Tag Archives: Federal

Final Update: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

Australia ratified the Convention on 7 December 2021, see: https://www.awe.gov.au/environment/protection/chemicals-management/mercury

Note: the enclosure referred to in the correspondence can be found in my earlier update: http://michaelcornish.org/2021/11/22/update-9-australian-ratification-of-the-minamata-convention-on-mercury/


Vehicle emissions standards

The Hon Angus Taylor MP
Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives


Dear Minister,

Re: Vehicle Emission Standards

I write to you as a former Senior Adviser to the Federal Member for Mayo, Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP with a keen interest in public health and environmental issues.

Improving light and heavy vehicle emissions standards offer tremendous benefits:

  • to the health of Australians by mitigating the noxious air pollution that leads to more than 1,700 premature deaths a year[1] via respiratory disease;
  • to the environment by reducing CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • by mitigating the negative health impacts that are consequential to climate change.

I recognise there are potential political obstacles to the introduction of more stringent heavy vehicle emissions standards, especially from the Government’s junior Coalition partner.

However – and without seeking to encourage inaction on heavy vehicle emission standards – progressing action on the emissions standards for light (passenger) vehicles presents an opportunity to the Coalition that tangibly demonstrates its commitment to public health and net zero emissions, and at much lower political risk.

As the Government’s Draft Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS), “Light Vehicle Emission Standards for Cleaner Air[2] from October 2020 indicates [my highlights]:

there is a strong case for mandatory standards to reduce noxious emissions from road vehicles. The costs of air pollution from road vehicles are not borne directly by the vehicle manufacturers or by owners but are shared by the community. As such the problem cannot be addressed effectively by the operation of market forces alone as there is no commercial reason to do so. Government action to strengthen noxious emissions standards are internationally recognised as a very effective measure to reduce urban air pollution, and such standards have managed to deliver improvements in urban air quality despite growth in vehicle use.


Noxious emissions from road vehicles reduce urban air quality, leading to premature death and illness among Australians. …our current noxious emissions standards now trail most other developed countries including the EU, US, Canada, Japan and South Korea.

The Draft RIS then proposes:

…that the Government mandate Euro 6d for light vehicles for all newly approved models manufactured from 1 July 2027 and for all new vehicles manufactured from 1 July 2028.

Indeed, I would highly recommend that the Federal Government fast-track the Euro 6d mandate for light vehicles, commencing the mandate much earlier than 2027-28 and within the next term of Government.

This commitment – and the framing its introduction within the next electoral term – would be a very useful concrete measure for the Prime Minister and Australian Government to deploy at the forthcoming Glasgow 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

May I then kindly request – when will the Government make its decision about the introduction of more stringent light and heavy vehicle emissions standards, and what will be the likely timeframe for their commencement?

Will the Government be adopting the core proposal of the relevant Draft RIS, namely, adopting a Euro 6d mandate for light vehicle emissions standards?

I hope that the Government can see both the political opportunity this proposal presents, as well as the public health and environmental benefits it would create for our fellow Australians.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cornish

15 / 10 / 2021

Cc Dr John Kunkel, Chief of Staff, PMO

[1] See: https://www.smh.com.au/national/our-dirty-fuel-is-a-bigger-killer-than-covid-19-how-australia-fails-on-car-emissions-20200909-p55tri.html

[2] See: https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/sites/default/files/migrated/vehicles/environment/forum/files/light-vehicle-emission-standards-for-cleaner-air.pdf

Australian sandalwood conservation

Emeritus Professor Helene Marsh FAA FTSE
Threatened Species Scientific Committee
c/o Species Information and Policy Section
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
GPO Box 858


Dear Professor Marsh,

Re: Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)

I write to you as a former Senior Policy Adviser for the Federal Member for Mayo, Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP, and with a keen interest in environmental issues. Thank you in advance for your consideration of my correspondence.

Specifically, I am writing out of interest and concern regarding the status of Australian sandalwood, noting that it does not appear on the current EPBC Act List of Threatened Flora[1].

According to research published earlier this week by academics from Charles Sturt University and Curtin University, “[a]cross its entire range in Australia’s western and southern rangelands, Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum [R.Br.] A.DC.) is on a path towards ‘extinction in the wild’––the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s penultimate category of conservation risk.[2]

According to a related article from The Conversation by the same authors, they estimate that “175 years of commercial harvesting may have decreased the population of wild sandalwood by as much as 90%”, and conclude that “It’s time to list sandalwood as a threatened species nationally, and start harvesting only from plantations to give these wild, centuries-old trees a fighting chance at survival.[3]

May I kindly inquire, will the Committee undertake a review of the Australian sandalwood listing to ascertain whether it should be placed on the EPBC Act List of Threatened Flora, and if so, when, and if not, why not?

Further, what conservation efforts are the Federal Government taking to protect and conserve remaining sandalwood trees in the wild?

