Question without notice: My question is for the Minister for Energy, Climate Change and Environment. Minister, access to firewood from our forests in northern Victoria is now largely prohibited. There is now no local access to firewood for people in the communities of Barmah, Picola or Nathalia in my electorate, or indeed across most of northern Victoria. Barmah and Picola have no access to natural gas, and many people in these communities rely entirely on firewood gathered by them during the firewood collection season to heat their homes. Many are on low incomes and pensions and do not have the capacity to switch to the split systems or solar, despite the rebates that may be offered. It seems very harsh to impose a change like this at a time like this. Minister, will you reconsider the imposition of this ban and allow people to collect firewood for their own personal needs within their local communities in northern Victoria this winter?
Ms D’AMBROSIO (Mill Park—Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Minister for Solar Homes) (11:32): Can I thank the member for Shepparton for her question. Obviously this is a very serious matter and one that is very important for the member for Shepparton’s local community. We know that domestic firewood—availability of domestic firewood, opportunities for collection of it, especially during the winter periods for the purposes of heating and in some instances for cooking—
is very challenging and is becoming more challenging of course—
A member: What are you going to do about it?
Ms D’AMBROSIO: I am going to answer the question for a start, so thank you very much.
Ms D’AMBROSIO: That is right.
The SPEAKER: Order! Through the Chair.
Ms D’AMBROSIO: We know of course that domestic firewood on public land is a very limited resource, and we know that the availability on top of that is very unpredictable. It can be subject of course to floods, it can be subject to bushfires and the like and it can be subject to illegal take of firewood from some of these areas. There is no easy answer to this, and I imagine that the member for—
Ms Vallence: On a point of order, Speaker, just on relevance. In fact I have just been up to the Barmah Forest, and I concur wholeheartedly with this member that there are actually piles, massive
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Evelyn! The member for Evelyn will resume her seat—Ms Vallence: waiting to be burned—
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Evelyn—
Ms Vallence: and they could be collected by these people that need this firewood to keep warm in
The SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Ms D’AMBROSIO: Just on that matter, because I think it should not go uncommented on, is that this so-called availability of piles of wood in the Barmah National Park is actually flood debris and is not suitable as domestic firewood. I think we need to be factual about what is available in our forests. Going back to the important question from the member for Shepparton—
The SPEAKER: Order! Members on my left!
The SPEAKER: Order! The minister has the call.
Ms D’AMBROSIO: Going back to the member for Shepparton’s very important question, these matters are not easy matters to resolve—absolutely—and bans are not matters that we can easily say
we need to lift or otherwise, because it would be wrong for me to pretend that we could simply do that. Availability of supply is very much dependent on weather conditions, bushfire-affected areas and the like. Now, that will not give a lot of comfort to the member for Shepparton, but what I will say to the member for Shepparton is that we are absolutely committed as a government to doing all we can to assist those who are most vulnerable in terms of being able to get access to the necessary heating for them, especially in the coming winter. That is why, in the shorter term, we are making available support services in terms of energy payment bonuses for families. Of course I understand the rebate for air conditioning that can replace woodfired heating is an important and a very helpful one that will go some way to supporting a lot of people in her community to be able to seek heat as an alternative to firewood. There is a lot more to be done, and I am absolutely very prepared to sit down with the member for Shepparton to work through alternative options to help her community.
Supplementary Question: Minister, in my discussions with many people across the community who rely on firewood collection, they call for the return of a permit system. They are aware
of illegal removal of wood from the forests on a regular basis and they believe that the permit system would enable Parks Victoria to be able to enforce the law and thereby leave more wood for these vulnerable families in our community. So, Minister, will you reintroduce a permit system for firewood collection across Victoria?
Ms D’AMBROSIO: I thank the member for her supplementary question. This is an important and very sore point amongst a lot of local communities right across regional Victoria. Can I remind
everyone that we did have a very well functioning domestic firewood permit system on public lands up until about September 2011 when it was removed by those opposite. That caused a lot of illegal take and an even greater diminution of firewood collection from these areas right across the state. I am absolutely committed to working through this issue. My department is developing options for this very matter, and I will be very happy to have an offline conversation with the member for Shepparton— always happy to have these matters discussed in Parliament of course, but offline to go further into what is possible for us in terms of the reintroduction of a permit system.