Environment Legislation Amendment (Circular Economy and Other Matters) Bill 2023

02 November 2023

I am happy to rise and contribute to the debate on the Environment Legislation Amendment (Circular Economy and Other Matters) Bill 2023. It is a pleasure to speak on this bill because environmental legislation and the future of our circular economy is a passion of mine, and I know it is an absolute issue that is really important to the Bellarine community as well. I will start by thanking the Minister for Climate Action and her staff for this important piece of reform and the work that she has done. I do not know when she sleeps – it is an incredible amount of work that she has done in this space.

Our state is leading in climate action. It is leading in renewables, emissions reductions, biodiversity – there is a long list to talk about in this space, but I am really proud to be part of a government that is committed to all these and more. There is always more to do and we are willing to get on with that work, but we do not shy away from big agendas such as this. This is a huge rollout that the government has undertaken, and day one was an absolute success, with over a million containers being deposited. I think that is a real sign of how successful this is and how much the community is going to support this initiative.

This bill does amend the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Act 2021 and the Environment Protection Act 2017. This bill is going to do several important things. It will generate, firstly, employment opportunities, which means jobs for Victorians. It is going to help climate change goals and provide the community with a reliable recycling system, which is really important for our growing communities. The container deposit scheme that is part of this bill, which, excitingly, started yesterday, is part of a bigger package of this Allan Labor government’s investment in the state’s recycling and waste system. This scheme, as we have seen and as we have discussed today, allows Victorians to return those containers, those drinking cans, bottles and cartons, for that 10-cent refund, and the opportunity is at various locations: shopping centres, collection depots and over-the-counter refunding points. I learned an interesting fact that there are over 30,000 approved types of containers that will be accepted when doing this – 30,000 is a lot. It is just an incredible amount going into a recycling system without all those contaminants, now able to be returned and recycled into products.

I know locally the community in the Bellarine was so excited about this scheme. Any correspondence via email or on social media was met with so much interest and excitement. There were lots of questions about how it was going to work in the lead-up to this. They were keen to know about locations and containers, how the act might work and how the refund might work. Trusted sources tell me that the Ocean Grove container was nearly full by 11 o’clock on the first day, and they had to go and empty that and keep going. There were lines. People were so excited to do this. In my electorate I will give a shout-out to the White family. They have two sons in that family, an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old, who put a call-out to their neighbours to say ‘We’ll come and collect all your cans and bottles and things. We’re saving for an Easter holiday’. I also think they are very keen members of the local junior football club, Ocean Grove Cobras, and I think some donations might go that way – to the club. But they were so excited that all the kids were collecting all the neighbours’ containers to take over to the reverse cycling machine to go and do that. This is going to encourage more community participation around that recycling. Local clubs and charities will be able to be participants in receiving donations. I know this scheme is going to be a success with that community participation; I think we have already seen it, and it is only day two. I am confident that they will be fully engaged going forward.

Specifically, this bill will amend the circular economy act to do a few things, and I will just go to those points. The bill does clarify the cost recovery mechanism for this scheme to ensure that the scheme regulator is able to recover all of its oversights and regulatory costs for the beverage industry. It is there to minimise operational risks and support the scheme to ensure it operates efficiently, providing a mechanism to recover the cost in administering the waste-to-energy scheme and enabling the periodic licence fees to be set. It does establish a Recycling Victoria Fund with that special purpose operating account. It supports Recycling Victoria to recover the costs and fund its operations under the container deposit scheme and the waste-to-energy scheme in a transparent and accountable way, and finally, it enables regulations to set fees for determining applications or submissions to receive under that act.

Under this new mechanism the cost recovery fee will be passed through to first suppliers of beverages and containers and approved as suitable eligible containers through the scheme’s contribution first suppliers, and they are required to pay the scheme coordinator. This cost recovery mechanism really does ensure that the beverage industry will bear the costs of this scheme entirely and in line with the principle of that extended producer responsibility.

This means that suppliers of beverages, in container deposit schemes, will bear the cost. I would just like to make the point that it is important that the beverage suppliers are playing their part in helping to improve our recycling rates in the state and reduce the number of containers that end up in landfill or on the side of the road as litter. These are important changes that are being made to support the implementation of the Victorian container deposit scheme and to really ensure that it runs as smoothly as possible for the Victorian community.

To ensure that Recycling Victoria can recover the costs and fund its operations promptly and efficiently, this bill establishes the Recycling Victoria Fund. This dedicated account provides a more efficient, transparent and accountable mechanism to demonstrate that the funds collected from the scheme participants are only used to recover the state’s costs in administering and overseeing the scheme. We know and understand that we have to work with local communities, with industries and with businesses in developing any of these targets or schemes that we roll out, and we are absolutely committed to doing that and working collaboratively with them.

I have heard a few statements in the house today, with the other side kind of slamming this scheme in some way. I feel it might be an exercise similar to what happened with the power saving bonus, where they would come into this place, criticise a wonderful scheme for communities and then go out into their communities and do selfies promoting it. I feel like we are seeing a pattern here. This government is doing the hard work, looking after Victorians and doing the things that communities need done. The other side seem to think that it is an opportunity to slam this government, yet they do not understand that their communities are supportive of this. Their communities are actually lining up, recycling their products and getting that refund or donating it to their charities, and they are fully supportive of this program. I am sure we will see a few more selfies on Facebook soon.

Our communities – I know this includes the Bellarine community – absolutely expect us to take action on climate change and expect us to do this work, and many constituents, particularly young people, raise it with me all the time. A really big issue for them is making sure we are doing whatever we can to leave this place better than we found it and to continue the work to act on climate. Like I have explained today, so many young families and children are really excited to get involved in this scheme, and it is great to see.

I came to this place advocating for a ban on fracking. It was nation-leading legislation that happened in this place, and I could not be prouder of a government that is willing to do the hard yards and do the things that are right for our Victorian communities. This is just another example of the government – and the minister, like I have indicated, with the incredible amount of work that she has done in this space – being nation leading, and I would probably argue world leading. I am very proud of this government and this scheme, and I commend the bill to the house.