Second Reading

Resumed from 29 March.

The PRESIDENT: I give the call to the Minister for Environment. I am still a bit confused about whether you are Italian or Irish!

HON STEPHEN DAWSON (Mining and Pastoral — Minister for Environment) [9.27 am]: Indeed! Let me tell you the story about my Italian heritage at some stage, Madam President, but not this morning, because today we are dealing with Hon Robin Chapple’s Environmental Protection Amendment (Banning Plastic Bags and Other Things) Bill 2018. I am very pleased to contribute to this debate. The private member’s bill proposes to restrict the sale or supply of the following plastic products: plastic bags, polyethylene and polystyrene packaging, products containing microbeads, balloons and plastic drinking straws.

[Speeches and comments from various members]

The PRESIDENT: Member, some of us can remember picketing Charlie Carter’s too.

Hon ALISON XAMON: Madam President, I was in primary school then.

Cutting out disposable plastics will improve our amenity and health, as well as help our wildlife, so we really need to look at going down that path.

I will say a little bit about plastic microbeads. This bill would also ban microbeads. They are small, manufactured plastic particles, usually less than two millimetres in diameter, which do not degrade or dissolve in water. From around the 1990s, microbeads were added to face washes, personal care and cleaning products as an abrasive or exfoliant to bulk out the product, prolong shelf life or enable the timed release of active ingredients. As most sewage treatments do not capture microbeads, they end up in the ocean where microbeads are very good at absorbing toxins in the water. They can thus end up absorbing more toxins from the surrounding ocean. Being tiny, the microbeads are then eaten by fish and the toxins enter the fish’s flesh. In this way, the toxins are passed up the marine food chain, including into fish species that humans eat. The good news is that, following the lead of other countries in banning microbeads, including the United Kingdom and United States, microbeads are being voluntarily phased out in Australia. This bill would make sure they were eliminated entirely, and not before time.

Some important change has been achieved on microbeads, but more is required. I take the opportunity to point out that all plastic waste eventually becomes microplastics, so we need action on other plastic items too. Our waste problem will only get worse unless the government starts to show strong leadership. Support for this bill would represent that opportunity.

Nationally, this week the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications completed its inquiry into waste and recycling in Australia. It has called for a ban on single-use plastics by 2023, a national cash-for-containers scheme, and mandatory targets for the recycled content of materials bought by the federal government. These are important steps and achieving those outcomes will take cooperation by the state and federal governments. Again, the McGowan government could show its willingness and leadership in this space by changing its mind and agreeing to pass the Environmental Protection Amendment (Banning Plastic Bags and Other Things) Bill 2018.

I wanted to make those brief comments. I think that people are generally fairly devastated when they see footage of turtles with straws up their noses. I think people are distressed when they see that sort of degradation of our precious environment and the apparently limitless amount of plastic floating around in our oceans. It is an ugly and distressing sight. Nationally and overseas, at times traditionally conservative parties are increasingly coming out to stop the scourge of plastic, particularly single-use plastic. Importantly, scientists are now making it clear that this action is necessary. Increasing numbers of people in the community approve actions that are deemed to be necessary in this space.

I urge this state government to consider what message it will send to the Western Australian public because I think it is the wrong message to send that it does not support action in this space. What message would that send to the schoolchildren in the Premier’s own electorate, who have shown such leadership at their level to take action to cut out disposable plastics? They are the future; good on them. I think that people will be closely watching this debate. We have seen an enormous shift in public sentiment around the issue of single-use plastics even just in the last few years. As usual, the Greens are taking the lead and I look forward to ensuring that government shows leadership as well.

[Speeches and comments from various members]

Debate adjourned, pursuant to standing orders.


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