Thank you again for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cornish

10 / 10 / 2021

Cc: Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr Sally Box

[1] See: https://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicthreatenedlist.pl?wanted=flora

[2] McLellan R. C., Dixon K., Watson D. M. (2021) Prolific or precarious: a review of the status of Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum [R.Br.] A.DC., Santalaceae). The Rangeland Journal; see: https://www.publish.csiro.au/rj/RJ21017

[3] See: Kingsley Dixon, Richard McLellan, and David M Watson, ‘Loved to death: Australian sandalwood is facing extinction in the wild’, The Conversation, 7 October 2021; https://theconversation.com/loved-to-death-australian-sandalwood-is-facing-extinction-in-the-wild-167281

Update 8: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

The Hon Sussan Ley MP
Minister for the Environment
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600


Dear Minister,

RE: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

May I thank and congratulate you and the Government for now progressing Australia towards ratification of the Minamata Convention.

I note the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (Report #197) has recommended ratification and to discard any potential pursuit of an exemption for High Pressure Mercury Vapour (HPMV) lamps:

The Committee supports the Convention and recommends that binding treaty action be taken. The Committee recommends the Government reassess the need to seek an exemption to allow for the continued importation of HPMV lamps into Australia, considering such an exemption to be reputationally damaging and of limited practical benefit.[1]

Further, as per the transcript of the relevant Committee hearing, the only other countries seeking this type of exemption are Botswana, China, Ghana, India, Iran, Lesotho, Madagascar and Thailand.

The following exchange at the Committee hearing underlines the point:

CHAIR: Would it be correct to say that Australia is the only developed or OECD country that’s seeking an exemption to allow us to continue to import HPMV lighting?

Ms Douglass: To my knowledge, yes.

CHAIR: It seems like rather odd company to be keeping, with those countries you mentioned.

May I please inquire, what is the expected or approximate timeframe now for Australia’s formal ratification of the Minamata Convention?

Further, could you please confirm whether Australia will – uniquely for an OECD country – seek an exemption to the Convention, or whether it will now seek to ratify without exemption?

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cornish

29 / 9 / 2021

Cc: Mr David Sharma MP, Chair, Joint Standing Committee on Treaties

Cc: Secretariat of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, United Nations Environment Programme

[1] p.v, Report 197, Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, August 2021; tabled 1 September 2021

Update 7: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties released their report today:

Relevant recommendations from the report reproduced below:

Recommendation 2
3.122 The Committee supports the Minamata Convention on Mercury and
recommends that binding treaty action be taken.

Recommendation 3
3.123 The Committee recommends the Government reassess the need to seek an
exemption to allow for the continued importation of High Pressure Mercury
Vapour (HPMV) lamps into Australia, considering such an exemption to be
reputationally damaging and of limited practical benefit.

Update 6: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

The transcript of the hearing of the Joint Committee Inquiry into the Convention’s ratification became available within the last few days, see: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/MinamataConvention/Public_Hearings.

Mr Dave Sharma MP
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
e: [email protected]; [email protected]


Dear Mr Sharma

Re: Inquiry into the Minamata Convention on Mercury, vapour lamps exemption

I write to you as a submitter to the Inquiry into the Minamata Convention on Mercury. For additional context, I was a former Senior Adviser to the Federal Member for Mayo, Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP, with carriage at the adviser level for Centre Alliance’s environment portfolio (amongst other portfolios).

I read the transcript of the inquiry hearing of 9 August 2021 with great interest. I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis and concern for the exemption to the Convention being sought by Australia until December 2023, namely, an exemption to import restrictions for high-pressure mercury vapour lamps for general lighting purposes.

This concern would no doubt be shared by the environmental NGOs who made submissions to the Committee.

I too see no good need to delay the inevitable transition away from mercury vapour lights that is, according to the account provided in the hearing, already complete or underway in all Australian State and Territory jurisdictions.

Additionally, as you and fellow Committee Members collectively noted in the hearing:

  • The exemption would deny Australia “a benefit of $17.3 million from energy savings and around $4.4 million from carbon savings”, i.e. an estimated opportunity cost to Australia of $21.7 million;
  • Australia would be the only OECD country to seek an exemption to the treaty, alongside small group of countries – China, India, Thailand, and a cluster of sub-Saharan African countries;
  • Australia is already an international laggard in its ratification of the treaty, with (“approximately”) 120 of 128 original signatories having already ratified;
  • Seeking an unnecessary exemption may undermine Australia’s negotiating position in the future direction of the Convention, a key interest that was identified in most industry submissions to the Inquiry; and
  • The Lighting Council of Australia did not evidence sufficient concern on the matter to make a submission to the Inquiry.

Further, the serious underlying health and environmental concerns that drive the impetus of the Convention – and Australia’s ratification of it – can only be undermined by any exemption.

In conclusion, I strongly urge that the Committee recommend that there be no exemption for mercury vapour lighting sought in Australia’s ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Thank you again for your time in considering my correspondence.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cornish

25 / 8 / 2021

Cc Doctors for the Environment Australia
Cc Environmental Justice Australia
Cc Conservation Council of SA

Update 5: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

Media release reproduced from: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/House_of_Representatives/About_the_House_News/Media_Releases/Mercury_falling_Treaties_Committee_examines_Minamata_Convention

Mercury falling: Treaties Committee examines Minamata Convention

Issue date: Monday, 9 August 2021

Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that poses a global threat to human health and the environment. The Minamata Convention creates a common platform for global action to reduce mercury’s use and impact, committing Parties to address the full lifecycle of mercury, including its safe disposal.

