Circular plan to save oceans

Published on Tue 10 May 2022 8:44am

Taken together, Labor’s policies on oceans and on waste and resource management will shift the dial after a decade of decline and inaction. The Australian community is right to expect their government to lead the way towards greater sustainability with environmental protection an urgent priority, rather than an afterthought or superficial marketing gesture. An Albanese Labor government will take on that responsibility.

When Australians sit on a beach and sift a handful of sand that is shot through with microplastic they are literally grasping the intersection of two major environmental challenges: waste management and ocean protection.

Plastic pollution is a significant and growing problem that points to our broader failures in reducing waste and maximising the re-use of limited resources. It is in Australia’s national interest to build a circular economy that sees valuable material reincorporated in new onshore manufacturing processes, while preventing the environmental harm and carbon emissions that come from a linear production-to-landfill approach.

At the same time, badly managed waste is an additional form of harm to oceans that are already under pressure from poor biodiversity protection and climate change. From the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and from Bass Strait to the Coral Sea, our ocean estate covers a remarkable range of ecosystems and sustains incredible biodiversity. Yet we have seen the Great Barrier Reef suffer major bleaching events four times in the last six years, and the 2011 marine heatwave in Western Australia destroyed a third of the world’s largest sea grass ecosystem. Last year the Australian sea lion was added to the endangered list, joining dozens of marine species that have been pushed to the brink.

An Albanese Labor government will not allow the neglect and degradation of our environment to continue unchecked. We know that creating a circular economy will create jobs and build resilience in our supply chains, while reducing carbon emissions and environmental pollution. We know that harm to our oceans and the life they support is an existential risk that must be addressed.

Over the last three years the political strategy of the Morrison government has been obvious: avoid taking action on climate change and the environment by talking about recycling instead. Never mind the fact that serious policy on waste and resource management has been avoided in favour of shiny but hollow packaging. Indeed, for the last 6 months the Coalition has run a $20 million campaign with taxpayer’s funds that focuses on a ‘Remade in Australia’ logo that simply does not exist.

While Mr Morrison claimed Australia would be a global leader in the reduction of ocean plastic, the reality is that recycling rates of plastic packaging have fallen, and a recent report stated the government’s plastic waste reduction targets are way off-track and will not be met. Just as the Coalition refused to release the 2021 State of the Environment Report, so too the Minister for the Environment sought to withhold the report that calls for reform of Australia’s ineffective packaging scheme.

Labor recognises that our community expects progress towards a circular economy and that our waste & resource management sector is ready to lead that transition. We will help address the missing pieces of the circle, especially with respect to the pull-through demand for recycled content.  As part of Labor’s Future Made in Australia policy we will ensure federal government procurement includes recycled content, with support for industry when it comes to material specifications and research. We will lead cooperative work with the states and territories on harmonisation of container deposit and single-use plastic ban schemes, and pick-up the stalled work on data collection and packaging stewardship.

Australians know that Labor governments have always taken responsibility for advancing protection of our unique marine estate while playing a global leadership role on oceans and Antarctica. After nine years of drift, it is past time for us to see a return to that concerted effort.

We recognise that the national marine park network initiated by Labor has now been implemented and will make sure the existing parks review process is timely, consultative, and properly resourced.  Labor will provide $4 million to small states and territories to assist with the management of their marine parks. Internationally, we will play an active role in shaping strong agreements on High Seas protection and on Marine Litter and Microplastics.

Labor agrees with marine protection groups and stakeholders from the fishing and seafood industries who argue that with 65 per cent of seafood consumed in Australia being imported from countries that in some cases have poor environmental or workplace protections, it is time to consider a framework that guards against illegal, unregulated, and unreported fisheries practices, such as already exists in the US and EU.

All these initiatives will work in combination with our $200 million Urban Rivers & Catchments program, our $163 million commitment to protection of the Great Barrier Reef, and of course our comprehensive plan to tackle climate change.

Taken together, Labor’s policies on oceans and on waste and resource management will shift the dial after a decade of decline and inaction.

The Australian community is right to expect their government to lead the way towards greater sustainability with environmental protection an urgent priority, rather than an afterthought or superficial marketing gesture. An Albanese Labor government will take on that responsibility.

First published in The West Australian on 10 May 2022.

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