Firewood Collection

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:29): I am pleased to rise to make a contribution on Motion 287. I have been interested in listening to the debate so far. My reflection on the debate is that this is a supply and demand issue for those in need. As we heard from Mr Limbrick just then, my thoughts went to the basic right and dignity of keeping yourself warm in your own home – in your shelter – and also feeding yourself. For many Victorians – and overwhelmingly those Victorians are rural, remote and regional Victorians – a woodfired heater and a woodfired stove can still be the main source of their heating and cooking. Supply and demand – we can think about supply and demand in terms of other sources of energy and of electricity. If we believe the government, evil gas has got to be stamped out. We are not allowed to have gas in our homes anymore because of all the atrocious things it is, whereas we on this side understand that it can be used and continue to be used as a stable supply for peak electricity as we move to a low carbon economy. There is the importance of gas for food stocks and a whole range of other products as well, and there is supply and demand in terms of its importance in heating people’s homes.

The first part of the motion speaks about Supreme Court decisions to place injunctions on rural firewood collection. Well, it actually placed injunctions on VicForests coupes. There is a whole wealth of pain felt out in the industry about those Supreme Court injunctions. I will pick up one of Ms Watts’s comments. She said it was not their fault; it was the fault of the legal system – the Supreme Court. The Andrews Labor government would not lock up coupes and keep people out. Well, I know that my colleague Danny O’Brien, during the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, quizzed the Premier at the time, the Honourable Daniel Andrews. Daniel Andrews said, ‘Oh, there’s legal advice to say that we cannot –

Harriet Shing interjected.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (John Berger): Order!

Melina BATH: I think I have the right to be heard in silence. You can have your turn when you are ready.

The Premier refused to provide that legal advice to show the Victorian population and those people who the government shut down that there was legal advice to say that you could not close those loopholes. We saw recent events in federal Parliament, where the timber industry is going to continue on. But this government was hell-bent on closing it, and closing it six years earlier, and the pain is rife through regional Victoria – no more so than in places like Orbost, where 45 per cent of the population is directly related to the native timber industry.

Let me read to the house something that has come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It says that a well-managed forest system used as a resource for its benefits, including timber and firewood and fibre, offers the best mitigation pathway for climate change. This is something that the government has ignored, it is something that the Greens ignore and it is something that we Nationals and the Liberals understand all too well.

Part of the issue here is around lack of supply, as I have said, and that huge demand. There are different ways that you can access your firewood. Elderly people or people who do not have equipment or are at a disadvantage cannot go out and collect firewood from state parks and forests. They cannot avail themselves of that community firewood. What they need to do is go to a community forestry operator, who has in the past accessed that firewood through salvage at the end of a coupe or indeed harvest or has accessed, for example, windrow timber, which we have seen in the Wombat State Forest – that was a whole mess in its entirety as well – or go to commercial firewood operators. They would purchase it at a reduced rate – because of course it is a low-grade timber – from VicForests contractors and then saw it up and supply people all around the region.

One of my constituents, a local lady by the name of Joan Shinton, from Gippsland, has made some comments to me about the overriding costs now of actually purchasing firewood. She said it is getting up to the point of $400 for 1 metre to be delivered. Being on a very low budget and a very tight budget, she is going to have to make some decisions – she said in her comments to me – about whether she heats her home or whether she eats each week and pays the bills. Her other concern, and I think it is a very sincere and kind position to take, is if she then goes and seeks to purchase the lowest cost firewood, whether that is going to be sourced from illegal conduct or an illegal action.

That is a concern to all of us, because we do not want supply and demand to be pitched in such a way that there come rogue operators who enter our state parks and forests and take timber and take trees that are habitat trees or that do provide a habitat source or that are highly important. Clearly all trees or fallen wood can be habitat trees of some form, but you need to have a relative scale. I do find Mr Bourman’s point (c):

deadwood is the easiest wood to collect –

okay –

and is most likely to be a habitat tree for native animals …

I think that is little bit loose in its commentary because indeed you can have brand new, virtually six-month-old timber that does not have holes and gnarls throughout and that actually would make excellent timber for firewood and may well not be a habitat tree, but I take his point. I think the point he was trying to make is that we do not want these illegal operators coming in and taking the easiest pickings and not only doing those illegal operations but indeed diminishing or putting stress on a habitat and native flora and fauna.

One of the things that I know my colleague the Shadow Minister for Agriculture Emma Kealy was very keen for us to have a discussion on in this place, and I thank Mr Bourman for including her comments or her additional pieces in this motion, was extending the current commercial firewood collection permits until an alternative system can be made. Again, it is supply and demand. We need to ensure that the elderly and the people that do not have the operations to be able to go and collect firewood have access to it.

The other thing that I often hear in my electorate is the fact that the firewood season is quite limited and that although there are two seasons, people feel like the areas are diminishing or the access points are diminishing for those people that can actually go out and collect their own firewood. So I put that on record. I understand that point (2)(c) – ‘remove the domestic firewood collection seasonal restrictions’ – could be, again, until something better could be put in place.

I would finally like to take up the interjection of Ms Shing, who said, ‘Would you bring it back? Would you bring it back? Would you bring it back?’ Well, indeed my understanding is that VicForests is about to be shut down by the Allan government. It is an organisation that was serving and supporting the government’s forestry industry. That is going to get closed down. Nostradamus could probably tell you that. So whatever it will look like, it cannot look like what it has in the past. It cannot look like what it has in the past because there will not be a VicForests. But we will always stand by our rural and regional communities and the jobs that they create – (Time expired)