FORESTS AMENDMENT BILL 2012 – Wednesday, 20 Jun 2012

Posted on 28. Jun, 2012 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I rise to make my contribution to debate on the Forests Amendment Bill 2012. This government is quickly writing its own epitaph, an epitaph which will read, ‘This was a slash‑and‑burn government’. Whether it be in relation to the budget and jobs and vital programs such as in TAFE, whether it be in relation to the environment and the alpine national parks or the sustainability of forests and their ecosystems, this government knows only the heavy‑handed approach of slash and burn. This government is full of economic, social and environmental vandals.

If the first principle of government is to do no harm, then this bill fails the test. The minister for the environment should be just that: for the environment, not against the environment. If members of the public are to be permitted to collect firewood from forests and state parks then a strong licensing system is needed to underpin that permission with a view to minimising the damage to the environment. But this bill does away with any sort of permit system and replaces it with a set of rules. These rules are largely an honour system. Add to that the fact that this government is sacking its staff, which means it is likely there will be less staff to both measure the impact on the environment and deal with compliance. These rules will be largely unenforceable.

Households will be allowed to collect up to 2 cubic metres per day and 16 cubic metres per financial year. A standard trailer is said to hold about 0.7 cubic metres, but let us be generous and say that it is 16 trailer loads per year. How can this be anything other than an honour system? As collectors will be burning firewood in the colder spring and autumn months when they are entitled to collect it, it will be impossible to tell how much was collected in a given period. I question whether this is sustainable, although the minister seems to think it is. Unfortunately the minister’s idea of sustainability is limited to sustaining the availability of firewood. He has no commitment to sustaining the environment.

Do you know how many times the Minister for Environment and Climate Change used the word ‘environment’ in his second‑reading speech? Not even once. There is nothing in his speech that demonstrates that any regard has been given to the environmental impact of collecting and burning firewood. Where is the science that shows there will be no harmful effects caused to the environment with the passage of this bill? Just as he showed with cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park, the minister does not want to know about the science.

I have had a look at several peer‑reviewed journals. For example, I refer to a longitudinal study of landscape matrix effects on fauna, with statistically valid and reliable results, which was published in 2001 by the respected journal Biological Conservation. On page 158 the article states that many woodlands have been found to be highly degraded as a result of human disturbance through activities such as livestock grazing, tree removal — such as for firewood — and mining. The clearing of woodlands and their ongoing degradation has had a negative impact on groups such as plants, invertebrates, reptiles and mammals. In other words, this article is saying clearly that collecting firewood affects all types of animal life and plants.

On page 164 the article states:

Activities like clearing, grazing‑related degradation and firewood collection can reduce the size of remnant woodlands and remove trees with hollows and dead stems, and so reduce the woodland fauna. In woodlands large dead trees, including many which contain hollows, are often those selected for firewood collection.

In another article, headed ‘The burning issue’, Kellee Nolan writing in the journal Habitat Australia had this to say:

The burning issue: log fires conjure feelings of warmth and cosiness, but the impact of the cutting and collection of firewood is far from that for our native animals.

Further in the article the author says about firewood:

Its cutting and collection is recognised as one of the main threats to about 20 species of birds, such as the barking owl, as well as some marsupials, like the tree‑dwelling Tuan.

The loss of big old trees with nesting hollows, the removal of bark and log homes for insects and their predators and the loss of nutrients in the ecosystem are all caused by firewood cutting and collecting.

The other environmental impact on which the minister is silent concerns air pollution. Even newer wood heaters have seriously failed audits. In an article titled ‘Emission auditing of new wood heaters in Australia and New Zealand’, published in the journal Clean Air and Environmental Quality, John Todd had this to say about wood heaters:

Only five retail models (11 per cent) matched engineering drawings and had correct labelling;

33 retail models (70 per cent) had design differences which might increase emissions; of these 23 (47 per cent) had reduced minimum combustion air; and six (13 per cent) had changes to the baffle; other changes identified in the audit included firebricks, convection fans, water heating attachments and combustion chamber dimensions.

Thus, the design verification audit, which is relatively quick and inexpensive to do (provided original engineering drawings are available), showed that more than two‑thirds of popular retail models differed from the tested model in ways that might increase emissions. It also showed widespread failure to comply with labelling requirements set out in the standards.

People who enjoy a log fire need to understand that it comes at a cost to the environment. For those who collect firewood as a cheap source of heating fuel, the government needs to start meeting its election commitment to reduce the cost of utility charges. For those who care about the environment, it is very sad that this bill could be introduced by a minister for the environment.


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