Waste Management Motion

03 Jun 2015 newsspeechparliament

I move:  That the Legislative Council requests the Environment, Resources and Development Committee to inquire into and report on waste management policies in South Australia, with particular reference to— 

1. The efficacy of the solid waste levy in providing equi table encouragement of resource recovery compared to landfilling or stockpiling of materials; 

2. The adequacy of regulatory and legislative powers within the Environment Protection Act 1993 to manage th e waste sector, including licenc e enforcement and current penalties; 

3. Best practice methods in the resource recovery and waste sectors; 

4. Minimisation of hazardous risks in the resource recovery and waste sectors; 

5. Relevant themes from the 2015 EPA/ZWSA Waste Summit which will inform this inquiry; and 

6. Any other matter. 

I move the motion standing in my name, namely that the Legislative Council refers the matter of waste management policies in South Australia to the Environment Resources and Development Committee. The catalyst for this particular inquiry has been the latest incident of a fire at one of the facilities at Wingfield, which is a precinct which has been established for a number of transfer stations and resource recovery businesses, and so it serves as an important hub for what might otherwise go to landfill to be transported to one location so that it can be sorted, so I think that that particular precinct has been very useful to a number of businesses that operate out of there. 

I think 'unfortunate' is probably an understatement to use in terms of labelling the number of fires that we have had at Wingfield. They are unacceptable; they are unacceptable for the surrounding community, and they are unacceptable for the broader waste industry in South Australia who have come a long way in South Australia in terms of their practices and professionalism and the amount of resources that they prevent from going into landfill and turning into new products. For this reason, we are seeking to refer this matter to a parliamentary committee—the Environment Resources and Development Committee—which we think is the most appropriate venue for that. 

There are a number of questions which arise from this particular situation. I will not go into some of the specific details because I understand that there may be legal processes in place but I think that the issues which are germane are how the solid waste levy operates in providing encouragement of resource recovery. That has been a policy over some time to have a preferential treatment for resource recovery rather than landfilling of materials. There are some who would say that the fact that the levy is not levied on materials which come in which are to be recycled can lead in some instances to the abuse of that levy not being applied and therefore materials are stockpiled. The tale goes that the particular site will say, 'Those are going to be recycled', but that never ends up happening. 

In the past, there have been a number of discussions in relation as to whether differential levies should be applied and so forth. I think policymakers on all sides have been keen for the industry to have a unified voice in terms of what would be the best way forward. The issue of the quantum of the levy will, no doubt, be raised. It has gone up considerably since this government took office, and I note it will be rising to $63 a tonne in 2016-17. 

We have had a number of internal reviews of the quantum of the waste levy, particularly by the EPA and/or Zero Waste South Australia—they have reviewed those—but that has not led to changes in legislation or particular changes in policy direction and, no doubt, various stakeholders will wish to raise the Waste to Resources Fund, as well. However, within the terms of reference we are interested in how the application of the solid waste levy does or does not preferentially apply to various materials and how that impacts on whether they are recycled or not. 

There are also questions as to the compliance ability within the Environment Protection Act 1993—so whether those might need to be improved to manage the waste sector more efficiently, including licence enforcement and the current penalties, best practice methods in resource recovery and waste sectors—that is term of reference No. 3 in the motion as it stands. Certainly the methods have improved considerably in recent decades in that area. 

It is an inherent risk when materials are kept on particular sites in large quantities that there is more likely to be combustion of those materials, and whether there are ways in which that can be ameliorated and the risk reduced. That gets on to the fourth point which is minimisation of hazardous risks in the resource recovery and waste sectors. The relevant themes is point No. 5 in the motion, from the 2015 EPA Zero Waste SA waste summit which took place on 3 March this year—that was a one-day summit. A number of stakeholders were there: the EPA, people from the waste and resource recovery sector, local government, community groups such as the Conservation Council of South Australia, Zero Waste and so forth—and a document is provided from that summary of key themes. 

One of the suggestions that came out of that, and some of the discussion which I think found a lot of resonance with the audience, was in particular from the New South Wales speaker who talked about changes to their practices over there, a gentleman by the name of Mr Stephen Beaman, who is the Director of Waste and Resource Recovery Branch, New South Wales EPA. In particular there was some discussion about up-front levies and something which is known as mass balance reporting which, I am told, holds some attraction for the stakeholders in South Australia. 

The next step from that particular waste summary is that the EPA and Zero Waste have distributed this report and it has been presented to the EPA board. I think that it is quite a useful practice for our committees to look at these issues in a bit more detail and in that way we can look at them in some depth and take evidence from a number of stakeholders who can inform our deliberations. 
I do note that the EPA will be conducting its own inquiry, in particular into the Wingfield fire, so clearly the EPA would be one of the first agencies that we would need to speak to when we start to take evidence. I would like to emphasise again—and I made these sorts of comments on radio this morning and would like to repeat them—that these fires in no way reflect on the broader waste and resource recovery sector. 

At the time it took place, one of their representatives, Mr John Fetter from the South Australian Waste Industry Network, was quoted extensively on radio, and he certainly endorsed the comments from the waste summit and expressed some frustration at what was taking place. People in that sector have expressed similar sentiments to me, so this is something I will be raising at the Environment, Resources and Development Committee, and we look forward to gaining support from my colleagues and endorse the motion to the house. 

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola .