Industrial chemicals regulation

By Terri Butler MP

18 March 2021

I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that the Coalition Government has consistently been slow to deliver on its announcements".

Labor supports the passage of the Industrial Chemicals Environmental Management (Register) Bill 2020 and related bills because it is sensible to work towards a national approach to the management of industrial chemicals and their impacts on the environment. These bills will establish a national standard in relation to the management of industrial chemicals—like PFAS, but many others as well—and their risk to the environment. Labor hopes this national standard will help manage risks to protect the environment and to provide a nationally consistent approach for both governments and industry. Sadly, some communities know all too well the environmental impacts of the mismanagement of chemicals, including PFAS. The bills intend to address a gap in standards set nationally for the management of risks for the protection of the environment. While there are existing regimes for managing risks from industrial chemicals to public and worker health and safety, there is currently no national standard-setting framework for managing the environmental risks of industrial chemicals. These bills come after a lengthy period of consultation, spanning more than a decade, with agreement and consultation between the states and territories.

It has now been more than five years since the environment ministers agreed to establish a national standard, and finally the government has introduced these bills into the parliament. It was back in 2015 that environment ministers agreed to establish a national standard to manage the environmental risks of industrial chemicals. A draft was developed and stakeholders were consulted over a three-year period, from 2015 to 2018, but draft legislation was only released in 2020. That's two years after the government's consultation. This government is consistently slow or fails to deliver on its announcements, and haven't we all seen that. It's a government that's all photo-op and no follow-up. It's a government that will turn up and make a big announcement and then wait for the caravan to roll on and never actually deliver on it. We've seen that in my portfolio, in the environment. We've seen it with the emergency bushfire money that was announced in January 2020, at the height of the national bushfire crisis. We got to the end of that financial year and they hadn't managed to spend all of that so-called emergency money.

I was in the Blue Mountains just recently with our wonderful member Susan Templeman, who was showing me around. I was introduced to local environmental groups, who work on the ground—remember, this is a bushfire affected, in fact a bushfire devastated, area. These local environmental groups were telling me that they'd scarcely seen a cent of the bushfire money in the Blue Mountains. It was quite bewildering and gobsmacking, in what was in some ways ground zero—at least in that part of the world around Sydney, from the environmental destruction wreaked by the fires—to have the people who are there caring for such important forest, for such important country, tell me that they weren't seeing the money. It was pretty surprising, I've got to say.

Look at water. This is a government in their eighth year. They're responsible for delivering on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—obviously, in collaboration with other basin jurisdictions, but you expect the Commonwealth to show leadership. We're now in a situation where the 450 gigalitres of up-water due by 2024 has seemingly no prospect of actually being delivered. In fact, in the First review of the Water for the Environment Special Account that was published last year, the panel bluntly said the 450 gigalitres is not going to be delivered by 2024. Why did the panel form that conclusion? Only 1.9 of the 450 gigalitres had been delivered—less than one per cent! This Prime Minister is just all about announcement and failure: announcement of policy and failure of delivery. I think it's really disgraceful. So it's no surprise that they've taken quite a significant amount of time to pursue this really non-controversial legislation that we're talking about today—that they've taken such a long period of time to bring into existence this framework for a national environmental standard for the management and storage of industrial chemicals.

In respect of this bill, I note that some stakeholders flagged concerns about a number of issues. Those included the adoption and implementation of the national register being a decision for each state and territory jurisdiction, some trepidation relating to the charges bills and some questions about the timing and timeliness of the bills. So I call on the government to ensure that they actively engage with state and territory governments, in line with the relevant recommendations from the recent Senate inquiry into this legislation, particularly in relation to planning for the adoption of the register across the country, the cost recovery arrangements and the role of the Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme.

The current settings where individual jurisdictions must separately determine if and how chemicals should be managed to protect the environment could result in additional costs and duplication of effort for industry. The development and design of the legislative framework has been informed by consultation. We appreciate that, and that's why we are pleased to see this bill finally before the parliament to be passed. We know that the Commonwealth government has been collaborating on this reform with state and territory government and industry groups for over a decade. It's time the Morrison government got on with the job of delivering.

We note the broad support for the national standard and its objectives, and we will watch the government closely to ensure they engage in further consultation, as recommended by the Senate inquiry, and especially when it comes to undertaking comprehensive consultation with affected businesses in developing a cost recovery implementation statement before imposing any charges. I commend the legislation to the House and I look forward to seeing it passed.