FROM RUBBISH TO RESOURCE: BUILDING A CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:57):  by leave—I thank the House and add my words to my esteemed chair colleague in commending this report to all members of the House, but also to the broader public who may have an interest in the challenges and opportunities posed by managing the various streams of waste in our communities and across the nation. It was a challenge for the committee in interrogating the evidence presented to the inquiry over the last year as the necessary restrictions imposed by coronavirus severely curtailed the normal round of public hearings and inspections that we would have had. Having recognised this, I would like to sincerely thank the many witnesses who persevered with the committee through video and audio hearings and all those who provided written submissions for our consideration.

The report covers many of the challenges of moving towards a circular economy, encompassing both the opportunities and the barriers along the lifecycle of products. This requires actions to achieve greater investment in domestic recycling technology and infrastructure, ensuring more equal opportunity to access these solutions in all parts of the country. It requires actions to improve product stewardship and design so that the creation of waste is minimised and the opportunities for recovery and reuse are maximised. It requires national standards and specifications for recycling content to ensure trust in the product that is to be reused. It requires targeted government procurement policies so that governments at all levels lead by example and provide a more assured market to enable the development of innovative recycled product businesses.

This report canvasses established federal government policies and programs aimed at those challenges and opportunities.

I will acknowledge it was a challenge for the committee that varied announcements were made in this space whilst the committee inquiry was underway, requiring us to recall government departments to provide updates. I want to extend my appreciation to those officials who did that.

The committee also explored some sectors that are not regularly considered in the waste recovery and reuse debate. It's understandable the impact of a national ban on many waste exports and the effect of global shifts in the policies of other nations has meant that the highly effective waste streams have been at the forefront of the national discussion—plastics, paper, glass and tyres in particular. However, there are real innovations and opportunities as well as potential challenges across other sections, which the committee also explored: textiles, food and organic waste, medical waste, solar panels, wind turbines and mining waste. I believe it would be a fair assessment to say the evidence was overwhelmingly that there are many innovations already available to address waste—that is, both Australian and international ones. There was also significant evidence of the legislative and policy initiatives of other developed nations that have increased their movement towards a circular economy that Australia can learn from in improving our own framework.

I would like to acknowledge the significant and interesting work currently being undertaken by the CSIRO. Whilst there are many innovations in technology, policy, legislation and infrastructure that can be investigated in the Australian situation, many of the recommendations go to how the federal government could be more effective in developing national plans, regulations and incentives to establish a truly national framework to support the development of a circular economy. The committee recognises, through its recommendations, that giving our national Commonwealth structure will require cooperative work with the states and territories as well as local governments. The content of the report outlines some areas where existing policies and programs could be improved in their effectiveness to achieve their stated objectives. I strongly recommend the report to government and all the other interested community groups who hope to see significant progress in turning waste from a problem to a new resource.

As I said, the year has been a challenging one in which to undertake an inquiry. I want to thank the committee chair, the member for New England, and my fellow committee members for the very constructive way in which they undertook the inquiry and report production. I would particularly like to pay special acknowledgement to the secretariat, some of whom are with us today, who faced the same challenges and rose to them with the highest professionalism: Dr Joel Bateman, the secretary until 9 October; Ms Rebecca Gordon, the new secretary; Ms Fran Denny, the inquiry secretary; Ms Tegan Scott, our senior research officer; Mr Peter Richardson, research officer; and Ms Tamara Palmer, our administrative officer. Thank you all. I'm very pleased to command the report to the House. I anticipate, with great interest, the government's response to our recommendations.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.