Plastics Pollution

Last week in the Cessnock electorate, like many members of Parliament, I had a number of appointments. I am sure all members will agree that meeting our constituents and hearing their various concerns, whether in the office or out on the road, is one of the best parts of the job. We rely very much on the information we get from our constituents—their thoughts, ideas, dreams, hopes and aspirations—to form our views about what we represent in this Chamber, as that is our fundamental job long before we belong to a political party of any colour.

Last week I had an appointment with two your girls from year 6 at Bellbird Public School. They had made the appointment themselves to speak to their local member of Parliament and so a time was arranged. Fortunately their wonderful schoolteacher—as most schoolteachers are—was willing to drive them to the office and return them to school safely, having gone through the necessary protocols with their parents to make sure that taking them offsite and getting them onsite at the school was ticked off. That was smooth. I did not know what the meeting was about and I did not care.

If a couple of year 6 girls or boys from a local school say they want to meet with the local MP the answer is yes; details can come later. I met with the two young students. One young girl was called Charlize and the other was called November. We sat down and I said, “Okay ladies, what are we here to talk about?” They replied, “Plastic”. I said, “What’s going on?” We spent the next 30 minutes talking about their thoughts and ideas about single‑use plastic, the direction we should be heading in, what we as a community could do, how they were inspired by some people in Australia and New South Wales and the direction New South Wales needs to take in the future.

I will talk shortly about some of the girls’ comments but first I want to acknowledge something wonderful that their school does on Wednesdays. I think the term it uses is “waste-free Wednesdays” and it relates to the food eaten at lunch and recess. On a Wednesday any by‑product of recess or lunch—for example, a juice packet or a chips wrapper—is collected, the students weigh the collected waste and the winning class or group gets a prize at the end of each term. It is a great initiative and it is good fun. I add that the term “war on waste” has been made popular by a wonderful series on the ABC.

I will now talk about the issue that November was concerned about—plastic straws. It is not a new issue in 2019, but if someone had raised it in 2015 or 2016 we might have thought they were a little crazy. It is a growing issue that we are stepping away from. In her presentation November wrote, “In 2017 a little girl named Molly Steer started a program called Straw No More when she was just nine years old. Did you know that little Molly got rid of plastic straws out of Cairns and in far north Queensland? That’s a massive thing to do and that’s what I want to do for my Cessnock community.” Hearing that I was tempted to give young November a membership form and sign her up. I thought she could be a future member for Cessnock and probably do a much better job than I can ever do.

Mr Alister Henskens: Wrong party.

Mr CLAYTON BARR: Labor, of course. What a wonderful aspiration that young girl has. She wants to rid Cessnock of plastic straws. We will try to do bits and pieces. Charlize wants to get rid of single‑use plastic. She said, “Plastic pollution has gotten to the point where it’s more than repulsive. It is one of the biggest issues in the atmosphere and it’s even said that the first ever plastic bag is still somewhere in landfill.” Many of us would not even have thought of that. Where is the first plastic bag? Apparently it is going to take a thousand years for plastic bags to break down. The two young girls are thinking of their future and acting on it today. They are welcome in my office any day, as are any young students. Congratulations and hats off to them for taking the time, making the effort, taking a stand and having a purpose. Good on you, girls. Well done!