I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Conservation questions about the solid waste levy.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I am in receipt of a document that refers to the doubling of the solid waste levy.
The document states:
The genesis of the doubling of the zero waste levy was the 2006- 07 budget process in which government department (sic) were asked to develop savings.
My questions are:
1. Can the minister confirm that this document is correct?
2. Can the minister confirm that a number of councils are experiencing an increase in illegal dumping as a result of the increase in the levy?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Environment and Conservation): I have previously spoken at length in this place about this issue, but I am quite happy to go through it all again. I have made no apology for doubling this waste levy. The main reason behind that—
The PRESIDENT: Order! If honourable members want to know the answer, they might want to listen.
The Hon. G.E. GAGO: As I have said in this place before, we are very keen to make sure that we drive our recycling initiatives to a higher level. I have explained in this place before that there is currently not a level playing field between waste to landfill versus recycling initiatives. It is much cheaper to simply dump our waste—our precious resources—into landfill rather than recycling it. The government has a strategic plan target, and that target is to reduce waste to landfill. This initiative is one of the prongs for achieving that.
The government and its departments are always looking for opportunities to improve efficiencies, and in this instance we have an opportunity to do that. We have been very open and clear about our strategic target, which is about the reduction of waste to landfill, and the doubling of the levy is an important part of one of the strategies to try to achieve that. To simply put our waste into landfill is a disgraceful waste of our precious resources. We know that recycling involves an added financial burden, so the doubling of the waste levy was to help offset some of those discrepancies between the two.
As I have said, I have never apologised for the doubling of the levy, and I do not resile from this very important initiative. We know that the increase in the waste levy has resulted in a very small impost on individual households. We never expected local councils to absorb that impost; it was always expected that it would involve a ‘polluter pay’ policy.
I have always been very open about the fact that a ‘polluter pay’ policy principle was the way we were heading, and we expected that the doubling of the solid waste levy would be passed on to individual households. As we have said in this place before, it results in a very small impost per household.
It is about driving equities in terms of waste management, and it is about not wasting our precious resources. Further, we know that recycling helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, again, we have important targets around that issue as well.
The overall impetus behind this policy decision is in line with the government’s strategic targets. Illegal waste dumping has been an issue for a number of years; it is not anything new. It has been suggested that increasing the waste levy could act as an impetus for increasing that type of behaviour. To the best of my knowledge, to date I have not had reported to me or to my office any increase in that rate.
I certainly accept that the issue has been put on the table and, again, we have acted responsibly in relation to it. We have looked at a number of initiatives. We have engaged local councils to look at what they have in place and what works best for them. We have looked at a number of initiatives relating to the setting up of tapes and so on around sites that have been used for illegal dumping in order to do thorough investigations into the waste material. Usually, you can gain a lot of evidence from waste.
One of our strategies is publicly to make a big deal about it and approach it in a way that this is observable and evident to the general public. So, we put tapes around the site, and people go in to investigate and go through the rubbish carefully to see whether we can find some evidence about the originators of the waste and who might be responsible for dumping it. We have also looked at mechanisms such as recorders installed on those sites that are renowned for illegal dumping. Hidden cameras are put in place and recordings are made, and we have also looked at those as an option. So, again, we have listened to the concerns of local government and responded in a responsible way.