By Julian Bajkowski
Beverage companies have rolled out the heavy artillery in an escalating war of words aimed at councils and consumers over the proposed introduction of a National Container Deposit Scheme.
In a new advertising campaign the drinks industry likens the idea of putting a price on bottles to reduce rubbish as the equivalent of the Carbon Tax.
“A 1970s solution to a 2013 problem is absolutely absurd,” said Geoff Parker, chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council – the industry group backing the ads – told Government News.
“Like the Carbon Tax was a carbon pollution reduction scheme putting a price on Carbon, this is a container deposit scheme which is putting a putting a price on the container.”
It may not be an original tactic, but the Australian Beverage Council is betting an anti-tax stand like the one run by the mining industry against the former federal government will similarly pay off in spades.
Its blitz comes as the new Abbott government starts horse-trading with the states and territories over reworked funding arrangements for environmental projects under the so-called Direct Action platform.
After years of negotiations at the Council of Australian Governments, Canberra is once again under pressure to dump the idea of a price on container rubbish that would move disposal costs from councils and ratepayers back to its producers.
The well-resourced fight-back campaign to swing public opinion and label the idea of container deposits as a tax is a serious headache for hundreds of councils across Australia.
Many local governments have spent more than a decade working towards a workable system that transfers container rubbish costs away from ratepayers and returns them to manufacturers in the same was as many other polluters are required to pay their way.
For cash strapped councils, the increasing volumes of plastic and glass container rubbish, ranging from beer cans to bottled water, is an impost on their budgets that equates to a big ratepayer subsidy.
Councils and environmental groups have so far been successful in bringing technology manufacturers to book by forcing the instigation of free disposal of e-waste by consumers where industry helps pick up the tab for collecting toxic trash to keep it out of landfill.
The heat in what some have dubbed the ‘battle of the bottle’ can be explained by the large amounts of money at stake for both sides of the debate.
In December 2011, the Council of Australian Governments Standing Council on Environment and Water found that around $2.72 billion in costs could be avoided by local and governments under a national scheme using the so-called ‘Option 4’ mechanism that sheeted the most cost back to industry.
Those costs are not small either, with the same report (CDS Packaging Impacts Consultation Regulation Impact Statement) estimating that the beverages industry could cop a $4.7 billion bill.
Those figures help frame why beverages industry isn’t going quietly.
Over the past week a series of hard-hitting campaign ads have run that warn that prices for beer, soft drinks and fruit juices will jump if container deposits are introduced.
“The industry has put forward a solutions which is going to be 1/28th of the cost of the container deposit scheme, we just think there are smarter ways to go about increasing recycling [and] reducing litter rather than getting scout groups and girl guide groups to do an emu-parade of the country,” Mr Parker said.
Mr Parker would not disclose the campaign’s ad budget but said he believed it would cut through to families, even if it was the third iteration of an anti-tax ad that followed big campaigns against the mining tax and carbon tax.
“Families, at this point in time, the last thing they want is another tax. At the end of the day it is another tax, because whilst there is a refundable part to it, even if someone takes a can back to the collection depot and gets their 10c, the price of drinks is going to go up by 20c,” Mr Parker said.
Mr Parker said the a container deposit scheme would “push-up a family’s annual grocery bill by $300.”
He also rejected the idea that councils were generally backing a NCDS. “You are probably going to get a different answer from every council you speak to,” Mr Parker said.
If Local Government New South Wales has previously appeared keen for a NCDS, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) is still keeping an open mind. But it knows who picks up the bill for picking up trash.
“The cost of cleaning up falls primarily on councils and is therefore picked up by local residents,” and ALGA spokesperson said.
“Councils across Australia are keen to work with their state or territory governments on effective policy initiatives to reduce waste and litter and to increase recycling. Some states and territories support Container Deposit Legislation, others do not.
“ALGA is yet to receive a copy of the Decision Regulatory Impact Statement on Beverage Containers which will help to inform the debate at the Standing Council for Environment and Water,” the spokesperson said.
But the beverage industry isn’t sparing the fizz in what has been a long wait for the report.
Mr Parker also rejected the notion that savings for ratepayers might ease other price increases.
“What the councils do over 24 months [or] 36 months, while they sort themselves out, is yet to be determined,” Mr Parker said.
“I’ve never heard of any council rates going down. I’d be surprised if any councils are going to lower their rates.”
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