Joint press conference with Hon Warren Entsch MP, Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef

14 November 2019

TREVOR EVANS: We'll be visiting a number of stakeholders around Cairns and the region today to talk about some of the big challenges there are around reducing our waste, and improving our recycling rates in the regions around Australia. And we'll also be visiting some great innovators and businesses, and thinkers in this part of the world who have some great ideas about the opportunities that present themselves in and around Cairns, to be a part of the solutions that we need to see nationwide as we do seek to see these waste reductions and improving recycling rates around Australia. We are very proud to be a part of the first Federal Government that has been heavily involved in waste and recycling. No Federal Government before has been elected with such a comprehensive suite of initiatives, policies and funding packages to help Australia deliver the sorts of outcomes that we really need to see. And at the heart of our funding and our election commitments are $167 million worth of investment including a $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund, which we can use to help build the facilities and the infrastructure – in places just like Cairns – that we need to see so we can start doing onshore some of the things which have been done offshore until very, very recently, and that includes of course recycling and plastics. And so we're here today – and I'll pass over to Warren Entsch in a moment – to launch a discussion paper that can help advance the conversation and the advocacy being done to tackle the very serious problem of marine plastics in our oceans. Can I say before I hand over the Warren Entsch, that you all know as locals around Cairns that he has been a strong and tireless advocate of the Great Barrier Reef, of industry, and of the great tourist offerings that there are in this part of the world. And as the Special Envoy to the Great Barrier Reef, Warren Entsch is bringing that strong advocacy to bear specifically around the challenges and the opportunities that there are to reduce our waste, especially in our marine environments. And when we think about the opportunities that present themselves in Cairns, the Prime Minister has said when it comes to litter and waste, it's our litter, so it's our responsibility. And he wants to not just ban the export of waste streams like plastics, but he wants to turn it around, so instead of exporting our waste from Australia, we can be exporting our knowhow, our innovation, and our solutions. And the opportunities are very real here in Cairns. To have those opportunities flourish so we could get to a place where plastics that are being collected right around in our region, including in neighbouring countries, could be brought to locations and facilities like here in Cairns to really create regional solutions not just local solutions.

So, Warren, over to you to talk about the great work that you've been doing when it comes to reducing marine pollution in our oceans, and the discussion paper.

WARREN ENTSCH: Thanks very much, Trevor. Happy National Recycling week. But first of all, thank you very much for taking the time to be here today, Trevor. We thought it was very appropriate in National Recycling Week to launch this paper. And I guess the discussion paper, Convenience versus Conservation, I think is quite relevant, particularly when you're talking about single use plastics. And in kicking off, I certainly – if you have a look at the front of this, you'll see that one of those that's very prominent there is young Molly Steer. And she's always been my inspiration as a youngster there, starting on the Straws No More. I think it's something that really inspired me. So in many ways, I dedicate what I'm doing to the work she started a while ago. But it is an opportunity here. As I say, we've got to balance that convenience against the impacts on conservation. We've got to be looking for ways in which we can totally ban or get rid of, phase out single use plastic bags. It's great to see that the State Government of Queensland has actually taken a step in that direction, but we've got to make sure that it's national. We've got to be looking at innovative ways in which we can use other products. And I've seen recently a really good wheat straw as an alternative to a plastic straw, totally biodegradable, and it doesn't go crunchy like the paper ones. So there are things out there that we can use, and it wasn't that many years ago that we wrapped things in paper, we didn't use plastic. And I think we've got to sort of revert back to the ways in which we can do it given the impact that it has on both our land and our sea environment. The other point I think I'd like to make is that there is a lot of treasure in our waste. And I welcome the recent decision by COAG to ban future exports of our waste, and use waste in which we can use them here. What I'm trying to do is establish through this discussion paper, is focused on our whole solution. At the moment, there are lots of silos. What we've got to try and do is find a whole solution from an education and transitioning away from first single-use plastics to collection, and how we actually get that collection right across our region in our remote areas, in our forests, et cetera, where we will be able to collect this properly and be able to bring it back to a single point for processing. The third element of course is the processing of this waste once we have it, and innovative ways in which we can convert that waste into a very, very positive economy.

