Interview with Zoe Daniel, ABC Radio National

6 July 2020

ZOE DANIEL:
With the clock ticking on a COAG agreement to ban the export of unprocessed waste by 2024, the Federal Government has announced a fund to help grow our domestic recycling industry. The Commonwealth will contribute $190 million towards the fund with another $400 million expected to come from industry along with the states and territories. There's also money to implement Commonwealth commitments under Australia's National Waste Policy Action Plan and collect better data on waste. The Government says the fund will create 10,000 jobs and drive a billion-dollar transformation of Australia's waste and recycling capability. 

Trevor Evans is the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management. Welcome to RN Drive.

TREVOR EVANS:
It's a pleasure Zoe. Great to be here.

ZOE DANIEL:
Now, this fund aims to have $600 million available; give me some examples of the sorts of investments it might fund.

TREVOR EVANS:
So, we're hoping to invest in facilities and infrastructure like plastics sorting factories, like plastics processing industry, like facilities that process whole tyres or glass bottles, or indeed, new facilities that process fibres such as paper and cardboard. Those four resource streams are the ones that are subject to the waste export bans that you mentioned, so that obviously involves the Federal Government stepping in with COAG's agreement to stop Australia sending those waste streams overseas. We don't want them simply to stay here and be stockpiled or go into landfill. We need to make sure that we've got the facilities here in Australia that can sort out our combing with recycling and then can process it, so that we can feed that into industry that's going to create the next generation of products.

ZOE DANIEL:
And are the states and territories up for this? Are they going to put that money in?

TREVOR EVANS:
They certainly are. So, you mentioned the National Waste Action Plan, which was an agreement between all of the governments of Australia last year, quite a significant one actually. Since the Federal Government has stepped so heavily into this space with recycling, we believe it's really important to get all governments on the same page and to be heading in the same direction in a harmonised way. So that action plan has the full agreement of the states and territories. It sets out what we all hope to achieve together over the next 10 years. It's got measurable milestones in it but it's also got areas where responsibility is divvied up between us. And where funding is appropriate, we commit to deliver it, as we are today.

ZOE DANIEL:
And you say 10,000 jobs will be created, which sounds pretty optimistic in the current climate, what's that figure based on and over what period?

TREVOR EVANS:
Yeah. Absolutely. The figure is not actually particularly optimistic, it's a conservative estimate. The waste and recycling industries in Australia today employ about 40 something thousand people. Okay? So we're talking about a 25 per cent increase in the existing industry that's here in Australia. And when we look right across the facilities that already exist, there's some great supply chains and some great facilities in areas such as scrap metal recovery and recycling here in Australia. But when it comes to plastics facilities, when it comes to processing tires and glass, the facilities here in Australia are fairly patchy. And so, when you're looking at building facilities for each of those waste streams in every state and territory, the jobs really start to stack up. And it's everything from transportation through to factory and manufacturing lines, through to high-tech jobs like chemical engineers and mechanical engineers, all the way through to managerial and logistics jobs.

ZOE DANIEL:
Okay, so let's talk about mandating, because the industry says that the best thing that you can do is mandate targets for the use of recycled material. Are you going to do that?

TREVOR EVANS:
So, every government in Australia in that action plan last year agreed to go away and measure what it is at the moment that they're doing with their purchasing of recycled content, and to set themselves targets, and those targets will be set very, very soon.

Can I make, maybe, a very related point, which is the Federal Government is also working very strongly on that demand side. There are some voices - not all industry, as you suggested - but some voices that believe that we should step in and mandate things or ban things. In actual fact, the Government's focus has been on three very specific initiatives to drive demand. We are changing the Federal Government's procurement policy to encourage us to buy recycled content. That's something that we're doing right now. Every government, including ours, is also going to be nominating by the end of the year some resource-intensive, large products that we've already got on the books, that can start to put serious dents into the stockpiles of various recyclable materials.

But the other really important thing that we did just a couple of weeks ago is that we got the agreement of all the governments in Australia to create new standards for roads and infrastructure, and how we can put recycled content into them. So that's things like crushed glass into road base. Things like-

ZOE DANIEL:
[Interrupts] Sure, but there's a national resource recovery target of 80 per cent by 2030. Is that just aspirational? That sounds almost pie in the sky.

TREVOR EVANS:
Australia currently recovers a little bit shy of 60 per cent of total waste streams. So, we're looking at going from a little less than 60 per cent to 80 per cent by 2030. But mind you, that is an ambitious target. We haven't set ourselves targets here which entail just business as usual. We've stepped in because we want to significantly move the dial. That's why we've set such ambitious targets. It's why the Federal Government is so heavily involved now in this recycling and waste space since the last year. And it's why you've seen this record investment announced today.

ZOE DANIEL:
Now, could I ask you about another issue while we've got you.

TREVOR EVANS:
Sure.

ZOE DANIEL:
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian is closing the border with Victoria but demanding that Queensland open its border with her state. Should Queensland do that?

TREVOR EVANS:
Well, look, I think the most important thing is that all of the actions and decisions by each of the states follows the health advice. So, Queensland's borders and their restrictions have been easing over time, with the exception given recent advice from the health authorities to the Victorian border, to Victorians. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that this pandemic is changing daily, and so the health advice can change accordingly, and that's okay. We want our governments to react and respond to the very latest health advice. I mean, bear in mind just a few weeks ago the main cause of new cases here in Australia was related to overseas travel. Now that's changed. Now it's community transmission which is the main cause of new cases, particularly coming from Victoria. And that's why you're seeing some of these recent decisions.

ZOE DANIEL:
And on that, the Western Australian Premier wants the Federal Government to put a cap on international arrivals into Perth so that they can maintain high standards of hotel quarantine. Given what we've seen, is that fair enough?

TREVOR EVANS:
Well, I think each of the states has a pretty harmonised approach in terms of how they're agreeing with the Federal Government on how we can manage international arrivals. There's a couple of minor differences between the states and territories. I noted New South Wales' decision recently to cap the numbers of passengers disembarking in Sydney Airport from particular international flights. It's okay to see that slight variation, but the most important thing is that where we act and where we act in concert, we are broadly working together as governments in Australia and that compares very favourably to some of the approaches that we're seeing overseas. But the most important thing is we're following that health advice.

ZOE DANIEL:
Thanks for your time tonight.

TREVOR EVANS:
Absolute pleasure. Thanks Zoe.

ZOE DANIEL:
Trevor Evans is the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management.