PIERS VERSTEGEN is director of the WA conservation council and in this week’s THINKING ALLOWED he has a go at the Liberals for stopping Fremantle’s plastic bag ban.
THE move by Peter Katsambanis MLC and his Liberal party colleagues to overturn a council by-law banning plastic shopping bags in the City of Fremantle shows something is seriously wrong in our WA state parliament.
There is no doubt that plastic bags are a major problem. Tens of millions end up in litter and landfill, polluting our rivers and oceans and choking our marine life every year.
But this isn’t really about plastic bags. This is about Liberal MPs acting on behalf of unnamed business interests to block a genuine community-led solution to a serious environmental issue where successive state and commonwealth governments have refused to take action.
Extensive consultation had been undertaken in Fremantle to develop a workable solution to plastic pollution that was supported by Fremantle businesses and the Fremantle community.
The City of Fremantle local law had the backing of a parliamentary committee and is supported by the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce.
Despite support from local business leaders, Mr Katsambanis — whose north metropolitan upper house region electorate does not include Fremantle — claimed his blocking motion was in the interests of local retailers who had expressed concerns.
If Mr Katsambanis and his parliamentary colleagues are acting on behalf of businesses to block community-led environmental reforms then the community has a right to know which businesses he is acting on behalf of.
Perhaps their concerns could be allayed if those businesses bothered to engage with the local community that is both their host and the source of their profits.
The move to block this local initiative sets an extremely worrying precedent at a time when people are increasingly turning to local governments where state and commonwealth governments are failing to represent their interests.
In the midwest, local shires are responding to farming communities fighting to protect their land, water and livelihoods from gas fracking while at the same time the state government subsidises drilling through their drinking water aquifers.
In the southwest, shires have supported local community efforts to protect high-conservation forests from the chip mill while the state continues to subsidise a loss-making logging industry that is exempt from wildlife protection laws.
Whether it is supporting communities to reduce plastic pollution, oppose nuclear activities, protect forests, or prevent pollution from gas fracking, local government has a critical role in working with communities to address environment and sustainability challenges.
Where the state parliament is unwilling or unable to represent the interests of communities and the environment, they should at least get out of the way when others show their own initiative.
Ed note: Mr Katsambanis’s electorate includes North Fremantle, which he’d noted in his speech to Parliament.