Scott Morrison has expanded the Coalition’s war on waste to tackling the proliferation of plastic in the Pacific on top of national plans to stop exporting rubbish to Asian countries as the government moves to bolster its environmental credentials amid continuing criticism of its climate change policies.
As he wrapped up the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu on Friday, the Prime Minister announced a $16 million program to attack waste in the Pacific, arguing plastics in the food chain were damaging the health of the region’s citizens, including contributing to falling fertility rates.
The announcement came a week after the Prime Minister pushed the states to end the export of waste materials to Asia, a move which will force the creation of a larger domestic recycling industry.
Despite criticism from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Pacific Islands leaders the Prime Minister also defended Australia’s climate change policies, arguing the nation will meet its 2020 emissions reduction targets and that its emissions per capita are among the most ambitious in the world.
The move to ramp up the government’s climate change credentials comes as senior figures in the Liberal Party recognise the need for the Coalition to fight back against attacks from the Greens and GetUp on its environmental policies which have had an impact on its support levels in key inner-metropolitan seats which were once considered blue ribbon.
At the May federal election, the government lost Warringah, held by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, to independent Zali Steggall who ran on a climate change platform and suffered swings in Melbourne seats such Kooyong and Higgins in Melbourne which are considered jewels in the Liberals’ crown.
Mr Morrison also moved to fight back against GetUp, questioning the group’s independence and referring to them as a shady group that operated in the shadows.
Unveiling his latest program in Tuvalu, Mr Morrison promised $16m to the Pacific Ocean Litter Project (POLP) designed to support Pacific Island nations reduce the local dependence on single use plastics, with the funding lasting through to 2025.
Mr Morrison even tied his fight on plastics to helping Pacific Island nations dealing with issues with fertility caused by plastics contamination in the food chain.
“The issue of plastics pollution in the Pacific is a very serious one,” he said.
“I intend for that to become an even more significant part of Australia’s global environmental advocacy in the years ahead.
“And that starts with making sure we take care of our own waste. Our waste, our responsibility and ensuring that we’re recycling our waste in Australia, not shipping it off to other third countries so it can find itself, particularly in terms of plastics, floating off the Great Barrier Reef or other parts of the Pacific.
“And I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the research but, I mean, that isn’t just about visual pollution or anything like that. It actually gets its way into the food chain of the Pacific and it ends up deteriorating fertility in Pacific Island peoples and that’s why these issues are so important.”
The Morrison Government announced earlier this week that the recycling industry will be bolstered by $20 million in a bid to reduce dependence on landfill and create jobs, as part of a push to stop Australian recyclable waste being exported overseas.
Mr Morrison’s in-principle agreement with state and territory leaders earlier this month to ban recyclable waste exports was struck following concerns that exported Australian waste was being dumped in the oceans. While a timetable is yet to be decided, Mr Morrison said at the meeting: “I don’t think it’ll be years. I think it could happen a lot sooner than that”.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley told The Weekend Australian that POLP would focus on basic plastics and were part of her wider plan to clean up the regional environment.
“It’s emphasis is on take away food and drink containers, discarded fishing nets, plastic bags and plastic straws. Some funding was already provided to reduce plastic use at the recent Pacific Games, held in Samoa,” she said.
“Funding will be provided through DFAT and run from 2019 to 2025 and the program implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. The activities will be rolled out over the next 6 years.
“We will also reduce pressure on waste in our region through our decision to put an end to recycled waste exports and grow the recycling capacity and technology of local industry instead.”