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NSW botched plastic bag ban

Like a scene from Utopia'

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 29 Jun 2018

As of Sunday, NSW has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the nation not to have in train a ban on single-use thin plastic bags – a stance more to do with party politics than logic or science.

Three Coalition environment ministers – Rob Stokes, Mark Speakman and Gabrielle Upton – all actively sought a ban, only to be stymied by ill-timing in the case of the first two, and intransigence in the case of the third, insiders say.

Agencies led by the NSW Environment Protection Authority did all the regulatory preparation for a phase-out, only to have then premier Mike Baird declare a “ban on bans” in late 2016 after a humiliating reversal on his government’s plan to end the greyhound racing industry in the state.

As of today, Queensland and Western Australia join the other states and territories in banning bags, nine years after South Australia first curbed them.

Victoria sifted through more than 8000 submissions from the public – the most received for any environmental issue, with 96 per cent in favour of a ban. This week, the Andrews government announced a ban on single-use plastic bags by late 2019, leaving NSW as the lone hold-out.

By the NSW government’s reckoning, the state uses 2 billion plastic bags annually, with “more than 10 million bags permanently" entering the environment, according to notes prepared for Mr Speakman before the policy's demise, and seen by Fairfax Media.

Environmental groups, such as the Boomerang Alliance, say the real figure is more like 3 billion bags out of a national total of at least 9 billion.

Taking a 2 per cent estimate of bags ending up as rubbish either from being wind-blow or being deliberately dropped, the annual litter total nudges 60 million, according to Jeff Angel, the alliance’s director.

While the bag ban had yet to receive cabinet endorsement at the time of the greyhound backflip, “it was the next cab off the rank”, one person familiar with the decision said. Mr Baird had been “on board” with the ban to that point.

The decision by Tasmania's Liberal Premier Will Hodgman to ban lightweight bags in 2013 gave "comfort" to party counterparts in NSW, another insider said.

Staff in the office of Mr Speakman – who is described by one former insider as still a passionate supporter of the phase-out – even resorted to online searches of synonyms for "ban" to skirt the then-premier's block.

“It was like a scene from Utopia,” another ex-staffer said, referring to the ABC comedy series about the quirks of bureaucracy.

Despite the setback and a change of leader to Gladys Berejiklian in early 2017, the new Environment Minister Ms Upton sought to revive the policy within months, only to be rebuffed by a Premier opposed to market interventions. Ms Upton's staff were described as “quite ropeable”.

“What's the political problem?” Mr Angel says. “It’s an ideological one inside the Premier’s office.”


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