And I believe it's not just about making recyclable plastic products. I mean, there's opportunities to create diesel out of it and a whole range of other products out of this. But at the end of the day, what we've got to be looking for is ending up with a process that we have zero landfill in relation to this. And so, this here – and I'm also outlining the concept of a pilot project here in Cairns and in Leichhardt that will incorporate all of those initiatives and one that we can then transport as a whole to other regional areas, because we need to look at the economy of scale, et cetera, et cetera. I think there's a great opportunity for us in that we're not exporting anymore but actually importing product here to be able to create and build these industries. The fact that we are now looking at banning the export of waste products means to say that governments at all level need to look at how they can start to encourage innovation and development of various products. We can do that, of course, by insisting that a component of all government contracts have to include, whether it be construction, roads, et cetera, right through to building or whatever it is, incorporate an element of recyclable product, a percentage of recyclable product.

So there's a lot of opportunities there. There is an opportunity there for people to come in. I'm asking people to make submissions and we'll be encouraging people to send back to us – and the details are in this discussion paper – by 21 February next year, so that we can have a look at those because you're not the keeper of great ideas in yourself. It's great to think – to see what other people think and see if there's anything there that we can capture and incorporate as well.

Finally, I'd like to also thank Sam back from my office who's done an outstanding job in putting all of this together. A lot of discussions there and what's happened here. But I'll just say these things are not done as an individual. As I acknowledge Molly Steer is there, I also acknowledge Sam, and I acknowledge my staff that have helped me immensely in putting this together. And I certainly look forward to working with our Minister here. He does a great job in this and I think the fact that we now have a minister in this space makes it so much easier. We are all under the environment portfolio but it makes it a hell of a lot easier in making these issues heard.

QUESTION: Would you like to see the Queensland Government do something similar to South Australia doing a blanket ban on single-use plastic?

WARREN ENTSCH: They're working towards that now. They've made an announcement the other day that moves in that direction. Absolutely. And in fact, I'd like to see every state and territory move that way and move sooner rather than later. And there is a lot of innovative ways out there. It's amazing how many businesses – with Molly Steer's campaign in Cairns, for example, the number of businesses that have already transitioned into alternatives to plastic straws. The same cannot be said for a whole range of other alternatives. And so, it's just a matter of people considering the convenience versus the consumption aspect of it and the impact that their discarded items are going to have on our environment. The more we can raise awareness on that, I think the more we're going to get more people to do it. And also, don't underestimate the innovation of our businesses and industry. They see that there's an opportunity out there and already, they are creating alternatives.

QUESTION: How many submissions are you hoping people put forward, the stakeholders put forward?

WARREN ENTSCH: Well, look, I'd like to – we had one today. As we came to the launch, we had a gentleman here saying: I've got an idea. So, and look, there's no limit on the amount but I'd like to see that we get a significant number. I'm hoping within the hundreds. I suspect a lot of them will be very similar but you never know what you pull out of these. People often, people will pull me up in the street and say: I've got a great idea for this. Well, this is an opportunity to put it down. We'll analyse them and see where we go with it. And if it's a great idea, we don't have any hesitation at all in plagiarising it.

QUESTION: Great. And then, Minister, I suppose with these submissions, the hundreds that you might get, how actually feasible is it to go through them all and decide what ones would actually work, and will you actually then sort of use them?

TREVOR EVANS: Yeah. It's hugely feasible. And the whole purpose of having a Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef in Warren Entsch is that we can have a strong and powerful advocate who can do this sort of great consultation work, this great engagement with, not just his local community in the region here, but with people right across Australia; can distil the advice and the feedback that comes back and give that to Government by way of an independent report.

And can I say, I think we're going to see a lot more change in this area when it comes to improving recycling and reducing our waste, for a number of reasons. First of all, of course, we have a federal government that is stepping in to help with the national coordination and the harmonisation of the different approaches that have been taken to date with the different states and territories. But on top of that, you can't understate the importance of having a Prime Minister as we do in Scott Morrison, who is so personally interested and incredibly passionate about seeing real change when it comes to improving recycling.

QUESTION: Yeah. And so, like, how much money would you put into these ideas that come forward? Like is there a rough budget on this or not yet?

TREVOR EVANS: So at the moment, the Government has been elected, just some months ago, with $167 million in total in initiatives, in our policies and programs to support the building of a new recycling industry here in Australia. Our first job, of course, is to spend that money wisely and to get big bang for buck from that expenditure to drive real change. We've also got to leverage better the investments that are being made or could be made by states and territories, especially as they start to earn revenues from their waste levies. But what I would say is that the election commitments that we've made and the policies we have on the table at the moment are not the only policies that we're likely to see in this space. It's not set and forget, we are achieving many things very quickly and we'll be very, very keen to measure up the ideas and the suggestions that come out of this work and this discussion paper to drive the next round of reforms.

