Skip navigation

Motion: Civil Liability (BYO Containers) Amendment Bill

22 September 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill is a simple measure that is consistent with the Marshall government's phasing out of single-use plastics, an initiative supported by the Greens and I think everybody here in this place. My former colleague the Hon. Mark Parnell first introduced a similar bill in 2018, around the time there was a debate around the use of single-use plastics. While there was opposition to the bill by some in the business community, I think this, a new version, addresses many of these concerns, and it is in a revised form that the bill appears before the parliament today.

We already know that eight million tonnes of plastics leak into our oceans each year, with estimates suggesting that, if this trend continues, by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish—more plastics in our oceans than fish. That is a frightening prospect and one that we should all be looking to reverse as quickly as we possibly can.

While we have already seen single-use straws, cutlery and stirrers prohibited from being sold in South Australia, from next year there will be a ban extended to the sale, supply and distribution of polystyrene cups, bowls, plates, clamshell containers and oxo-degradable plastic products. We welcome that. This bill is a logical extension of the measures that the government has already set in train.

Essentially, what this bill does is allow a consumer to bring in their own reusable container to buy food. For example, you could go to your local supermarket deli section and, instead of having your gourmet and continental goods wrapped in plastic and then butcher's paper, you hand over your container and, instead, you have the goods packaged up in that. In effect, you can bring in your own container, fill it up and take it away with you.

The reason we are amending the Civil Liability Act instead of the Food Act is that this is due to a liability issue. Businesses could at the moment allow customers to bring in their own containers if they wish, but they would then assume responsibility if something goes wrong. If I bring in a container that is not suitable, or I have not properly sterilised it, or I do not store it, there is a concern that the business could be liable for that. This bill makes it very clear that it is not the business that assumes the liability; rather, the responsibility rests with the consumer for the container that they own and have bought into a store. I think that makes sense.

There is of course an exception provided in this bill in terms of general immunity, and that would be if the person who is selling the food did so knowing that the food was unsafe for consumption or that it was subject to a food recall order. In other words, if a food provider knew that the food was not fit for human consumption and they sold it to the consumer in their own container, of course this bill would not provide them with immunity. It is certainly no protection against negligent conduct. I also want to make the point that there is no mandatory requirement in this bill that requires businesses to adopt this practice. If a business decides they do not wish to allow customers to bring in their own containers, they are free to make that choice, and no-one is going to be penalising them.

What I will say, however, is that there is an overwhelming movement towards reducing single-use plastics and wastage here in our state. We know that South Australia has been leading the way in this regard over many, many years, so I think consumers will be excited by this reform and I think businesses will too. There is the possibility here, too, for businesses to say that they are going to offer a discount to consumers who bring in their own container. I think many businesses would jump at that chance. I commend the bill to the Legislative Council, and I hope that all parties will get behind this commonsense reform.