Topics: Plastic bags
And Greg Hunt, the Federal Environment Minister, wants to do something about that. He’s on the line.
Minister, good afternoon.
We are one of the slack States, are we, when it comes to phasing out plastic bags?
Look, I would say that Rob Stokes, the New South Wales Environment Minister, has come into the job and he’s taken the lead. And so Rob and I are working together and what we want to do is really look at this as two different types of material. There are the non-biodegradable bags, these are the ones that can hang around the environment in the waterways, they can be in our parks, they can be in bushland for literally years and years and years.
And to phase those out in favour of a) where possible, fewer bags; and b) certainly biodegradable bags. And four States and Territories between them have done it. I think it can happen, and to be fair, at the Environment Ministers meeting last week, national and state, there was an agreement to head in this direction; and I think that’s a big moment, and it matters, because they outlive us in many cases.
I seem to remember, back in 2007, Kevin Rudd and his then Environment Minister Peter Garrett pledging to do exactly the same thing, but that fell over. And part of the reason it fell over was because the States couldn’t agree because they were concerned about an estimated cost, I’m reading back today, $578 million was the estimated cost at phasing this in. And there was opposition, not only from supermarkets, but also from State Governments.
Look, they made a lot of promises, and they failed on a lot of them. My approach is a- sort of a more cooperative one. We’ve already got the State to agree to take these steps to work towards phasing them out. Now, I understand some States may work at slightly different paces than others, and that’s precisely so as not to impose costs on consumers.
What we’ve seen is by allowing the ACT and the Northern Territory, South Australia and Tassie to work through a phase-out at their own pace, it’s been done with virtually no cost to consumers. I think we can do that in New South Wales and Queensland, Victoria and WA.
I’m not a heavy-handed regulator, I think that we ought to be able to do this cooperatively, and that’s what we’re seeing; and to strike that agreement, as we did, in Canberra on Thursday, with all the States and Territories, with ourselves leading at the Commonwealth level and Rob Stokes and New South led- New South Wales leading at the State level, that I think is a huge step forward.
Okay and the good news is for us consumers, we’re not suggesting that we’re getting rid of plastic bags because I know once upon a time, those green recycle, kind of, bags were supposed to just take over all of the plastic bags in supermarkets.
But they- I mean, they’ve been successful, no doubt, but we all need these things around the house, don’t we, for throwing rubbish in and putting sports gear in and all sorts of other things as well. They are wildly popular, these plastic bags. You’re just suggesting, though, that we can do with biodegradable ones, better quality ones that are going to help the environment, it’s not going to cost business all that much, it’s not going to cost consumers any more is it?
No, there’s no expectation of any plans for cost to consumers at this stage. And my approach is simple – if we can reduce the total numbers, that’s good, and I think we can because there’s a lot of extra additional bags used over and above what is truly necessary; and if we can change the mix so as it’s biodegradable, that is profoundly important.
Those two things together, that’s about changing our environment. I know many of your listeners would have been out yesterday at Clean Up Australia Day projects around the country picking up rubbish. They would have found very large number of these lightweight bags that blow away from rubbish bins, from landfills – there are a few people who dump them but not many.
The vast majority of these bags are things which are literally blown away in the wind from rubbish bins and landfills. And if we can make sure that we change the type of bag we, where possible, reduce the numbers, people can have a perfectly comparable quality of life but a better quality for the environment.
I’ll leave you to it Minister. Talking plastic bags this afternoon, of all things, Greg Hunt the Federal Environment Minister, thanks so much for your time.