WARREN ENTSCH: Can I say to you too, this region is an ideal candidate for a pilot program to do this as a whole. First of all, we have two World Heritage areas side by side. We have all the remoteness of indigenous communities throughout Cape York plus Torres Strait. So if we can look at ways in which we can collect all of the waste from those areas, consolidate that, bring it into a single point. I mean the challenge for example is 15 islands in the Torres Strait, bringing all of that waste together.

There's also the challenges of quarantine where you've got to deal with that, to make sure that that is properly and appropriately treated before you can transport it out of that protected zone. So all of these are challenges, but if we do that, we are going to actually create an opportunity that can be transported anywhere else in Australia. And as I say there's also the opportunity with the waste that we are currently funding from being collected in the Pacific Island countries, an opportunity to bring all of that waste to a central point like Cairns. It does a couple of things. First of all it allows us to analyse that waste, to find out the source of that material. And we can focus on those areas in relation to reducing and minimizing it. But secondly, using that trash and creating the treasure of course is a billion dollar economic opportunity.

QUESTION: Warren you've got a whopping great big recycling plant included in the city deal proposal. Do you reckon that'll come first before the rest of the whole city deal or is there some sort of timeline when we can expect to get that up and running?

WARREN ENTSCH: No look, the city deal – I'm going to wait for a second. The city deal, once it goes through, I mean there are elements of the city deal that are there that have already been implemented. Some of the road ones, the highways et cetera have already been announced.

I was very keen to get this into the recycling element, a plastics element into the city deal, but it doesn't mean to say that it has to sit there and wait while the whole process goes through.

So you know, some of these elements of it, I've got no doubt that by the time the city deal is ready for implementation, other elements of it will already be happening in our city.

QUESTION: Just on employment, we've got the Shadow Minister here today talking about new ABS stats that are going to be released. They haven't been released yet but I suppose, what are you expecting from that and …

WARREN ENTSCH: [Talks over] So we've got the Shadow Minister talking about unemployment stats that haven't been released yet, I mean to me that sounds like a bit of a jump.

QUESTION: They'll be released once he speaks. They'll be released by the time he talks.

WARREN ENTSCH: Well – but they still haven't been released at the moment. Oh well, it's a bit of a junket to Cairns, I mean that doesn't surprise me. However I hope when he's talking about it, he can talk about the amazing success that we've had up here in relation to employment, made both on mainstream and youth unemployment. I mean since he was last – and Mr O'Connor was actually in the Rudd and Gillard governments, since the time that he's been in it, we've actually significantly, in fact I think we've almost halved the unemployment levels and we're certainly similar with the youth unemployment.

So I would be hoping that he gets up there and says congratulations on a job well done. I mean you never rest on your laurels. But nevertheless I think that we've done exceptionally well up here and we'll continue to punch well above our weight. And I hope he acknowledges that. And also apologises for the failures in the time that he was actually in government.

QUESTION: Do you think there are any areas that need improvement or it's all pretty …

WARREN ENTSCH: Well you can always do more you know and but we are doing exceptionally well, that's the reason why we had to get a visa to start bringing people here to fill a lot of jobs that could not be filled locally. But that doesn't mean to say we can't continue to focus on – we've got a lot of youngsters coming through at the end of this school year, so we've got to make sure that we target them or direct them in the areas where there's opportunities for them into the future, training and support for our young ones going through. There's a lot of young kids going. And they don't necessarily have to go on to university, there's a lot of training, you know, blue-collared work here that has great opportunities for them. And I think that's where we focus on that. Of course there's a lot of work also being done in disability support to be able to get those people with either mental health or other disabilities, get them to be able to be functioning as best that they can in employment. There's a lot of employers out there that want good workers.

TREVOR EVANS: Can I make another point about that. The vision that Warren has here for Cairns and for this region when it comes to improving the facilities and the outcomes that we see around recycling could drive a lot of jobs into the future. The statistics nationwide are that for every 10,000 tonnes of rubbish that we divert from landfill and turn into better outcomes when it comes to recycling, which often involves three manufacturing and other high value manufacturing jobs, an extra six jobs for every 10,000 tons that we can divert. So Warren's vision to do more and create more in this part of the world when it comes to being a part of those solutions could indeed drive many of the jobs that you'd like to see created here going forward.