Waste Management In Action

The private sector’s hip pocket: WRIQ

Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland (WRIQ), in partnership with state and national affiliates, is taking a deep dive into levy collection and expenditure and is calling for transparency and better equity in the distribution of levies.

Mark Smith, CEO of Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland (WRIQ) says a series of compounding factors has Australia on the cusp of greatness.

He is optimistic about the industry’s ability to create collective opportunities that support Australia’s sovereign capabilities and local job growth.

“To tap into an economic opportunity worth billions to state and national economies, we need to seize the opportunity ahead of us and this includes recasting our traditional market intervention strategies.”

There has been a lot of change in community expectations, international trade and regulation for the sector in recent years.

Governments on all levels have now carved out a role in waste and resource recovery, but it is usually always the private sector that are running services, owning and managing assets.

Smith says the private sector is by far the largest investor, employer, owner and operator of the waste, resource recovery and circular economy network.

“The businesses my affiliate partners and I represent are the businesses across Australia that contribute billions of dollars annually to the economy, employing tens and thousands of Australians,” he says.

The sector manages fleets of vehicles, thousands of pieces of machinery and equipment and invests in infrastructure and other assets.

“Our function is to service Australian households and businesses managing the environmental impacts of our economy and upskill, train and employ Australians in the process,” Smith says.

“We do a lot more than just sort recycling at material recovery facilities.”

He highlights that Australia’s waste and resource recovery network comprises millions of bins across homes, construction sites, workplaces, hospitals, schools and public spaces.

“By investing in and supporting our waste and recycling system, we are indirectly investing in every aspect of the broader economy. But what should investment and support look like?” Smith says.

The government intervenes in the market at various points in the supply chain in order to ensure safety, environmental protection and market fairness through regulation.

“Government seeks to drive change through policies, regulation and levies. This is a good thing as it helps creates the certainty business require to invest the billions of dollars Australia needs to establish a more efficient and effective waste and resource recovery network,” Smith notes.

“The waste and resource recovery sector is complex and dynamic, and is vital to Australia’s long term success. We, like the rest of the country, are also in a state of transition as we see an increased focus by the states and the commonwealth to build Australia’s sovereign capabilities on a number of fronts including managing our own wastes better.”

Smith is keen to create more transparency around government intervention to better inform future spending such as recovery or support packages that may be announced in coming months as Australia prepares for the COVID-19 rebuild.

“What we’ve seen over the last few years is a range of market interventions by governments which has included the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars to offset market failures, build infrastructure and bailout failed business models,” he says.

This has raised questions with Smith and his affiliate partners to understand where grant investments are being distributed.

“No one wants there to be reduced funding to the sector or for grants to stop. But no one currently is collecting information about what is being funded, where it is being funded and if the process to access that funding is fit for purpose and what business needs,” Smith says.

“Industry should also highlight inequities with regard to market intervention and put forward ideas on how things can be done better where those ideas exist.”

WRIQ has committed to undertake a research project, with the support of its affiliates, to investigate government expenditure through sector grants.

In August, the Association began the process of reviewing landfill levies from the 2017-18 financial year to the end of the 19-20 financial year.

Smith importantly notes that the purpose of the research project is to not criticise government funding or intervention in any way, but to enhance private and public collaboration that will enable further industry growth and be essential in the post-COVID-19 rebuild.

The iniative follows the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council’s (NWRIC) 2019 policy roadmap, which aimed to harmonise levies across Australia and make levy liability portable across state borders.

“We want to use the findings to put forward ideas and solutions around creating better equity in the distribution of money that the sector is primarily collecting on government’s behalf,” Smith says.

“We want to unpack how much levy has been collected across the country and how much of that levy has then gone back into the sector through the distribution of grants and other programs.”

WRIQ will also investigate how much grant funding has gone into waste education, and on the opposite end, how much has been diverted away from the sector into other environmental programs.

“It’s important to know who the beneficiaries of these grants are in the waste and recovery sector. Is it small to medium businesses? Maybe it’s large operators or perhaps local councils,” Smith says.

WRIQ is eager to understand which regions are receiving the most and least grant funding.

“Our team is interested in finding out what regions are actually seeing the funds being distributed back to them as we know community benefit is a major driver to build support for waste and recycling services and contributes to the sector’s social licence.”

Smith highlights that the project’s intent is to streamline funding distribution across the sector to promote harmonisation.

WRIQ, with support of state affiliates, will be carrying out a grant user experience survey in September.

“I encourage anyone that has an opinion on this issue, whether it be small or big to get involved,” Smith says.

“Please reach out as we’d love to hear about your experiences.”

For more information contact Mark Smith at mark.smith@wriq.com.au 

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