Government’s plastics plan is shiny but flimsy

Published on Mon 2 March 2020 12:07pm

At today’s National Plastics Summit in Canberra the Morrison Government has again acknowledged the problem but is still yet to show leadership in terms of solutions.

Since the May election the waste recovery and recycling industry has suffered further blows with the closure of facilities in NSW and Victoria, and the impact of fires on infrastructure in Victoria and WA.

In what is becoming a pattern for this government, Scott Morrison’s earnest speech about the scourge of ocean plastic slid over the fact that the government has done virtually nothing to improve waste outcomes in 7 years, and is hoping that solutions will arrive magically from the private sector and through scientific collaboration. This ignores the profound market failure at the heart of the waste crisis, and ignores the need for national leadership in relation to product stewardship, infrastructure, and procurement.

In those three key areas the Morrison government has so far been found wanting:

After seven years of inaction, the Morrison government has been too slow to act on Australia’s waste crisis and this inaction is costing Australian jobs, with new technology companies moving overseas in some cases. There has been stockpiling of plastic and other recyclables which in turn creates a greater fire risk.

report commissioned by the government over the summer indicates there will need to be an increase of up to 400% in waste recovery and recycling infrastructure, but the Prime Minister has said detail of government action on this front will not be provided until the 2020 Budget.

We can and should all play a part in reducing waste, but the greatest scope for change is through national leadership – which is sadly missing from a Government that continues to offer little substance in terms of national waste policies or investment.

It’s also concerning that the Prime Minister wants to use the issue of ocean plastic as cover for his government’s inaction on climate change. There is no doubt that plastic pollution is having a terrible impact on our oceans, but the greatest damage and the biggest threat to marine species and ecosystems is through ocean warming and acidification through climate change.

Constantly relabelling old funding, delaying action, failing to implement existing recommendations, and holding high-visibility roundtables is simply not good enough.

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