August 31, 2020

Federation Chamber

I thank the Member for Higgins for this motion.

When China announced a ban on the import of recyclable plastic two years ago, it sparked a rethink of the way we do things that can lead to more investment in the regions and more jobs in the regions. Recycling is, in fact, a recycled idea.

I come from a family of recyclers. My father, Jack Carew, was famous for bringing more things home from the tip than he ever took there. My brothers and I all had our bicycles built from recycled bits and pieces that dad found. My mother-in-law, Dorothy Haines, was quite famous for cutting up the fingers on rubber gloves and turning them into rubber bands.

But today I really want to talk about the opportunities we have for jobs. That’s the story I think we need to be telling.

Being smarter about how we use resources is not just an environmental but a jobs opportunity and a regional jobs opportunity. What would it look like if we got serious about growing jobs in recycling in regional Australia? I’d like to give you three examples.

The World Wildlife Fund has published a $500 million proposal to establish a new domestic battery industry. Their plan would see Australia build seven new battery manufacturing plants, one lithium refinery plant and a suite of new infrastructure to recycle 6,000 tonnes of battery waste every year. This framework is an integrated mining-manufacturing-recycling chain, with jobs at every step of the process. The recycling part alone would create 7,000 jobs, mainly in regional Australia.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the potential of renewables in regional Australia, and one question I get a lot is: ‘What about the waste? What happens when a solar panel or battery reaches the end of its life?’

These are reasonable questions. The answer is a positive one. This is another part of the recyclable, renewable opportunity for us. CSIRO estimates that today’s lack of battery recycling in Australia represents a lost economic opportunity (ranging) from $813 million right through to possibly up to $3 billion.

Recycling organic waste is a second major opportunity for the regions. Consulting firm AlphaBeta last month released analysis conducted for the Climate Council that showed that expanding the collection and processing of organic waste could create 10,000 jobs over three years. This would be a new fleet of 10,000 organic waste collectors, treatment facility operators and construction workers. Most states have few or no organic waste recycling programs. In Queensland just one per cent of local councils have an organic waste recycling program. The opportunities at the local level are simply massive.

We don’t need to just compost our organic waste. We can make energy from it. In Indi we host Australia’s largest renewable biodiesel producer at Barnawartha. Just Biodiesel produces 50 million litres of biodiesel each year. It’s made mainly from tallow and recycled vegetable oil. Our region generates 1.5 million tonnes of organic waste, mostly agricultural waste, like straw and forestry residues. Together these resources could supply 18 million gigajoules of energy a year. There is huge potential for a new regional export industry from this.

Right now our economic challenges dictate that we should be making targeted investments in strategic industries that create jobs quickly, building our sovereign capabilities so we aren’t beholden to what other countries do, and laying the foundation for industries that will drive our prosperity for generations.

Taking seriously our potential to use our resources smarter — our plastics, solar panels, batteries and organic waste — and transform them into new products would mean thousands of new jobs for regional Australia. I am really interested in that. I hope that the government is too and that it is smart enough to capture that opportunity for the regions for all of us so that we can not only recycle but create jobs.

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