Topics: Ministerial Roundtable, plastic shopping bags, microbeads
Let me start in welcoming everybody here, by thanking Nadia – she talked about Cam Kerr as one of the big bosses, and I always agree with that – but she talked about the custodianship of Indigenous leaders for land and country, and being out on country is one of the privileges of this job.
From time to time you see the incredible passion for land conservation and Indigenous land management from young people, from our first Australians, and it's always very powerful.
At this moment there are the best part of seven million tonnes of savannah management in terms of CO2 savings a year, which have been put forward under the Emissions Reduction Fund.
Half of that is being done by traditional owners, and they are teaching young people to prevent fire, to reduce emissions, but also as a result of that to protect species from wildfire – the massive Australians bushfires that occur in an unmanaged environment.
And so it’s actually a very appropriate place to start, and Nadia also mentioned of course that we're focused on big business here today in the sense of the big business of protecting the environment in its best sense.
So let me start by talking about challenge and then solution.
And it's a co-operative past – you look through the groups that we have here today, obviously the magnificent work of New South Wales with Mark Speakman, Queensland with Steven Miles, Victoria with Anthony Carbines at the ministerial level, but I think just as significantly if not more significantly, the combination of people such as Jon Dee here from Do Something, although I think Jon might want to I think finally change the name from Do Something to Do Everything, and that is a real reflection of the work that you do.
The people such as Heidi from Tangaroa Blue who are out there cleaning and cleansing the land and the ocean as we speak, and our retailers and those associated with business, people who are trying to do the right thing to make real improvements in their processes.
So we started off just before, visiting the marine enclosure and a large sea turtle, about 60 kilograms, roughly my weight called Bertha.
And Bertha lost a flipper, and the flipper had gone to marine debris but Bertha had been rehabilitated here under the care of Cam Kerr and his amazing staff.
And in that one animal is in a sense the story of the challenge that we have. The numbers are extraordinary.
For Australia we're looking at about four billion plastic bags a year. In a single facial scrub, nearly 100,000 microbeads.
We are looking globally at about eight million tonnes of plastic that enters the marine environment, and at this stage five great global vortices, or vortexes, of plastic – two in the Pacific, North and South Pacific, two in the Atlantic, North and South Atlantic, and one in the Indian Ocean.
And there is emerging evidence of a microbead vortex, or microplastic vortex which is encircling the Arctic – and that’s not an established piece of science, but from some of the discussions I had in Paris, it’s emerging and is sadly all too likely to occur, or to be proven as real.
So the challenge is fundamental. Forty per cent of the turtles in Moreton Bay have ingested plastics within them.
Eighty per cent of sea birds have ingested plastics, and we are projecting out that if things continue as they currently are, by about 2050 about 99 per cent of species on the sea bird front are likely to have plastics within their bellies.
So it’s the food chain, it’s the marine environment, it’s the avian world which are all being infected. So that’s the challenge.
Having said that, are we in a position to make progress? Absolutely.
I think the process that New South Wales and Queensland are leading, with support from Victoria, is something that is very powerful. I thank you for being part of it.
There are three particular policy initiatives that at the Commonwealth level, we want to take forward.
First, there’s a $60,000 contribution today under the National Environment Science Program Marine Biodiversity and Tropical Water Quality Hubs.
That will go to researching the source, the spread and the impact of marine debris in the form of plastics flowing from the land to the ocean.
The second, and I think more significant element, is that we will be supporting the initiative today wholeheartedly from the three states that are here.
And it will probably start out as an eastern states initiative – and you ask, well why wouldn’t you do a ban at a national level – it is because essentially we had to have the support of all the states and Western Australia is going through a process – I’m confident they’ll get there but I think we will see an eastern states initiative and we will back and support that.
And thirdly, at the national level there is one that we will bring into being, and that is – and I really want to acknowledge Jon the work that you have done in this space particularly with us but at the raw level of consciousness raising – and that is that we agreed last year that there would be a voluntary national phasedown of microbeads and some of the retailers have responded incredibly well and I thank those retailers for that.
But we’ve also determined now that we will, if by mid-2017 have determined that there is no consensus or insufficient action amongst the retailers, we will then move to a national ban under the Products Stewardship Act of microbeads in retail products.
And I think that is a very significant step to be announced today. It is something that we will begin immediately with a Regulatory Impact Statement. So we will start that process of preparing that.
And then we will be, if by mid-2017 there is insufficient action, we will move to that ban. So we are working on both the larger bags but also the microbeads.
The microbeads – there is so much risk here, we don’t know the outcomes, as yet but we can see all of the warning signs of a problem which could emerge, increase and be left for future generations and future centuries to deal with.
So this is a moment in history where Australia takes that step and really it only comes about because of collective action of the people in this room.
So I don't want to speak for too long. I do apologise I’ll have to leave at about 10.50 as we have to get back to Question Time.
But I think that this step hopefully complements the work of all of those in this room, so many of you, such as Keep Australia Beautiful and others have been on the ground, doing work – pulling plastic out of gullies, out of waterways, out of different areas.
And the reason that we are in a better situation than we would otherwise have been is because of you here. The reason that we go to a better place still, is because of collective energy and that sense of passion.
And we see animals such as Bertha, we see waterways that can be improved and we see that at a global level, Australia really can take the lead.
And we talked in Paris about launching a global plastics initiative to reduce and ultimately to try to defeat the source of the plastic but also the evidence of plastic in the five great global waters and I think that we can achieve that. So I wanted to leave you with those positive notes.