The Rudd Labor Government has all but abandoned its policy position of phasing out single use plastic bags in the face of high economic costs, Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Under questioning in Senate Budget Estimates late yesterday, it was revealed the economic cost of banning plastic bags would be $78 million per annum, while a 20 cent levy would cost the economy $82 million.
“Officials also revealed these costs would be even higher where states choose to implement their own schemes in the absence of a national solution,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“Despite this, Climate Change and Water Minister Penny Wong refused to commit the Government to a phase out of plastic bags, and wouldn’t even offer a position on South Australia’s decision to go it alone with a ban from next year.
“Embarrassingly, Senator Wong has also conceded that the promised new era of Federal-State cooperation so central to the election campaign is already over.
“Each jurisdiction obviously makes its own decisions about what approach it will take … We are a federation and notwithstanding that there are some different views between states … we seek to work as cooperatively as we are able to through these Ministerial Council processes.”
                                    Senator Wong, Senate Budget Estimates, 29 May 2008
“Having committed to phasing out plastic bags by early next year, the Government is now in the embarrassing position of watching the states, with whom it promised a new spirit of cooperation, head in vastly different directions,” Senator Birmingham said.
“Astonishingly, the Rudd Government remains committed to the Ministerial Council process without a position of its own, even as the states are giving up on the process and going it alone after failing to reach a consensus at last month’s meeting.
“Peter Garrett is the hapless Minister with portfolio responsibility for plastic bags, whose bungling of this issue Senator Wong has been forced to defend under the Senate pairing arrangements used in Estimates.
“Mr Garrett continues to demonstrate that even with the difficult issues of Climate Change removed from his areas of responsibility, he is totally out of his depth.
“Federal Labor’s pledges to phase out plastic bags weren’t worth the weight of a plastic bag blowing out to sea, and the Government has been exposed as totally clueless.”