In the 1950s an industrial company in the Japanese seaside city of Minamata was found to have released untreated mercury waste into the adjoining saltwater bay for decades. The mercury contaminated the fish and shellfish stocks, and caused the death and poisoning of thousands of local residents. This environmental and public health catastrophe led to improved Japanese regulations and, importantly,  the establishment of the Minamata Convention.

Australia’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will be hearing expert evidence and reviewing Australia’s potential ratification of the Minamata Convention at a public hearing on 9 August.

Committee Chair Mr Dave Sharma MP said “Ratifying the Minamata Convention would address an important global public health risk, align Australia with our major trading partners, and provide regulatory certainty for Australian businesses”.

At its 9 August hearing the Committee will also examine the Framework Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, known as OCCAR. OCCAR is a European organisation that facilitates international cooperation in the development and procurement of defence equipment. The proposed Agreement would allow Australia to participate in OCCAR managed programmes.

Update 4: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

Committee Secretary
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
PO Box 6021
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

e: [email protected]

Dear Committee

RE: Submission to the Minamata Convention on Mercury Inquiry

I write to you as a former Senior Policy Adviser to Rebekha Sharkie MP who had carriage of the environment portfolio for Centre Alliance.

Australia is to be congratulated for signing the Minamata Convention on Mercury in October 2013.

The Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal that cycles between the atmosphere, ocean and land, and can be toxic to humans and wildlife. According to the booklet of the Convention, “[m]ercury is recognised as a substance producing significant adverse neurological and other health effects, with particular concerns expressed about its harmful effects on infants and unborn children.[1]

Australia is one of the few developed nations yet to ratify this important treaty.

The Convention is named after Minamata disease, itself named for the poisoning of the Japanese community in Minamata Bay that resulted from eating shellfish and fish containing methylmercury (an organic mercury compound) accumulated from industrial wastewater. Signs and symptoms of Minamata disease include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision, and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. Whilst conventional mercury poisoning is less severe, it can lead to serious burns; skin-shedding; kidney dysfunction; itching; hair, teeth and nail loss; hypertension, and more besides.

Whilst Australia’s mercury emissions have reduced greatly in recent years due to the deployment of mercury emission reduction technology in key gold-mining processing plants, Australia’s per capita mercury emissions remain higher than the global average[2] as they are insufficiently regulated.  More still needs to be done across other sectors, including the production of other metals, fossil fuel combustion, and intentional use and waste.

It is excellent news that the Government has now published its Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on the Ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury[3] and has now referred the ratification of the Convention to the Committee. The RIS found that there will be no regulatory burden on business or the community, as existing regulatory frameworks broadly align with international obligations under the Convention. Ratification was calculated to provide a net benefit of over $5.9 million over 20 years, and this direct economic benefit will be accompanied by a range of additional social and environmental qualitative benefits.

Furthering the case for ratification, the National Interest Analysis provided to the Committee summarises several compelling reasons for rapid ratification that are worth highlighting, specifically:

10. Collective global action under the Minamata Convention is the most effective means of protecting Australians from the harmful effects of mercury pollution…

  1. Due to the widespread adoption of the Convention… ratification would have a low impact on Australian business and industry…
  2. …several rounds of public and targeted consultation have confirmed broad [domestic] support for ratification and have not identified any significant risks or disadvantages.
  3. The impetus to ratify now is strong, with business and industry keen for certainty about mercury controls in Australia and for alignment with trading partners…
  4. Australia is currently unable to fully engage in or guide the direction of the associated scientific and technical bodies to the Convention, and cannot vote on decisions regarding future global controls. Ratification will provide Australia with a seat at the negotiating table, enabling us the opportunity to influence the future direction of the Convention.[4]

Importantly, the procedural barriers to ratification are also minimal, with the National Interest Analysis concluding that “…ratification can proceed with only minor legislative and policy amendments across all jurisdictions[5].

In conclusion, I provide two recommendations to the Committee, namely:

Recommendation 1: That the Committee recommend the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Recommendation 2: That the Federal Government finalise the minor legislative changes required to effect ratification by no later than the end of 2021.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my submission.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cornish

16 / 7 / 2021

[1] UN Environment Programme, Minamata Convention on Mercury – Text and Annexes, September 2017, https://www.mercuryconvention.org/Portals/11/documents/Booklets/COP3-version/Minamata-Convention-booklet-Sep2019-EN.pdf

[2] UN Environment Programme, Technical Background Report for the Global Mercury Assessment, 2013, https://www.amap.no/documents/doc/Technical-Background-Report-for-the-Global-Mercury-Assessment-2013/848

[3] See: https://ris.pmc.gov.au/2021/03/04/ratifying-minamata-convention-mercury

[4] p2, National Interest Analysis: Category 1 Treaty, Minamata Convention on Mercury, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2021

[5] Ibid.