Second reading debate: Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2019 (Banning single-use plastic bags)

I support banning plastic bags. There is actually no debate here. It is something we should have done a long time ago and I think we can do a lot more than just banning plastic bags.

In fact I think it is good that as a community we are already talking with our feet and we are seeing that community members and shoppers are taking bags with them to go into supermarkets.

It is just a cultural shift; that is simply all it is. And that is my point about doing more. Coming off a farm and living in the country, it is quite natural for me to never use a bin liner. It is just not something we have ever really done, because you wash the bin when you empty it and you put the scraps in a scrap bin to take to the chooks and the pigs and you put the meat in separate so you can give it to the dogs.

I would never dream of not doing it that way; it is just how we live our life.

We would also never turn the dishwasher on unless it was full because we do not waste water. So it is the sort of concepts that are natural.

I might be getting old but I can clearly remember grocery shopping and brown paper bags. There was a time not so long ago that we did not have plastic bags. It has actually always amused—no, that is not the right word—astounded me, amazed me. It is probably more concerning now that we understand what has actually happened with plastic getting into the environment.

But as I have gotten older I have watched things like biscuits getting more and more plastic inserts inside the packets. Once upon a time they were not there and if a biscuit was broken, it was not a big deal—and apples, oranges, mandarins and bananas did not all have little stickers on them.

I do not want to increase costs to producers, but I question why that is necessary. It is those small plastics that are actually getting into our ocean as well. So if we want to be serious, there is just so much more we can do.

Port Fairy, in my electorate, has actually been plastic bag free for 10 years. I will give credit to a lady by the name of Genevieve Grant who led that charge. That was 10 years ago. At the Port Fairy school fair they sell a great coffee and make quite a lot of money out of that, and nobody even thinks that it is going to be in a disposable cup.

They are all in ceramic cups and the parents and community members wash the cups, and it works normally. It is quite a logical process when you think about it. We all got a little bit carried away with our polystyrene cups and our plastic and thinking that we could just throw it away.

I remember when I did my Nuffield scholarship and was very fortunate to be able to travel around the world and look at food policy and all sorts of aspects of where we will go in the future when it comes to food.

I happened to be on the Mediterranean, and I was absolutely shocked because the Mediterranean—a bit of trivia here—actually only empties the water once every 100 years. So every droplet comes in and it is 100 years before it is actually expelled. The amount of plastic bags that were floating around the beautiful yachts was extraordinary.

I was shocked. In Australia we have been quite fortunate the way we have sort of taught people to dispose of litter properly, but it really stood out to me—it is not only about hiding litter, it is about not producing litter.

That is where I think we should have a real campaign as a community. We have done well with plastic bags. This is a community movement that has ended up banning plastic bags, and a community movement of actually making sure corporations start to think about whether they need to put two layers of plastic around things. I bought a packet of Dove soap the other day, and it was plastic upon plastic.

It was impossible to get into the two bars of soap. It is frustrating. I mean, we do not need it. Why are we doing it? A box was fine. It did not need plastic around the box as well. There are so many ways that we as community members can put pressure on corporations to actually think harder about what plastic gets put around.

I know it prevents damage and spoiling from weather et cetera, but we can do it because we have done it in the past and it worked well 30 or 40 years ago.

I do want to mention that this plastic ban will be a challenge. I was in the Salvos the other day. My daughter and I like to do op-shopping—her more than me because she is a skinny little thing and can pick up better clothes than I can—but I was talking to the Salvos. I took some of my bags in to help them out. They were quite concerned about this change.

They asked, ‘Will we be able to bring re-used plastic bags in? Will you and I be able to take plastic bags that we have bought and have too many of, and will they be able to use it?’. They are quite concerned, so we do need to make sure that we support people through this change. I think we are doing that quite well.

I actually want to give a plug to Leanne, who manages the Salvos in Warrnambool and does a fantastic job. I met her the other day and clearly that operation is a wonderful contributor to our community. So well done to you, Leanne, for what you do there.

I think the other thing we need to consider with environmental management is actually recognising that we can do more. Waste to energy—I was at a meeting the other day and there are some gentlemen in my community who are absolutely passionate about really thinking hard about what Europe are doing. I have seen it overseas as part of that scholarship that I mentioned before.

Waste to energy is something that we really do need to consider. In parts of the world like south-west Victoria, we now have a crisis because the Andrews Labor government have ignored the fact that five years ago we knew China were going to ban plastics, and they gave them $13 million 18 months ago as a bandaid solution to get the pressure off the story.

Today we hear $11 million is being given to 78 councils. I think it is about $140 000 each, so it is going to give them a two-month reprieve. That is not the answer. The answer is actually getting behind some projects like waste to energy.

But government, I think, has a role to play coordinating the rubbish in an area so that it is viable. We have litter on the forest floors as well that can feed into these projects, but we need to make sure that government plays a role in ensuring that all of the councils have to cooperate, and that makes the projects viable. We have got investors ready to go, so it can actually be done quite effectively.

I also want to talk about how important this plastic ban is to our beaches. We have got a group called Beach Patrol 3280, which is the postcode for Warrnambool, and 3284, which is the postcode for Port Fairy. You all know how beautiful our beaches are right around South-West Coast, so it is so important that we make sure that plastic on our beaches is picked up.

I will keep coming back to: it should not be there in the first place. But I want to give a shout-out to the Beach Patrol people and Good Will Nurdle Hunting, who have done an extraordinary job cleaning up our beaches and raising awareness, because that is where we really have to go harder. When you talk to the 15-year-olds who say, ‘Yeah, I really care about the environment’ I think we have got to say, ‘Well, prove it. Come on, guys—really think through what we can do better and remember to take your plastic bags’.

It is easy to pay 15 cents but it is harder to actually take the bags from the car and actually walk in and put them back in the car after you have unpacked the groceries. Really put some pressure on people to think about how they can do better.

So I am proud to support this bill here today. I am disappointed that the government have had five years to get their act together, and that recycling that we as a community have been putting a huge effort into over the last 20 years at least—what I think most of us as community members did not know—was actually going offshore to China and we were not dealing with it ourselves.

It is even more disappointing to learn that the government had five years notice. With five years notice there is really no excuse for recycling going into the tip today. It is even more disgusting that the government are charging the bin tax when that is going into the tip and not into recycling.

There is $370 million-odd we heard in question time today that is available. It was $540 million or something, so the government has had the time. They have put some of that money into a website for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, so that is not helping the environment.

So again I support the banning of plastic bags. As I say, there is absolutely no debate—this is what the community have been asking us to do, and the future of the environment is just too important to ignore. The community are ready for change and they have shown us that by speaking with their feet and going to supermarkets armed with their bags ready to go. They are saying this, I feel, every single day.

Certainly in my office I get emails every single day about the importance of the environment. There is no debate that it is absolutely critical that we are here supporting the environment, and I am very proud to be here today supporting this ban for the benefit of the environment, the benefit of my grandchildren—one and a bit—and I am sure my great-grandchildren into the future. So it is many, many generations.

As a farmer it was always at the forefront of our minds—working with the environment. Anyone who tried to work against it was crucified by the environment. So the environment is king and we all know that every single day we get up, we make sure—or we should—that we respect the environment.

It is much smarter than we will ever be as human beings, and all we can do is understand that we do have an impact here but we can work with that impact and make sure that we are constantly researching better ways to work with the environment, not against it. So I finish on the note that I support banning plastic bags.