ABC News Breakfast interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

SUBJECTS: Fast fashion, Julian Assange, Israel-Hamas conflict.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Okay. Australians buy more clothes than almost any other nation in the world, with some 200,000 tonnes thrown out and ending up in landfill each and every year. The Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, is now hoping to refashion our relationship with what we wear. She joins us now from Sydney. 
Minister, good morning to you.


ROWLAND: What, having an impact is the fashion industry having fast fashion in particular on our environment

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, it's having a huge impact. And, as you said, close to a quarter of a million tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill every year. And that's got huge implications for nature. I mean, those kind of leggings that you hope, you're wearing when you're exercising to live longer, well, the leggings will outlive you by many centuries, about 500 years, for some of those synthetic fabrics to break down. And, of course, there's also the carbon emissions. In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for more carbon emissions globally than aviation and maritime transport put together. About 10 per cent of all carbon emissions.

ROWLAND: Really? Not many people would know that.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, it's a huge environmental impact. Like, your average t-shirt has about six kilograms of carbon emissions associated with its making and more than 2000 litres of water. So, this is not about saying to families, you shouldn't buy the cheap t-shirt that the kids are wearing to school. It's saying, choose more carefully and get more wear out of things. So, at the moment, the average Australian buys 56 items of clothing every year. If we can get people to choose things that they will wear more often, that they can repair, that can be recycled or that can be passed on to someone else, either given away so that it can be loved again, or recycled through a sort of industrial process, then that's obviously better for the environment.

ROWLAND: Can you understand, though, why people could be torn Minister? Yes, they want to do what you're saying and try to save the environment, but we are living in this cost-of-living crisis at the moment, and fast, cheap fashion is really the only solution for so many families.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, absolutely. And I have to really stress this again. I'm not for a minute saying we should go back to the bad old days where people used to think about whether they were going to pay the electricity bill or buy a pair of school shoes for the kids. I think the reduced cost of clothing has been fantastic for families, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to buy something, wear at once and chuck it. 

And there's too much of that in the fashion industry at the moment. A sort of system set up to, you know, you're scrolling through Instagram, you see a t-shirt that's $5, you buy it, it gets delivered to your front door. You find it's a bit itchy, it doesn't fit quite as well as you thought, and it ends up in landfill. Or what a lot of Australians do is they think, I'll give it to a charity. They think they're doing the right thing. But charities have been overwhelmed by poor quality clothing. So, it costs charities about $18 million a year to dispose of the clothes that nobody wants to buy. Well meaning people are passing them on, but nobody wants to buy them, so they end up in landfill anyway. So, we need to change the system. This is not about saying to consumers that that affordable t-shirt is a bad idea. It's just for consumers to choose a bit more carefully, and most particularly for the fashion industry, design more carefully and take responsibility for the whole lifecycle of your products. Instead of ending up in landfill, we need to be looking at things that can be repaired, reused, re-worn, repurposed, and getting that sort of circularity into our fashion industry.

ROWLAND: Yeah, very interesting things to ponder. Hey, while I've got you, Minister, a couple of other issues. Our top story this morning is Julian Assange, making his last ditch bid to stop being extradited to the United States. We spoke to his brother Gabriel on the show about 45 minutes ago. He says the Australian Government should be doing a whole lot more to try to bring Julian Assange home. I appreciate the Prime Minister and others have said enough is enough, but surely there must be more the Australian Government can do to try to resolve this issue.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we have made it very clear as a government that we would hope Mr Assange would be allowed to come back to Australia. That enough is enough. He certainly, it seems, in very poor health. We have concerns for his health. We've been working consistently since coming to government, particularly behind the scenes, to say that we believe Mr Assange should be returned. These sorts of issues of diplomacy are not always best done through a megaphone, but we will continue to advocate for an end to this and to see Mr Assange returned home.

ROWLAND: The US is a good ally, in fact, our closest ally. Should the US, in your view, as Gabriel Shipton, Assange's brother told us this morning, do Australia a favour and drop those extradition proceedings and bring Assange home

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm not going to go into the details of the conversations the Prime Minister has had with the President of the United States, but I can assure you that government to government representations have been made and we would like to see Mr Assange brought home. We've made that very clear. And the Prime Minister, from the very first meetings he's had as Prime Minister with the US Administration, has made that clear.

ROWLAND: And speaking of the United States, that country overnight vetoed yet another UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. 13 countries on the council voted yes, the UK abstained, the US voted no. What do you think of America's actions here?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I'm not going to talk about the actions of the United States, but I can say that I think most Australians are looking on with horror at the continuing loss of civilian life in Gaza. Of course, the initial Hamas attack was completely unacceptable. But every civilian life, every life lost in this conflict is a tragedy. And the horror of the civilian death toll continuing to mount, I think, is something that most countries have made very clear, they object to in the strongest terms.

ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.