Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 7 Hansard (18 June) . . Page.. 2591..
MS LE COUTEUR (continuing):
properly and use it with timber which comes from a reasonably sustainable place, wood heating can be a fairly sustainable form of heating. The problem arises when people use inappropriate wood that has not been sustainably sourced, when they manage their fire incorrectly and produce excessive pollution or when the wood heater itself is inefficient or produces excessive pollution. This often happens with inefficient wood heaters.
In 2004, the Department of the Environment and Heritage published its audit of the most nationally popular wood heaters. Seven of the 12 wood heaters failed to meet the necessary standards for emissions. In addition, 55 per cent of wood heaters had deviations from the original design and 72 per cent had labelling faults which could affect emissions performance. So it is very likely that many of the wood heaters used in Tuggeranong Valley are of inefficient design.
Looking at the type of wood used, I understand that the government provides on its website details around 20 accredited firewood merchants. But, of course, not everyone gets their firewood from these people. There are quite a number of unaccredited firewood merchants and also people burn rubbish, driftwood, painted or treated wood. That is a particular problem because you can, in fact, create poisonous gases when you burn arsenic and cyanide treated and painted wood. We should also be aware that some of the firewood is collected from forest floors and this has an impact on the habitat of a number of species who inhabit forest floors. Deadwood or dropped wood is the home of a number of birds, animals and insect species.
Looking at ACT government actions, in 2004 the government introduced the wood heater replacement scheme and allocated $200,000 for subsidies ranging from $400 for an electrical installation to $600 for a gas installation. An additional $200 was available for pensioners or low-income earners. It had good intentions but it has not been well advertised or accompanied by a strong public education campaign. With time, the level of subsidy has dropped and the eligibility criteria have tightened. I am informed that only about 600 wood heaters have been replaced under the scheme since it began. Given the estimates of around 25,000 wood heaters when it started, I think you would have to be very optimistic to think we had made any dent in the problem.
I have been told that the government has a program called don't burn tonight. There are a couple of references on the internet to two media releases from the Chief Minister, one in 2005 and one in 2007. My colleague Ms Bresnan asked the minister about this program yesterday and, unfortunately, he was unable to recall it. As I say, it is not a successful program. At this stage it probably does not even qualify as a program.
If the ACT government were to take the problem and its role in reducing wood smoke seriously I think one of the things it would do would be to publicise an air quality index in the weather reporting, in the same way as there is a UV index, so that we could see some media from the relevant minister telling people when pollution was peaking and then encouraging people to use alternative forms of heating other than wood heaters. I think there is a lot of scope for creative innovation and certainly for improvement on how we deal with this issue.