QUEENSLAND is moving closer to shutting the door on an interstate trade that sees upwards of a million tonnes of waste a year generated in NSW dumped across the border.
The state looks set to reintroduce a waste levy that would hike up charges for waste disposal firms on every tonne of waste that wasn’t recycled.
On Tuesday, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk faced a room of 400 residents of the Brisbane suburb of Ipswich.
“We’ve got to stop all that NSW rubbish coming into Queensland,” Ms Palaszczuk said, reported the Courier Mail.
The town is in the crosshairs of the waste war. Outside the town sit a series of huge dumps, many in former quarries, where waste from Sydney and other parts of NSW is buried every day.
But the Liberal National Party (LNP) opposition, who removed a previous levy when they held office, have said its reintroduction is akin to a “wheelie bin tax” that could put up the price of new build homes. They favour measures which could include stopping and inspecting trucks on the border.
Queensland’s lack of a waste levy has been a under scrutiny for years. In 2013, under the Campbell Newman LNP Government, the levy was removed with then Environment Minister Andrew Powell calling it “simply a cash-grab by the former government that delivered no tangible environmental benefit and … encouraged illegal dumping”.
WHY NSW’S WASTE IS HEADING NORTH
But now Queensland has become the dumping ground after NSW put in place its own levy which is currently as high as $138 per tonne of waste sent to landfill.
“The idea of the (NSW) waste levy was to divert from landfill in NSW but now that levy is subsidising the cost of transporting waste to landfill from NSW to Queensland,” Tony Khoury, the Executive Director of the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association which represents the waste industry in NSW, told news.com.au late last year.
“When the levy got past $90 a tonne and Queensland got rid of their levy that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
It became more cost effective for some firms to ship rubbish to levy-free Queensland, filling up landfill sites, and denying the NSW Government some $114 million annually in lost fees. In some cases, NSW firms exhumed already buried waste and reburied it in Ipswich.
WHEELIE BIN TAX
Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) chief executive, Gayle Sloan, told news.com.au it had been thought around 600,000 tonnes of waste annually was being sent north, but that was a big underestimation.
“More than a million tonnes of construction and development waste is leaving NSW meaning NSW is not getting the benefit of those jobs or the benefit of recycling.
“While some waste crossing the border is legitimate, from northern NSW to the closest facility, the community doesn’t expect us to be transporting waste over large distances to Queensland just to avoid a levy, that’s not OK.”
The nightly rubbish exodus from NSW has been blamed for a series of road accidents as waste laden, and often shoddily maintained, trucks topple over on the Pacific Highway.
Up to 75 rubbish trucks a day, labelled by one insider as “sh**boxes.” leave NSW.
Ms Sloan welcomed Ms Palaszczuk’s flagging of a new levy, which could take away the financial incentive to send the waste to Queensland. But to the opposition it’s an anathema.
LNP Environment Spokesman David Crisafulli told news.com.au: “Dumping of NSW waste is certainly an issue, it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with, but I’m not convinced putting a tax on someone in Cairns is a solution for problem in a handful of locations in south-east Queensland.”
He labelled the proposed levy a “wheelie bin tax” and a “money grab” that wouldn’t change the behaviour of any Queenslanders and could add thousands to the cost of a new home.
Rather, there should be more regulation and enforcement, preventing the trucks from penetrating the porous state line, Mr Crisafulli said.
“Part of it is making sure people are not coming across the border and part is the Government not approving these mega dumps,” he said.
‘COME ON IN’
Ms Sloan disagreed: “It’s not a tax because you don’t pay it if you divert landfill, that’s the incentive.”
She said while 2.8 jobs were created for every 100,000 tonnes of waste sent to landfill, 9.2 jobs were created for every 100,000 tonnes of waste diverted, much of that because sorting the rubbish is more labour intensive.
“What the LNP is doing is blocking jobs and investment,” she said.
According to the 2016 Australian National Waste Report, Queensland has the second lowest rate for recycling rubbish at 38 per cent, which is 20 percentage points below the national average.
Talking in Parliament last week, Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch bristled at talk of a wheelie bin tax.
“We will ensure that this state is not a dumping ground for others’ waste, unlike those opposite who pretty much opened the floodgate and said, ‘Come on in’,” she said.
The Government has commissioned a report into the waste industry, which is likely to recommend a levy however, that has yet to be considered by Cabinet.