Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) CEO Rick Ralph shares his optimism for the regulatory environment in the state following eight years of volatility for his association’s members.
Over the past eight years, the Queensland waste and recycling industry has had to endure arguably more than its fair share of regulatory and policy instability.
While on one hand Queensland politicians staunchly protect its position as having the best environmental performance and tourism locations on the planet, on the flip side it has also has a very poor history and constant revolving door of the stewards responsible for guarding this.
Queensland has had at least seven Ministers and seven Director Generals with whom WRIQ has had to educate, negotiate and build a level of understanding and trust the industry could have confidence in – all since its formation a mere eight years ago.
It was, therefore, with a degree of genuine scepticism following the 2015 election result that we scheduled our first industry meeting with another new environment minister, Dr Steven Miles.
I recall clearly the frankness and honesty of that discussion. What resonated was Dr Miles’ statement that he would not act hastily on changing anything until he had been well briefed, formed positions based on fact, and had clear in the Government’s mind an agenda that would bring a level of confidence and leadership Queensland business and our sector clearly needed.
Under previous governments, it seemed that regulation reform agendas were measured by how many ticks on the whiteboard a department was given for removing regulation.
We have witnessed the stripping of environmental licensing across all levels of the sector. This has led to dumping and stockpiling of used tyres, the approval of a landfill capable of accepting the most complex wastes without any environmental impact statement, public consultation process and approval by the regulator in just a handful of weeks.
We have also seen residuals generated from some coal seam gas operations now being approved as applicable for land spraying, whereas similar and like streams are still classified as regulated wastes. All of this in the interests of ‘Green Tape’ reforms for business?
Queensland needed a new vision for this industry and WRIQ took up that challenge.
Plan for change
In May 2014, the association published its Economic and Jobs Plan from Queensland’s Waste Management and Secondary Resources Industry. It prescribes a five-part action plan for change.
In December 2014, it published its 2015 State Election Policy position, seeking formal party responses to this industry plan. On May, in her charter letter outlining the priorities for the new Ministers, the Queensland Premier asked the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Dr Miles, to provide WRIQ with a detailed government response to that document as one of his actions in this term of government. That response has now been received. It presents WRIQ with confidence that our ideas are worthy of government pursuit.
WRIQ’s Action Plan maps a concise and clear pathway that focuses on the opportunities that can be delivered by the waste management and recycling industry.
The plan delivers both in terms of policy formation and of introducing sensible regulatory adjustment and functions. It scopes and sets out a methodical and structured gateway for government to adopt, which can all be done without wholesale changes to existing regulation or the introduction of new legislation. It promotes concepts that are internationally acceptable, are robust and were peer reviewed internationally.
The presented and accepted WRIQ Action Plan was designed and is aligned to arguably the greatest survivor of the rigours of Queensland’s regulation revolution: the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011.
In this Act and its subordinate legislation are all the tools the waste management industry in Queensland needs to reform itself. Up until now, this has been totally ignored by the very department responsible for waste policy from the day it was gazetted, but that is changing.
On 29 October, in a statement to the Queensland Parliament introducing reforms proposed for this industry, Dr Miles said: “Queensland’s waste industry provides an absolutely essential service for business, industry and the whole community. The waste industry is more than an essential service.
It is at the front line of a transition to a more environmentally-friendly economy. I am excited by the steps being taken in the waste industry to modernise Queensland’s economy, improve efficiency and grow new jobs – all while addressing our environmental challenges.”
A listening government
Beyond doubt, Queensland finally has a government listening and understanding what this industry is saying.
The sector’s greatest challenges remain: how we right the wrongs of stripped environmental regulation, how we can increase our recycling performance and, importantly, how we grow jobs, security of the sector and retain long-term business confidence.
The actions arising from the minister’s compliance crackdown on unlawful operations under Operation TORA, the future policy areas currently out for discussion (including the possible introduction of landfill bans), and the proposed redesign of the industry’s licensing arrangements, coupled with the review of our outdated regulated wastes management systems, means the industry has a new pathway to walk.
We have a lot of work to get sorted, including whether we need or should introduce container deposit systems, but at least the conversations are happening.
The greatest lesson and takeaway from what has been a very tough and challenging time for our industry over the past eight years is that associations must take the lead when constant change is being thrown at them. They must put forward their members’ views, separating reactionary responses to government and leading an alternative conversation.
WRIQ has done that successfully.
Our hard work now starts on delivering that realisation, ensuring the results are enduring and that this good work cannot be undone by future governments with self-serving agendas that work against business.
WRIQ is the association representing legitimate waste and recycling operators in Queensland.
WRIQ promotes thought leadership to all its stakeholders, advocating industry issues with purpose and focus for achieving sound economic outcomes, underpinned by innovative environmental practices.
Rick Ralph can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 07 3375 6961.