Question without notice
My question is to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water.
Following meetings last week with community representatives, will the minister extend the firewood collection in Barmah National Park past 30 June this year, given the level of angst in the community about how people will heat their homes as there are no alternatives such as natural gas in those communities?
Ms Neville, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water
I thank the member for Shepparton for her question. I also thank her for coordinating my visit to Shepparton last week. One of the important meetings that the member for Shepparton organised was with the Moira Shire Council, the Barmah Forest Preservation League and the Barmah Brumby Preservation Group. Their representatives have all written to me about the issue of firewood over a period of time, and the member for Shepparton put that meeting together for me.
This is a very difficult issue. I understand from those meetings that there are some very vulnerable residents who rely completely on firewood for heating and cooking. As the member knows, and as this house knows, the government has committed to providing compressed natural gas to Nathalia, which will provide some long-term solution for residents in that area.
Many in this house — not everyone — will recall that back in 2010 this Parliament voted for the Barmah National Park. As part of that, in the creation of the national park we enabled firewood collection for domestic use for a three-year period of time as there had been some residual timber left over from commercial logging. That was further extended by this Parliament back in 2011 due to the fact that there had been floods which prevented a range of collection of that firewood, so that firewood still remained in the national park. Parliament granted an extension to June of this year.
No firewood collection is allowed in any national park in Victoria. However, I am concerned about ensuring that there is a solution for vulnerable people — many of whom are in their 80s and 90s — who rely completely on firewood for heating and cooking. I have asked my department to have a look at options in relation to how we can support those people in relation to firewood supply.
I would say that the removal of firewood permits by the former government did not help because it led to pilfering of firewood, with Melbourne firms going there for commercial purposes with large trailers. The locals reminded me of this just last week in the meeting I had with them. That has meant that a lot of the firewood that had been there has been removed not by locals but by Melbourne commercial providers. I will keep the member up to date with the discussions on how we can support the community before we get gas into the area, particularly those most vulnerable residents.
Will the minister take steps to ensure that the Barmah National Park is managed, taking into account the wishes and the knowledge of residents in the local communities particularly in relation to fire risk caused by the lack of proper maintenance that takes place in those parts?
I thank the member for Shepparton for her supplementary question, and can I say that when we established the national park back in 2010 there was to be a management plan put in place. However, those opposite cut Parks Victoria funding by 30 per cent — $88 million was cut from Parks Victoria — so unfortunately there is not an appropriate management plan in place to either promote tourism, which was a promise for the area, or to look at fire risk and to look at the issue of firewood and how we improve the environmental values of that national park.
I give a commitment, as I did last week to the local community, that we will get that management plan back on track. We will get Parks Victoria back on track, and we will make sure that the community and all the parties — the people I met with last week, the local councils and the Yorta Yorta people — are all involved in developing that management plan. I am sure the member for Shepparton will be a part of that as well.