I rise to speak in the debate on the Environment Protection and Sustainability Victoria Amendment Bill 2014. From the outset I indicate that Labor will not supporting this bill. Whilst some aspects of the bill represent forward steps in relation to the environment, there are a number of backward steps in it.
Unfortunately over the past three years Victorians have become used to backwards steps being taken by this government in terms of the environment.
The bill today has four functions, two of which Labor members support and two which we do not. The four aspects of the bill relate to the abolition of environment and resource efficiency plans, the amalgamation of waste services in Victoria, changes to landfill levy charges and the administration of funds that the levy produces and red tape changes.
A significant aspect of this bill is the abolition of Victoria’s environment and resource efficiency plans. This will have a negative impact not only on the environment but also on the 250 Victorian businesses that were the largest users of energy and water in the state. The environment and resource efficiency plans, which are commonly referred to as EREPs, required companies to implement energy and water savings that had pay-back periods of less than three years.
This program has obvious benefits for the environment as well as the finances of the businesses.
The environment and resource efficiency plan program was reviewed by the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA), which found that it has achieved savings of at least $90 million each year for those 250 businesses, yet this government is going to scrap the program. It is doing so based on two rather daft reasons. The minister has said about EREPs that they are going to be removed as they are no longer needed because of the carbon tax. If the minister is not already, he should be aware that it looks as if the carbon tax has a limited life span with the Abbott federal government in power. It seems rather strange also that the minister is using the existence of a carbon tax as an excuse, when his side of politics in this state and in the federal government has done everything to abolish it.
Another reason the Napthine government has cited for the removal of EREPs is to reduce red tape, which it estimates will produce a saving of $3.5 million. Whilst the opposition supports reducing red tape, it is foolhardy to just tick the box that says ‘reduce red tape’ without looking at the consequences. In this case the consequence is that a program that saves $90 million per annum is to be abolished, along with the environmental benefits of reducing energy and water consumption, to save $3.5 million worth of red tape costs. Along with this, in terms of saving Victorian businesses money through the EREP program, it is manufacturing businesses that are going to lose out yet again as a result of the Napthine government’s decisions. Around three-quarters of the savings being made have been attributed to the manufacturing sector, including the food manufacturing industry, which includes SPC.
The other aspects of this bill that the opposition does not support are the changes to the landfill levy in relation to the regulation of where the funding the levy draws is spent. The landfill levy is a hypothecated fund regulated under the Environment Protection (Distribution of Landfill Levy) Regulations 2010 to ensure that money generated from the fund is invested in what the levy is in place to do — that is, assist in supporting efforts by government, industry and the community to reduce waste. However, the bill before us today will mean the Environment Protection Fund and the Sustainability Fund will be administered by the department. This causes the opposition great concern in terms of transparency and scrutiny over the use of this money and its potential use on things other than what the levy is raised for. This is a significant backwards step which the government should absolutely reconsider.
The bill before us today also goes to making sure that the 12 regional waste and resource recovery services are reduced to 6. It has been raised by other opposition speakers that the issue of regional representation on these boards is paramount; however, it is not mentioned in the bill. This has caused some nervousness and anxiety, particularly in the larger regional cities such as Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. Those from Geelong and Ballarat have certainly made their voices heard when they have contacted my office on this issue. Naturally these regions insist — and the opposition agrees — that they must have a position at the new board tables. To not provide this would be to undermine a key intention of the bill.
The opposition supports the provisions relating to red tape reduction contained in this bill. Specifically the bill provides the EPA with the ability to issue waste transport permits for up to five years and to grant works approval exemptions where there are no adverse impacts.
In conclusion, as I have previously stated, the Labor opposition does not support this bill as it undoes a lot of excellent work that has been done in the past and which would continue through the EREPs. The two aspects of this bill that the Labor opposition will certainly not support are two more examples of the Napthine government’s failure to protect our environment. Whether it is significant cuts and underresourcing of the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, alpine grazing, the cuts to EPA funding, Parks Victoria staff cuts, the dismantling of the Climate Change Act 2010 or slashing the solar feed-in tariff — the list goes on and on — today the Napthine government is just adding to that list.