The state government has promised to work with Independent Member for Shepparton District Suzanna Sheed to ensure people who have no access to firewood, gas or electric heating can remain warm during the winter months.
Ms Sheed said that the banning of firewood collection from state forests was causing unnecessary hardship for many families, particularly in “the communities of Barmah, Picola and Nathalia in my electorate and across most of northern Victoria”.
In State Parliament, Ms Sheed pressed the Minister for Energy, Climate Change and Environment, The Hon Lily D’Ambrosio for a solution. The minister said that, working with Ms Sheed, she would look at the possible reintroduction of firewood gathering permits.
Ms Sheed added: “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?
Minister D’Ambrosio replied that she was willing to consult with Ms Sheed to find solutions for vulnerable families and individuals.
The Minister added: “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,” the minister said.
Ms Sheed told the Minister that in “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?”
The minister responded by saying: “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.”
Leanne Raditsas 0422 211 774│firstname.lastname@example.org