Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC, Brisbane

4 March 2021


NEIL BREEN: Cigarette butts are on the hit list along with plastic free beaches - that's what we want to encourage, anyway. We want to end the confusion over household collection systems, put an end to polyester in consumer packaging. It's all part of the National Plastics Plan the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, is launching later today in Brisbane. I've got her on the line now. Good morning to you, Minister.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning, Neil. And it's lovely to be in Brisbane.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah. And the launch of this is in Brisbane. Why Brisbane?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, Trevor Evans, who is our champion as Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction, is a Member for Brisbane. 


SUSSAN LEY: He talks to me continually about plastic in our waterways and plastic in our oceans. We'll be down at the Brisbane River later today and as you've said, we'll be talking about the types of plastic people don't always think about. But, we're not taking our foot off the pedal when it comes to the work we're doing. So we've got a plastics ban in place, as in the export of plastic; we're recycling more onshore; we're turning your plastic drink bottles into more plastic drink bottles that have value. And today we're talking, as you say, about the plastic in cigarette butts; the plastic in our clothes - it gets into our waterways through our washing machines; and, that awful white stuff - expanded polystyrene - that seems to be around everything we buy - we're phasing that out as well.

NEIL BREEN: Where can you phase that out? Polystyrene? When can we get rid of that?

SUSSAN LEY:  As soon as- Look, we would hope by 2025 - it's part of the national packaging target. But I always say we're not putting heavy handed regulation in place - we're asking industry to come with us, and they are, and they've adopted these packaging targets. And the state governments have been part of this process as well, so it is, in fact, everyone at the table. But I'm always surprised, Neil, by consumers - they want to know how they can recycle that soft, crunchy plastic that they know is really difficult and that they can't put in their recycling bins. 


SUSSAN LEY: How could that be reused? And yes, we can turn that into roadways and outdoor furniture. So this is really very much led by households who want to know what they put in their bin on the kerbside actually does get recycled.

NEIL BREEN: So, which is that plastic that you were talking about that can't be put in your recycling bin at home.

SUSSAN LEY: Now, that's the- I call it - the problem child of plastics. It's soft, it's like cling wrap. It might be the cover of a biscuit packet. So if you can scrunch it up and it bounces back to the same shape, you can put it in your plastic recycling bins. If it doesn't, then it actually can't go into plastics recycling. It either has to go in landfill - which we don't want - or a separate process, and we're starting to set those off. If you look at the front of your supermarket you might have a red cycle bin, that's where you put that soft plastic.

NEIL BREEN: Okay. You know, can I tell you something? I didn't know that.

SUSSAN LEY: And before I became Minister with Waste Responsibilities, I didn't know it either. So we've got a lot of campaigning to do in the sense of communicating these messages. But as I said, I tell you know this all - every school. I'm going to school in Caboolture, I think later today, and I know the children will, will educate me - so they're leading the way with their parents.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, they certainly are. About ten years ago, Environment Minister, I was editing the Sunday Telegraph newspaper in Sydney, and banning plastic bags at shopping centres -Coles, Woolworths - making people bring their own bags; buy bags for 15 cents; whatever; it was a big issue and I honestly believed it would never happen. In the end it happened overnight. So polystyrene and those things, and having targets to 2025, it can and will happen, because now people go into Coles and Woollies and Aldi where they expect to not get a plastic bag, and I think they'd be angry if they were given them.

SUSSAN LEY: You're right, it's completely turned around. And if- you know, my daughter was working at one of the checkouts at the time and she said a lot of people were very angry when that started, and at the thought of it. But that anger dissipated really quickly…

NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] Very quickly.

SUSSAN LEY: … people requested it, and you know, it's just part of what we're doing. I mean, today in Brisbane, we're launching our plastics plan. and it's quite detailed, and as I said, it has everyone at the table. But it's about making that commitment to the Australian people, but we're going to change the way we produce and consume plastic. We know that there are circumstances where we need plastic, so it's not a never have plastic - it's just use it carefully, avoid it if you can.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah. And the recycling bins have become part of everyone's life during our lifetime, and people use them. and they respect them - probably need a little bit more of them. 

Environment Minister, yesterday was a tough day for the Government, and we saw Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, with his press conference yesterday. What were your thoughts on that while you watched it?

SUSSAN LEY: I felt for Christian Porter's anguish, and you know, he's been a friend and a colleague for ten years, and it was an awful day. It was also an awful day for all survivors of sexual abuse, because every time this is talked about there are people who are not in the news who have struggled with this for years, particularly if they're old women,  and from an era where you never talked about it, you just brushed it all under the carpet. So, whenever I talk about it, I just want to say there is help available; there are people who will give you the support that you need. And if you're feeling distressed, please reach out. So look, it was a tough day - it's been a tough couple of weeks for the Parliament, Neil. I'm really pleased that we've now got this cross party - in other words, take the politics out of it - process in place where we talk about how we can improve the culture of our workplace; and from time to time, look at the workplace of Parliament of 5000 people. Look, you know, things that shouldn't happen have happened, but we are determined to make changes.

NEIL BREEN: You're a senior female member of the Government and have been for a while. I'm talking to the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley. Is it a tough place for women to work, Canberra? Because none of us- well, not many of us have ever worked there. Is it hard for women to work it?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, I can reflect on my experience and my experience, which has been overwhelmingly positive. Before I went into Parliament I worked in aviation, when women were not seen flying aeroplanes, which I was. And I was an air traffic controller and women were not seen in the control tower, which I was. And they, if I, look back were very, very difficult experiences in time. But that doesn't mean that I would ever invalidate the experience of a woman in Parliament House. And there have been tough things that have happened, and we've had that written loud and clear. And I think that the exposure of what happened to Brittney Higgins will help us all turn the corner when it comes to how we treat victims, and how we listen to them, and how we take care of them. But I do come back to the point that it's a big workplace and I found it, overwhelmingly, a safe workplace, but that doesn't mean there aren't improvements that we can make.

NEIL BREEN: Okay. Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, thanks so much for joining me on 4BC Breakfast. Good luck with the launch of the plastics plan today. And I reckon you can tighten up those deadlines. People are on board; the shopping centre experience shows that. And thanks for launching it in Brisbane. 

SUSSAN LEY: Always a pleasure. Thanks, Neil. 

NEIL BREEN: There she is, the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley.