Bagging Peter Garrett


It might be called a cautionary tale against letting someone have too much free time. We didn’t give Peter Garrett enough to do, and inevitably he started getting ideas and formulating proposals and considering whacking levies on plastic bags. I suppose we could have predicted this as soon as Kevin Rudd made Garrett Minister for the Environment, but without responsibility for climate change, which, let’s be honest, is like being made Minister for Health but without responsibility for sick people. Of course, now Garrett denies that any levy is being considered, which just goes to show that even Peter Garrett doesn’t much like Peter Garrett’s ideas.

Or else it shows that the major supermarket chains are dirty liars, which I find hard to believe. Supermarkets have never lied to me, apart from when I was 18 and Woolworths told me they offered great career prospects.

Labor has, in fact, promised to "phase out" plastic bags by next year, but now says it will not use any sort of levy to do so. How they do propose to achieve it is a mystery; Garrett says only that they will "consider a range of options", a range which, we can assume, runs the gamut from asking people nicely to stop using plastic bags, to setting up a landmark summit of 1000 plastic-bag experts. There may be some kind of mind-control ray involved as well, possibly adapted from the one supermarkets already use to get people to buy Spam.

The major supermarket chains are also against a levy, which is what we in the journalistic sarcasm industry technically call "a right turn-up for the books". Their concern is, naturally, only for the consumer, who they fear will be forced to horrifying and intolerable lengths, such as buying fewer items from major supermarket chains. Apparently the consumer would end up paying between $650 million and $2.5 billion a year extra for their groceries if a levy were introduced, which certainly is a burden on the poor consumer, and makes me grateful I’m not him.

On the whole, charging a levy on plastic bags actually seems quite a good idea. Speaking for myself, as your typical selfish, lazy patriotic Australian, I know I should use green bags, but simply cannot bring myself to do it. The slight inconvenience coupled with the minimal cost simply overwhelms me, and I carry on with my plastic ways, gradually filling up my house with more and more of the pernicious receptacles, dimly seeing ahead to the day when my house is finally completely filled with plastic bags and I suffocate to death with a mouth full of shopper dockets for 2-for-1 chicken parmigianas. I suppose I could just throw the bags away, but it just seems so wasteful to discard such useful items, even if I have no plans to actually use them for anything. If I could just be given a small incentive to discontinue my self-destructive hoarding, I’d grasp it like a drowning man grasps a plastic bag floating helpfully by.

Which of course brings us to the other important aspect of the plastic bag debate: the environment. Plastic bags have many horrible environmental elements, such as floating out to sea and choking whales, although how much you care about this depends greatly on your opinion of the average whale’s moral fibre. Another scary thought is that plastic bags can last for many thousands of years, raising the possibility that they may someday evolve the ability to walk upright and try to take over the planet.

A good thing about a plastic bag levy would of course be the revenue it raises, a not unimportant consideration at a time of spiralling inflation, when ex-government ministers are forced to struggle on subsistence-level wages of only $130,000 a year. But there are far better ways to raise money from shoppers while doing something for the world we live in.

For example, we could put a 15 per cent tax on anyone who goes through an express checkout with a trolley containing about 58 items. We could also impose a $5000 levy on people who walk around shopping centres with their children on leashes, and while we’re at it, pin them down and stamp ‘MY CHILD IS NOT A DOG’ on their foreheads with a branding iron. Not that that will help boost the public coffers, but it’ll do a lot more good for society than keeping whales’ windpipes clear. Also, those people who pick up, say a four-pack of strawberry yoghurt, but then decide they don’t want it, so they just leave it sitting on top of the AAA batteries because they can’t be bothered making the 10 second walk back to the dairy-case. What’s their deal? I say $50 for every item left behind in a blatantly incorrect place. We’ll have that 2 per cent surplus in no time. But I digress.

The point is, for the sake of our planet, we must all make sacrifices. Our Minister for the Environment has, nobly, already sacrificed his music career, his principles and any veneer of political credibility. Surely it’s not too much to ask that we all lay in supplies of green bags and give up our addiction to the poisonous conveniences of doom that always break on the way to the car anyway.

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