File photo. Photo: Tamara Voninski
The Canberra Liberals will overturn the territory’s ban on free plastic bags if they win October’s ACT election.
‘‘If businesses have adapted to the ban and would like to continue charging for bags, they are welcome to do so. But if they don’t, they won’t be lumped with a $27,500 penalty,’’ ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja said in a statement today.
‘‘This is about bringing sense and evidence back to government decision making.’’
The policy announcement is in contrast to the 2004 election campaign, when the Liberals promised to ban free plastic bags in the ACT.
The change in policy has prompted Environment Minister Simon Corbell to label the Liberals hypocrites, sending out copies of flyers used by Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne in the 2004 campaign which advocate a "plastic bag free" Canberra by 2006.
“It is disappointing to see the next instalment of environmental backward-thinking from the opposition leader who seems intent on wrecking any attempts to better protect the local environment in the ACT,” Mr Corbell said.
Mr Seselja said last night ‘‘a lot had changed since then’’, with information from independent bodies such as the Productivity Commission questioning the value of a ban.
He said today that his party had voted against the ban during this term of the Assembly because it did not think there was the environmental evidence to justify the move.
‘‘Britain’s Environmental Protection Agency found that shoppers would have to use the same cotton bag every working day for a year to have a lesser impact than a lightweight plastic bag,’’ he said.
‘‘The Productivity Commission found that ‘based on the evidence available to the Commission, it appears that the Australian, State and Territory Governments do not have a sound case for proceeding with their proposed phase out of plastic retail carry bags’.‘‘
It comes as the ACT government is criticised for leaving a review of its controversial plastic bag ban until after the election. The Liberals say voters should go to the polls understanding how effective the ban has been - or not.
The ACT Greens, meanwhile, say they doubt the issue of plastic bags will be a game-changer in the upcoming election and believe a repeal of the ban would be ‘‘very counterproductive’’.
Mr Corbell says under the act the review was not meant to occur until November 2013, two years after the ban started. But he had brought it forward by 12 months, saying it couldn’t be done any earlier. ‘‘A full year’s data is required as a minimum to allow for an effective review,’’ he said.
Mr Seselja said at least some preliminary results should be made available to the electorate.
‘‘The government is denying voters an understanding of the ban’s environmental impacts by not undertaking a review until after the election,’’ he said.
The review will take place in November - after the October 20 election - and for the first time provide figures on the amount of plastic bags, bin liners and other plastic packaging that has been used since the ban came into force in November last year.
The review will also look at the number of plastic bags in litter in the ACT, South Australia and Northern Territory, where bans are in force, against states that do not have a plastic bag ban.
Mr Corbell said the government would also look to a plastic bag advisory committee, set up by the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate, to ‘‘assist in the review of the ban and its impact on supermarkets and retailers through looking at data on the provision or sale of plastic bags, reusable bags and bin liners both prior to and after the ban’’.
Mr Corbell couldn’t say if the government would change its stance.
‘‘It would be premature to speculate on the outcomes of the review,’’ he said.
The new laws ban thin plastic bags of 35 microns or less but allows other thicker bags, with most supermarkets charging their customers for them.
Greens spokeswoman on territory and municipal affairs Caroline Le Couteur said while it would be preferable to have the review results before the election, it wasn’t ‘‘disastrous’’ to get them after the poll.
Ms Le Couteur said the Greens contacted every supermarket in Canberra mid-year to gauge the effects of the plastic bag ban. They received eight responses, including from some Coles, Woolworths and IGA supermarkets. ‘‘Everyone said there was no doubt the use of plastic bags had fallen,’’ she said.