Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced that he’d be passing up the United Nations’ Migration pact on the basis that a global deal signing away a portion of Australia’s sovereignty in determining its own policies was not in Australia’s interests. It’s easy to see why – global deals drafted by unelected bureaucrats in bureaucratic international institutions often hardly account for the concerns and interests of those around the world who bear the brunt of their impact and have no real say in their content.
Unfortunately, the Stockholm Convention, which Australia ratified back in 2004, now risks forcing our country to fall in line with unscientific regulations against silicone products proposed by the bureaucratic leviathan that is the European Union.
Silicone compounds are used in many common consumer products including airbags, face creams, solar panels and paints. They are also commonplace in medical equipment and prosthetics, automobiles, light bulbs, smartphones, computers and other electric devices which contain circuit boards. Three compounds, D4, D5 and D6, are used extensively in manufacturing.
Products containing silicone, like any other consumer or medical goods, are already subject to consumer regulations in Australia that mitigate environmental risks and any safety risk to consumers arising from dodgy manufacturers.
Regulatory agencies in Australia applied a quantitative scientific approach which assessed the potential harm of these compounds and the probability of actual harm they could cause in light of the evidence. After rigorously reviewed field tests and environmental monitoring, they concluded in spring this year, that silicone products pose no material risk to public health or the environment. Agencies in Canada arrived at the same conclusion.
The European Union has taken a different line. This June, the EU designated silicone compounds as ‘substances of very high concern’ based on selective observations and the reasoning that harsh steps should be taken to regulate chemicals potentially capable of harm in theory, even when there is no evidence that they will cause harm. Their decision flowed on from their crackdown on D4 and D5 compounds used in personal care products such as shampoos, a ruling that is currently being challenged in the EU’s courts.
These regulations are likely to result in price hikes for consumers and will force manufacturers to resort to lower-quality substitutes despite scientific evidence showing that silicone compounds behave differently in the environment from the predictions outlined in the EU’s legal criteria, as well as real-world data which shows no actual risk to consumers or the environment without these regulations.
Where they result in the removal of silicone from products, consumers will be punished with goods which are more expensive, less durable, less safe and less efficient. While consumers are deprived of products they once benefited from, innovation in the engineering and manufacturing sectors will be hindered and quality jobs will be lost as future products take longer to come to the market or are far pricier when they do.
Ordinarily, these issues would only concern European consumers who are directly impacted by them. However, in the past The European Commission has sought a decision that would enable it to submit a proposal, under the United Nations’ Stockholm Convention, to classify D4 as a ‘Persistent Organic Pollutant’ (POP), and could do so again with the new SVHC designation for D4 in hand. This could earmark it for international elimination or restriction in consumer products. Substances nominated as POPs under the convention have almost always been formally listed. This forces countries, including Australia, to comply with restrictions that fly in the face of our sovereign right to determine a regulatory approach in the interest of own consumers and their welfare, unless Australian officials and others reject a European Union POP nomination proposal.
When it comes to science, technology and consumer protection, the binary dichotomy of ‘too little’ versus ‘too much’ regulation is a false one. A smart, evidence-based regulatory framework that manages genuine risk to consumers while facilitating innovation, is universally desirable. To this end, hard-line precautionary approaches put not only the success and prosperity of inventors and manufacturers but also the welfare of consumers at risk by denying us access to products which improve our lives.
Satya Marar is the Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.
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