Environment and Communications References Committee report on container deposit schemes

I rise to speak on the Environment and Communications References Committee report on container deposit schemes. The intention of this inquiry was to investigate the pricing and revenue allocation practices of the beverage industry in South Australia and the Northern Territory, which are the only two states in Australia where the CDS exists. The South Australian scheme is 35 years old and well established, and the Northern Territory scheme is brand new. As such, the South Australian community is largely accepting of this system of legislation. But I would just like to put on record that other states should be very, very careful before they consider going down this path, because there may well be better options available to achieve disposal outcomes.

I draw the attention of the Senate to a success story on this sort of management that does not have the overly burdensome requirements of the two container deposit schemes investigated in the inquiry. The success story to which I refer is the drumMUSTER, with 20 million containers safely disposed of since 1999. This scheme has been dedicated to helping farmers and chemical users keep their land free of waste. The plastic and steel from which these products are made is recycled and diverted away from landfill into new products. There have been pretty amazing results of this Industry Waste Reduction Scheme agreement. More than 25,000 tonnes have been diverted from landfill—465,000 cubic metres of uncompacted waste, enough to fill more than 120 Olympic-size swimming pools. That is 276 road trains packed to the top—almost 10 kilometres of road trains. If the waste were put into cotton bales it would be 110,000 bales. Laid end to end, that is enough containers to go from Brisbane down to Sydney, past Melbourne, across to Adelaide, past Perth and up to Broome, stopping at Kununurra—more than 8,200 kilometres.

The drumMUSTER is run by AgStewardship Australia Limited, an organisation established and developed to implement stewardship programs that reduce and manage waste for the Australian agricultural sector. AgStewardship Australia is rightly proud of what the drumMUSTER has achieved. The organisation is supported by the National Farmers Federation, CropLife Australia, Animal Health Alliance Ltd, the Veterinary Manufacturers and Distributors Association and the Australian Local Government Association. It has come a long way since the 4c per litre or kilogram was introduced. Today, 97 chemical manufacturers and 452 collection agencies or councils are taking part at 762 collection sites across the country. Since 1999, their programs have diverted more than 75 per cent of packaging that would have otherwise gone into landfill and has safely disposed of approximately 340 tonnes of unwanted chemicals. Most are managed by local councils at waste management sites and transfer stations and others by community groups, charities or even organisations like rural firefighters.

Because it is not overly bureaucratic, the drumMUSTER fits the different needs of a range of groups taking part. That is also a major reason the drumMUSTER has grown over time and continues to develop in individual ways. As the chairman of AgStewardship, Lauchlan McIntosh, has said, everyone from farmers, resellers, manufacturers and local councils have made the scheme efficient. Local governments are a key partner, recognising that the collection of the drums for recycling reduces landfill, besides providing a useful service for the taxpayers. The drumMUSTER has achieved a highly desirable outcome without the need for regulation. I know this is a foreign concept for many of those opposite, who see regulation as the answer to most problems. But the drumMUSTER has adapted in the flexible ways that government regulation just cannot do. I know the Greens in particular have an ideological hatred of agricultural chemical companies, yet it is by partnering with these firms that there has been proper disposal of unwanted chemicals. Research indicates that almost every farmer in Australia is aware of the drumMUSTER program, with more than 60 per cent having indicated that they have used the program.

Twenty thousand containers is a lot of drums. If more processors become involved, then hopefully we will end up seeing more and getting greater flexibility in our recovery rates. The challenge obviously is to get more sites. Overall, though, schemes such as the drumMUSTER mean a better stewardship of land, which is crucial to the health of the environment and to long-term prosperity. The CEO of AgStewardship Australia, Karen Gomez, who grew up in my home state of South Australia, attributes the success of the drumMUSTER to their pragmatic approach of owning and solving their own problems.

I commend AgStewardship Australia for what they have done so far and hope their example can pave the way for a concept of stewardship to replace some of the more outdated methods of regulation that currently exist. AgStewardship Australia sets a great example of taking responsibility for your own problems. By being proactive, this sector has saved itself a huge amount of time, money and angst. I would suggest that there is a lesson in this for all industry sectors: take responsibility for yourselves and you might avoid the burden of government intervention.

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