Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019

24th October 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (11:16:56): Thank you, Mr Temporary Speaker, for taking the chair to allow me to make a contribution to debate on the Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019. I apologise, but the member for Castle Hill had so much to say. Apparently he has not convinced the Opposition members on my side of the House, but I am sure there will be further attempts to do so. I really wanted to speak on this bill. I congratulate the member for Port Stephens and those members of the Opposition who are supporting this bill, because I certainly will be. At the same time, I will not be so ungenerous as to not recognise the good work that the Government is doing. I have had numerous discussions with the previous Minister for the Environment, the member for Vaucluse. I am glad that she is present in the Chamber; I know she is going to be contributing to this debate. I am continuing my discussions with the current Minister for Energy and Environment, Matt Kean.

This is a really important issue and it is something that I have been involved with for very many years. It was almost literally a slap in the face when I came to understand the extent of the problem of plastics in our environment. That was some years ago when I used to travel to Bali to surf—I was a bit younger and a bit fitter. Bali is a destination for Australian tourism and it was drowning in plastic. It was almost emblematic of the problem. It was one of the best examples of the disposable society we had become. While we have a lot of problems here in Australia, it was so dense and intense in Bali that you could see it literally in your face. I did some work over there with some not?for?profits and some great organisations of largely Australian expats who are living there. One of my great shames is that I had to move away from that; I just did not have the capacity to go on. But the people on the ground continued to work over there, including our friend Ian Kiernan, who took Clean Up the World to Bali. I worked on that over there with him. But that is only one part of the solution.

Bali is a place I never thought would come to grips with the issue of single use plastic bags but in June this year Bali banned single use plastic bags. A few other places need recognition. There are Third World countries that have many issues yet understand the problems created by plastics. I understand that Bali is only a small part of Indonesia and that the whole country has a big struggle in front of it but countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Somalia have banned the use of single use plastic bags. Every other jurisdiction in Australia has taken significant steps along this path but New South Wales has not.

I have listened to Government members and I agree with them that this State needs a comprehensive strategy to deal with plastics in our environment. There are a lot of people working on the problems caused by plastics. I am sure that Government members, including the former Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton, know many people—many more than I do—who are working on the issue. Many people in universities are working on projects in this area. One such project is AUSMAP, which is looking at micro particles in our environment.

The member for Manly and I have visited that project, which is looking at ubiquitous plastics, some of which will last in the environment for thousands and thousands of years. In some cases plastics will remain in the environment for millions of years. When we have gone, that will be a legacy for any life that might survive. The problem with plastics has only really existed since the 1950s when plastics started to be commonly used and disposable. So this has had a huge impact within 70 years, with plastics being found in the Antarctic and in the deepest parts of the oceans. Plastics are choking our waterways. Birds are ingesting it in the terrestrial environment and seabirds are ingesting plastics in the oceans. Whales die from bowel obstructions caused by ingesting plastics. A lot of these problems come from the single use plastic bags, because of their very nature.

I commend the Government for looking at a whole-of-plastic-problem strategy. "Reduce, reuse, recycle" is a good mantra to live by and to keep working on. I implore the Government to keep investing in this area. I have been working quite closely with a scientist from the University of Newcastle, Dr Thava Palanisami. His team recently identified the fact that each and every one of us consumes, on average, about a credit card of plastic per week, I think. It is some incredibly large amount, but whatever the number is it should be a wake-up call because we do not know what that will do to our health in the long term. We know that, in the short term, our wildlife is dying from the ingesting of plastics or by becoming tangled in single use plastic bags. Sea life in particular is prone to ingesting plastics bags.

I appreciate that the Government is doing a good job but we need to be realistic. The reason that this issue is not being dealt with is not because the Government needs to step back and look at it from an overall perspective. While that might be a good idea it will also cause a delay, and every time there is a delay more wildlife dies. It is estimated that 130,000 tonnes of plastics go into Australian waterways every year. Every day, week, month or year that we delay, more wildlife will die unnecessarily. So I believe that we need to take action on this. It is another wake-up call to the community.

As the member for Castle Hill said, we need to take personal responsibility, but this legislation is a reminder to people that they need to keep stepping up. I believe that this is a good bill but I can do the numbers and I believe that I will be in the chair for the division. This bill will probably not pass because it is a non-government bill—a bill that has been put forward by the Opposition. That is the reality of it. As a discrete bill relating to single use plastic bags, this bill could be very easily dealt with. It would be a very simple thing to do. When the Government does have a comprehensive strategy for plastics—the ubiquitous plastics that need to be repurposed or reprocessed in some way—this single use plastic bag prohibition could be rolled into it, or it could stand alone. This is a very simple bill.

The way in which single use plastic bags interact with the environment is different to the way many other plastics interact. That is because of the nature of single use plastic bags—their fineness and the way they are ingested. I know that this bill will not be passed by this House but I agree that the Government has been doing some really good work in this space. I acknowledge that former Ministers have done some good work; it has been a progression. I congratulate the former Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton, on the Return and Earn scheme; it has been a huge success. I thank her and the Government for doing that, but we can do more.

I acknowledge the member for Port Stephens, who introduced the bill. The Plastic Shopping Bags (Prohibition on Supply by Retailers) Bill 2019 is a very simple bill. The intention of the bill is to change, as quickly as possible, the way we deal with plastics in our environment. I believe that that is imperative. I thank the Chamber for giving me an opportunity to speak on this legislation. I commend the bill to the House. If it is defeated I ask that the Government enacts other strategies as quickly as possible.

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