MR ENTSCH: Plastic waste littering our oceans is a national shame; there’s no doubt about that. And although they work hand in hand, my role as a special envoy for the Great Barrier Reef and my plan to develop a national policy on plastics are two separate issues.
Let me briefly touch on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef remains a vibrant, beautiful ecosystem of immense value to Australia and the world.
There are certainly many challenges that we must confront, but, remember, we are the best reef managers in the world—something that, as a nation, we should be extremely proud of—and I believe we’re up to the task of meeting these challenges head-on.
We also need to start striving to become world leaders in removing plastic pollution from our oceans.
I’m determined to see a ban on single-use plastics implemented nationwide to address this growing environmental concern. I realise this won’t happen overnight, but we cannot keep putting it off.
I have a threefold plan to achieve this.
Firstly, we must address our consumption of single-use plastics, such as bags, PET bottles, styrofoam packaging and plastic straws.
This can be done through a mix of education and legislation, but will also require a significant shift in community attitude.
Secondly, we need to have a national scheme working towards recovery and collections.
Organisations such as the federally funded Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger groups throughout Cape York and the Torres Strait do a wonderful job in this space, as do others, like the Tangaroa Blue Foundation in Port Douglas; however, recovery and collection work is currently being done haphazardly and in silos across the nation.
Thirdly, we need to work with our leading scientists and agencies to develop ways in which we can process recovered plastic and turn it into a renewable and, more importantly, usable product or material.
The government is already acting to address this important issue.
During the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting in my home city of Cairns on 9 August, plastics, reducing waste and recycling were firmly on the national agenda with the Prime Minister’s announcement to ban the export of Australia’s waste.
It was great to see all states and territories unanimously decide to work with the Commonwealth government to tackle this important move forward. As the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said at the time:
And I don’t think there is a community you will walk into today or a young child that you speak to who won’t tell you about the problem of plastics coming through our waterways, ending up in our oceans.
Not a truer word has been spoken, and by working together we’ve made a giant step in the right direction.
We are getting on with the job of delivering in this important space.
Our government recently announced a $16 million investment towards the Pacific Ocean Litter Project to assist the Pacific Island nations tackle key sources of marine litter by reducing the availability of single-use plastics.
Domestically, the government’s $167 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund is already reducing the amount of plastic waste making its way into our oceans each year.
Furthermore, a new $100 million investment was announced in this year’s budget to clean up and protect Australia’s oceans and waterways.
These are some of the positive measures that have already been adopted, but certainly a lot more needs to be done in this space.
We have silos in each of these spaces, so we need to have a coordinated approach, from tackling the single-use plastics right through to the creation of a new industry, to the way in which we redefine these products.
By banning the export of waste, the Prime Minister has provided us with an opportunity to ensure that there is a renewable component in contracts, and particularly in government contracts, that tenderers need to address to be able to compete for them.
Finally, I look forward to working closely with my colleagues Sussan Ley and Trevor Evans in developing a plan to rid our nation of its plastic waste and to ensure it no longer ends up in our waterways and oceans.