Legislative Assembly 16 November 2021
Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (17:01): The bill before us today is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with this government. It is 169 pages—plus of course the explanatory memorandum—of very little.
When it comes to the environment with this government there is lots of talk—lots of talk, lots of claims—but in fact there is very, very, very little action.
Now, the background to this bill, and the minister identified it in the second-reading speech, is China’s National Sword policy, the policy position that was taken by China in January 2018, almost four years ago.
For 12 months the government sat on their hands. They knew the policy was there, they must have known the implications, but they sat on their hands. And then of course we had the fire that the member for Footscray was just talking about.
Even that did not jolt them into action. Then of course SKM Recycling collapsed in I think it was February 2019, and the issues started to emerge and started to be a little bit obvious, because not only did SKM collapse but effectively the recycling system in this state collapsed.
Thousands and thousands of tonnes of resource that should have been recycled, that should have been re-used, were consigned to landfill. And of course, worse still, we had thousands more tonnes stacked into warehouses—just a time bomb waiting to go off—and we saw the impact of that, we saw the impact of the fires and we saw the environmental damage that came out of that.
Still the government did nothing—did nothing.
Finally, more than two years after the China sword announcement, the government issued a media release, and it has taken another two years to get from that media release to seeing the bill in this house.
So we are now, as I mentioned, four years on.
This government can bring in a bill to lock up people, to deprive them of their civil liberties—bring it in on Wednesday, guillotine it on Thursday, done. But to bring in a bill to protect the environment takes four years. It takes four years and we still have a shell of a bill. It is a shell of a bill.
Everything in it is left to regulation. There are heads of powers, that is it. But if you want to see what the system is going to look like, it is not in the bill.
You have only got to look at the time lines to see the flaws in this initiative and particularly the flaws in this legislation. According to the second-reading speech we are going to have a glass recycling service, a factor which is an integral part of the contamination issue that we were confronted with four years ago, by the end of 2027—the end of 2027, six years from now.
We are going to have a food and organic recycling system by the end of 2030, nine years from now. As I mentioned, we are already four years in. So that means the glass recycling is going to be 11 years after the need for it became more than obvious—and the food and organics even more. Come on.
The government claim they are there to protect the environment. They claim they are there to take on the big issues. But 10 years, 13 years to fix a policy problem that was obvious is just absolutely crazy.
I think just about everyone will remember the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report from June 2019, Recovering and Reprocessing Resources from Waste. It was a damning report from the auditor. It was an entirely fair report, but it was damning.
It found that Victoria had not had a statewide waste policy since 2014. We had a statewide waste policy in 2014. We had a serviceable waste policy in 2014. One of the first acts of the Andrews government when they were elected was to scrap it.
The auditor found that the roles and responsibilities in the waste resource recovery sector remained unclear, as they do today; problems with Sustainability Victoria; no clear plan to implement the actions in the strategies; no planning for hazardous waste—wasn’t that obvious?; ineffective monitoring from the EPA; and waste data was inaccurate.
More than two years on, we still do not have legislation in place to facilitate a solution for those things. And of course the auditor also confirmed that $511 million in the Sustainability Fund was being used to support the surplus. Of course that was back in 2019, when surpluses apparently did matter. Things have changed somewhat.
So how did the government respond to that criticism—to that reasonable criticism? The response came from the Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek. Remember him?
The Minister for Local Government was the only minister that took any action, and it was a relatively modest one: to issue a statewide exemption for councils to remove administrative barriers to getting their contracts sorted out. He was the only minister in response to that damning auditor’s report that took any action at all.
Beyond Mr Somyurek we heard nothing, absolutely nothing, apart from a continuous stream of self-serving, self-promoting, pork-barrelling announcements in the recycling area—nothing that made a significant difference.
But in stark contrast, on this side of the house the opposition made a series of significant announcements, and I want to just touch on two.
In November 2019 we announced our zero to landfill policy. We made a commitment that by 2035 we would eliminate waste going to landfill, a commitment that the government still has not matched.
It was not just an ambit claim. It was not just a sound bite. We made commitments to reduce waste by 33 per cent by 2025 and by 66 per cent by 2030. Still the government did nothing.
In February 2020 the opposition announced a plan, a cash for containers scheme. Finally we got a response from the government—finally we got a response.
Two weeks later we got not a plan, not a bill, but we got a press release: that there would be a container deposit scheme and that there would be a fourth bin system.
And now, almost two years after that press release, we have got a bill that does not establish a container deposit scheme and does not establish a comprehensive recycling scheme; it establishes a framework for those things.
All the heavy lifting is going to be in the regulations. We are 10 years away from having a proper recycling scheme fully operational—10 years away.
As I said, the second-reading speech made it clear that this is a response to China’s Sword policy, which was introduced four years ago. Thirteen years on from the introduction of that Chinese policy the government is going to respond.
The fact is this bill is simply a hoax. It is an illusion of action when no action is happening. It is a triumph of politics over substance. It is a complete fraud, and it should be recognised for what it is.