NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean says local councils have been shut out of the waste and resource recovery conversation for too long, due to a “cosy” relationship between government and industry.
Addressing delegates at the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council’s (NWRIC) Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo industry breakfast, Mr Kean said his department intends to bring councils and the wider community back to the decision making table.
“Policy has been developed for too long by government working with industry, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but costs keep rising for communities and local councils. Lets not forget that waste is over a third of peoples council rates,” Mr Kean said.
“Rate-capping caps the amount of council rates on every single item on the bill except for waste, so there’s been no incentive for industry to delivered cheaper, better outcomes for the community, and that’s something I would like to see change.”
Mr Kean added that after speaking with local councils, it was clear to him that they agree.
“We need to have them as part of the conversation, and we need them at the table to talk to industry and develop policy that is going to deliver waste management services in the cheapest most environmentally sound way possible,” Mr Kean said.
“We need everyone effected by this industry to be part of the conversation, and that’s what I’m looking to do differently to my predecessors.”
At the event, chaired by NWRIC CEO Rose Read, Mr Kean also addressed the Council of Australian Government’s recent proposal to ban international waste exports.
According to Mr Kean, NSW is working closely with other governments to develop a ban timeline, which he anticipates will be tabled next month, following the November Meeting of Environment Ministers.
“We need to face the fact that the export of waste undermined the confidence of consumers who expected that when they were told they were recycling waste it was actually being recycled, the same goes for MWOO, I just want to point that out as well,” Mr Kean said.
“That’s why I was proud to sign up to a timetable to ban export waste. It’s a step towards rebuilding consumer confidence and delivering improvement in our waste management practices, including recycling.”
When asked by Ms Read why NSW’s waste levy revenue was not being reinvested in industry, Mr Kean said he had concerns over how levy revenue is currently spent.
Mr Kean added that he doesn’t believe scattering the levy delivers good environmental outcomes and said his department will review levies and targets in the 20 year waste strategy.
Ms Read also asked Mr Kean whether the state government was open to establishing a trust account to report on where levy funds are spent.
The Environment Minister replied that he wouldn’t make policy commitments on the fly, and said his government is committed to establishing policy in a considered and comprehensive manner.
Additionally, Mr Kean said his department would work to deliver greater policy and funding transparency.
Referencing NSW’s forthcoming 20 year waste strategy, Mr Kean called the policy a “huge body of work,” and reiterated the importance of working with local government to deliver positive outcomes.
“When I became the minister earlier this year, the 20 year waste strategy was flagged and it was underway, but I asked the department to put a hold on that strategy because I believe it needs to be more comprehensive,” Mr Kean said.
“I’ve reset the agenda in terms of what I want the strategy to achieve, and that agenda will be developed in consultation with industry, with local government and the community. We hope there will be a discussion paper early next year.”
Mr Kean said he hopes to deliver a strategy that provides industry certainty and enables investment before the end of 2020.
“It cant just work for Sydney, its got to work for the regions as well,” Mr Kean said.
“Major reform is on the table, so I’ve asked my department to engage in frank conversations with community groups, local councils and industry about how we can better deliver outcomes.”