully that will put us in the right place and going in the right direction to make sure that we contribute. That will be our contribution towards a better environment. It will give our marine life a better chance and reduce litter in Victoria. With these few comments, I commend the bill to the house, and hopefully it will be passed.