Interview with Loretta Ryan, ABC, Brisbane

4 March 2021


LORETTA RYAN: There are some major changes coming for Australia when it comes to single-use plastics and packaging. Today, in Brisbane, the Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, will make some key announcements. Good morning, Minister.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning, Loretta. It's lovely to be in Brisbane and I'm smiling at your talk about it being cold.

LORETTA RYAN:[Laughs] Well, it's been hot and I don't have an air conditioner. I have an old box fan, and so I'm glad it's cooler.

CRAIG ZONCA: Oh, we could talk about your energy efficiency, Loretta or we could talk about plastics and the National Plastics Plan. What's going to happen to polystyrene packaging, Minister?

SUSSAN LEY: It's going to be phased out by 2022 under packaging targets that have been set, importantly, with the packaging industry at the table. So, this is not the heavy-handed regulation from the Government saying, you know, by this date, this will happen, it's better than that because everyone is agreeing that this should happen. And we had our Recycling Modernisation Fund set up last year. That's in place. That's re-processing things like your plastic drink bottles, your shampoo bottles, your milk bottles. We're banning the export of mixed plastics from July 2022, phasing in a whole waste ban. But we're not taking our foot off the pedal, we've got more to do. So we're talking about plastic-free beaches today, cigarette butts that contain plastic, and plastic that comes out of your washing machine into our waterways and how we filter that out as well.

CRAIG ZONCA: Oh, like those little micro plastics you're talking about?

SUSSAN LEY: Yes. So we're phasing in filters on washing machines that actually extract those tiny bits of plastic that go out with your washing water, because synthetic clothing is made of plastic in part.

LORETTA RYAN: Yeah. There are so many things that we were talking about before that you don't even realise every day that we've got used to using. So this phase out, how will it work? Because there are a lot of items that we've taken for granted we just use.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, you don't have to use expanded polystyrene to package up something. And we used to see it over everything and it used to be in great quantities. We're starting to see less. I'm starting to see wood shavings and crumpled up natural fibres and just different ways of packaging and presenting the items that you buy, and that, in itself, can be a challenge because I acknowledge that we import a lot of packaging from overseas. But the packaging targets have been, as I said, agreed to by the packaging industry. And the next step is, okay, so you do have this stuff, how can you recycle it? At my local landfill, which is in Albury in New South Wales, which is quite forward leaning with all this stuff, they actually put that polystyrene into a special machine that melts it and turns it into picture frames. So, you do always have a recyclable opportunity, but for problem plastics, we'd rather you used a lot less in the first place.

CRAIG ZONCA: And with the polystyrene, so you're saying by the end of next year, December 2022, to be phased out. And by 2025, all packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. Why not bring that forward to the end of 2022 as well?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we have to recognise, as I said, that some of the stuff that we had- end up with here in Australia has been imported from overseas, so we can't necessarily stop it coming in at the border because your television that's wrapped up in Korea or Japan, you know, we can't be over there telling them how to do this - but other countries are picking this up as well.

Because what we've got to remember is that the plastic packaging agenda links very closely with the plastics in the ocean problem. And Australia is now one of 14 countries on a high level ocean panel - because of our leadership with ocean science and the fact that we're an island nation - which is focusing on how we get plastic out of the ocean. School children will tell you that there's an island of plastic as big as France in the Pacific - so, it's just the gluggy plastic sitting on the surface of the water. It's horrific. It breaks down into nano-plastics, which get into the food chain, and who knows? You know, the science is starting to tell us that that is not good.

CRAIG ZONCA: So you're talking about national guidelines around packaging. At the state level, we're going through the debate around single-use plastics here in Queensland. Will there be a federal approach to that as well?

SUSSAN LEY: States will take that approach to single-use plastic that's in their area of responsibility, if you like, and many of them are starting to do that. Some of them are banning single-use plastics like straws and wrapping, et cetera. The purpose- the point is that we all work together. And when we come together around the table, as we did with the waste export ban, we all agreed to do it together.

CRAIG ZONCA: And you're supportive of that single-use plastic ban in Queensland?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I believe you have to take the people with you. Now, I assume that many Queenslanders want this. I don't like the heavy-handed regulation. My approach has always been, bring people with you, take them on the journey, and often, with plastics, they're leading. So you know, yes, but with that caveat. You know, you have to have support, because ultimately, people have to want to do this. We saw people saying: what do I put in my recycling bin? Will it get recycled? Where can I get rid of soft plastics at the front of the supermarket? Go to any school and you'll have the children telling you exactly what you should be doing with every item of rubbish. But, yeah, I come back to my no heavy-handed regulation. Let's do it cooperatively.

LORETTA RYAN: The Federal Government's National Plastics Plan will be launched today in Brisbane. We'll hear more about that. Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley is with us. It's 7.42.
Minister, quickly on federal politics. At yesterday's press conference, the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, strenuously denied the allegation of rape against him. Should the Prime Minister call an independent inquiry into the matter?

SUSSAN LEY: The matter is concluded because the police have concluded the matter. They've said that under the rule of law, there's no action to take. So, I strongly support that. It was a very tough day yesterday, not just for the Attorney-General - everyone watching that press conference could see his anguish - but also for all of the victims of sexual abuse. Some of them older women who, in the times that they were growing up, this was never talked about - this was swept under the carpet, and you know, you just got on with it. And I think that every time this is talked about, both good and bad things happen. It might be a forlorn hope, but as a woman in politics, I'd love to step back from the political storm just for a moment and think about the wider issues - you know, how we message; you know, what messages we're sending to women in general about safe workplaces; helping young people understand the principle of informed consent; supporting one another. So I hope some of those good, strong messages can come out of this awful situation.

LORETTA RYAN: And as a woman in politics, what has the last month or so been like working in Parliament and Canberra?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, it's been incredibly challenging. I've been in politics close to 20 years and I've never seen a fortnight like this. But Parliament House, on a busy sitting week, probably has 5000 people in the building. Does everyone behave well all the time? No, they don't. But ultimately, I think we are a strong and safe workplace, without, for one moment, stepping back from bad things happening, and they have, and we've seen examples of that. But what really encourages me is the cross-party unity, the engagement between the crossbenchers and the Labor Party and ourselves - and remember, I just want to take the politics out of this - and we are going to come up with some good recommendations for change. So, yes, change does have to happen. and we will have to be part of that, and we have to be serious about it.

CRAIG ZONCA: Sussan Ley, thanks for your time this morning.

SUSSAN LEY: Always a pleasure.

CRAIG ZONCA: The Federal Environment Minister.