Government painfully slow to deliver on Pacific Ocean clean-up

Published on Tue 9 March 2021 9:40am

The Coalition’s much-vaunted 2019 election commitment to help tackle plastic pollution in the Pacific has gone nowhere.

In a response to Senate estimates questions on notice relating to the ‘Pacific Ocean Litter Project’, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has confirmed that barely a trickle from the $5 million allocated to the Pacific Ocean Litter Project (POLP) across the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 financial years has been provided. 

Of the total six-year, $15 million commitment, only $837,000 has been advanced after two years and almost half of these funds pay the salary of one Australian public servant. 

At a time when Australian scientists are noting the ‘innumerable hazards for marine life’ and the ‘scourge on small island nations’ of marine plastics and calling for urgent action to stem the flow, the Morrison Government is yet to make a meaningful contribution to practical measures aimed at reducing plastic pollution in the Pacific. 

Three years after a Senate inquiry recommended the Government show increased regional leadership by helping resource-poor Pacific Island Nations to tackle the problem of marine plastic pollution, the Prime Minister used his 2019 address to the United Nations to state:

‘To protect our oceans, Australia is committed to leading urgent action to combat plastic pollution choking our oceans, tackle overexploitation of our fisheries, prevent ocean habitat destruction, and take action on climate change.’’

The Government needs to explain when and how it will take action to get Australia’s commitment to the POLP on track.

Labor strongly supports and shares the priorities identified by Pacific Island Nations to reduce the scourge of plastics on communities, marine life and coastlines.

The Pacific Ocean contains some of the world’s most uninhabited and ecologically significant areas and Australia should be supporting our Pacific neighbours to address what is a shared problem.

According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, approximately 4.7 million tonnes of materials are imported into Pacific Island countries per year with only one million tonnes being returned to source.

An expert study released in 2020 showed that plastic in the world’s oceans is expected to triple by 2040 and previous studies indicate that up to 15 million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans and waterways every year. In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish.

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