Solid Waste Levy

06 Jun 2007 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Conservation a question on the solid waste levy.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 25 May there was some discussion on a couple of the radio networks regarding the doubling of the levy, and it was claimed by Local Government Association identities that there would be a doubling of the levy which would result in money going into general revenue. I believe these were comments by David Bevan, who editorialised and said, ‘It’s not going to be dedicated to managing waste and that’s effectively a tax on ratepayers.’

The Local Government Association states that it was not consulted in relation to the doubling of the levy. It has also been claimed that the levy will result in money going into general revenue rather than being dedicated to managing waste.

As recently as this morning, this issue has been raised again on radio where it has been stated that Zero Waste has $13 million in the kitty, which Treasurer Foley has full control over. Again, it has been stated that half the waste levy has gone to ZeroWaste and half to the EPA and, effectively, is propping up government revenue. Will the minister confirm what the actual figure of total collection of the waste has been since the instigation of that fund, where that fund is being utilised, and how much of it has been spent and on what activities?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Environment and Conservation): The government made a decision to double the waste levy as part of a policy decision in our last budget, and it is to come into effect on 1 July this year. This is an important policy decision. I have raised this here before, but it is worthwhile raising it again. This is an important policy driver to encourage the recycling of waste materials. We have a strategic target to reduce our landfill by 25 per cent, and doubling the levy is part of the strategy to assist in achieving that. At present, it is much cheaper and easier just to dump everything in the local tip rather than go through a process of sorting and recycling. So, the doubling of the levy is a policy decision to act as a driver to offset some of the ‘unlevel’ playing field, if you like, in relation to the costs imposed by landfill.

The government does not apologise at all for setting this important policy direction. The Hon. Michelle Lensink mentioned that we did not consult with the LGA. This government has responsibility for policy direction and budget decisions. We did that, and we do not resile from it.

In terms of the cost, the cost impost of doubling the levy basically will end up in a 15¢ per household per week increase in waste levy; I think it ends up being about $7.60, or something like that, a year. It is an impost—I accept that 15¢ per household per week is an impost—but I do not think there is anyone who believes that that 15¢ is not well worth the money. It is well worth the money to put the incentive and drive back into recycling, back into helping to reduce our greenhouse emissions and back into trying to preserve some of our precious natural resources. We know that when we recycle it uses less energy than it does to manufacture from the start. So, it not only preserves our natural resources but it also helps to reduce greenhouse emissions.

This question is an absolute furphy. The doubling of the waste levy results in an increase of $10 million a year, $5 million of which goes to the EPA (as half of the waste levy has always done) and half goes to Zero Waste. That 50 per cent will be fully expended on EPA initiatives; none of it will be diverted into general revenue. Not one cent of that waste levy money that will go to EPA, or to ZeroWaste for that matter, will be diverted into general revenue. That is just absolute mischief.

Half of that levy has always gone to the EPA and the other 50 per cent will go to Zero Waste. As we have announced, that will result in an additional $5 million increase in revenue:

$2 million of that will remain in the waste to resource fund;

and $3 million will be directed to increased grants, which will be increased to about $6 million. An additional $3 million will be diverted to local council and industry to assist them in improving and managing their recycling programs. The other $2 million will remain in that fund. It can only be spent by Zero Waste and cannot be diverted into general revenue or any other revenues. It is only to be spent by Zero Waste.

We accrue these revenues so that we can then invest them in larger expenditures down the track, but it is money that will be maintained and eventually spent in Zero Waste programs. In terms of what I have been advised, I believe that (if my figures are correct) the budget for the next financial year will be around $8 million, with the $3 million additional funds. I am not too sure whether that is part of the $8 million or whether it is in addition to the $8 million, but I can certainly double-check that and provide the information to the chamber. All that money goes on EPA administration and programs—every last cent of it. It is absolute mischief to suggest that money is being diverted into revenue. It is all spent on the environment either through the waste levy or the EPA.

As I said, this government is a government of great commitment and vision and it is our policy position to drive and to improve the state of our environment and to improve the long-term sustainability of this environment. I believe that an additional 15¢ per household per week is the best value for money that this government has ever received.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have a supplementary question.Will the minister advise whether any of the money from this fund may not be expended without the approval of the Treasurer?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I am not too sure about which fund the honourable member is talking, but I have talked about the waste levy. I am advised that all spending is via the approval of the Treasurer. It is as simple as that.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I have a supplementary question.

Will the minister guarantee that there will be a net increase of $5 million in the EPA appropriation and that there will not be any commensurate reduction in the Treasury appropriation to the EPA?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: No.