The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:21): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Local Government Act 1999. Read a first time.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:21): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill is quite a small bill, as honourable members will be able to determine when they have a look at it. If I can give some background to the issue, it has essentially arisen because of one neighbour who has been unneighbourly in the requests by his affected neighbours to cease using untreated olive pits in a wood pellet burner. One might wonder why it needs an act of parliament to address this, but it has caused considerable distress to a particular couple who are direct neighbours, and a number of the other neighbours have also been affected, so I would like to provide some history on this issue in support of this particular bill. It is one that I have written to successive environment ministers about, because the state agency that would deal with the issue is the EPA.
What is taking place is that during the colder months in winter, from approximately mid-May to September, the neighbour with the wood pellet burner has been burning olive pits continuously. His neighbours have health complaints, including but not limited to respiratory issues, which they have had for some six years. Their general practitioner is of the belief that it is as a result of continual exposure to the fumes, smoke and residue created by the burning of the olive pits. It has been such a problem that at times they have had to move out of their residence during those months when the heater is being used.
In September 2009, I attended the property of the affected neighbours and was able to view the flue residue on his roof, and the same residue can be seen on the inside of the affected couple's air conditioning vents. I was also able to view fuel material on the neighbour's property, which has been stored in such a way that would have allowed rainfall to make it wet. This particular wood heater is used extensively in Europe and is becoming more popular in South Australia so I think that this is an issue that will affect not just the people living in that street but also others.
Various agencies have been involved—and I will provide some more detail on that—and have recommended that the industry's preferred standard material is wood pellets but if olive material is to be used it should at least be treated and dried out first, the flue of the heater should be of a particular height and design to maximise dispersal of gases, and any material used for burning should be kept out of the elements. However, all of these requests have, to date, been ignored.
The City of Tea Tree Gully is the local council involved. I obtained a large number of documents under freedom of information and I would like to commend the City of Tea Tree Gully for the actions to date that it has attempted to take. It obtained a sample of the material being used in the heater and sent it for testing. The result was that the moisture content was between two to three times the recommended levels, and the ash content was twice the recommended levels.
The council contacted the Australian Home Heating Association with this analysis and the AHHA advised that it was too wet to be used as a fuel source. It conveyed this to the owner of the heater and recommended that an alternative approved wood source be used 'ASAP'. The council also raised the issue of raising the flue height by three metres, which I understand has not taken place. The council also contacted Wood Pellets Australia to discuss appropriate fuels for wood heaters, and this organisation was so concerned about damage to their industry's reputation that it arranged to send 1 tonne of wood pellets free of charge to the owner of the wood heater.
I obtained some documents from the EPA, as well. It says that it undertook an unannounced visit on the site but this is disputed and I have been unable to verify that, through freedom of information requests, in that file. It recommended by letter to the owner of the wood heater that he replace the rain cap protector with a device which would increase vertical discharge, seek industry advice as to obtaining a flue which would maximise vertical discharge, and store any fuel away from rain and/or stormwater run-off.
The public health section of the Department of Health has also been involved. It believes that the olive material should not be used and that the flue should be raised by another metre. Voluntary mediation has been sought but the couple involved have not had any relief from that. So a number of agencies clearly have been involved.
When contacting the Office of Parliamentary Counsel our initial suggestion was that these untreated olive pits be banned from use in heaters which were not designed for their use. They have suggested an alternative which is contained in this bill, and so this bill amends section 254 of the Local Government Act which is entitled 'Powers to make orders' and enables councils to direct people to refrain from doing certain things if, in the opinion of the council, the circumstances specified exist.
Existing provisions in section 254 include: unsightly condition of land; hazards on lands adjoining a public place; animals that may cause a nuisance or hazard; and inappropriate use of a vehicle. This bill will insert a new section 3A to allow a council to make orders regarding the burning of olive pits if (a) it causes a nuisance to occupants of neighbouring land or (b) it causes harm or a risk of harm to the health or safety of occupants of neighbouring land.
The existing fees within the act provide procedures that councils must follow before taking action or issuing a compliance order—that is in section 255 of the act. Section 256 sets out the recipient's rights of review. Failure to comply with an order may result in an expiation fee of $210 or a maximum penalty of $2,500.
It is my intention to formally provide this bill to the Local Government Association and the City of Tea Tree Gully, which is the local government association to provide some relief for this couple. I have also received some correspondence. One of the other neighbours involved has sought information from the manufacturer of these particular heaters and the reply is as follows:
We started manufacturing boilers more than 30 years ago and have a consolidated experience. All our boilers have been tested by institutions in charge and got excellent results with biomasses (certified pellets). Your neighbour is probably using very moist biomass which doesn't burn properly, therefore the combustion is not good thus causing bad smell. At your disposal for any further information.
There are some more modern-type heaters on the market which will burn just about any sort of biomass, but this one is specifically for wood pellet heaters. Therefore, it is recommended that we allow the council to intervene in certain circumstances. I would also like to place on the record my disappointment that the local member, the member for Newland, has failed to follow through in what he had promised to do. In a letter dated 21 June 2010 to the couple he stated:
I am writing to you at your request in order to outline the assistance that I will be providing to you in helping to address your concerns of olive pip burning being conducted by your next door neighbour.
I have previously agreed to introduce a private members bill to State parliament, this bill is currently being drafted for proposal by parliamentary clerks. Introducing a private members bill to parliament is an arduous process—
I have to say that I could not disagree more—
and it is highly unlikely that this legislation will be introduced before this winter. The object of this bill is to have olive pip burning banned, as previously agreed...If you wish to discuss—
etc. His office has then contacted this couple, and this is dated 17 February 2011:
In the last couple of weeks there have been some changes within government's ministry that has seen Tom become a Minister. This has changed the circumstances with which Tom was hoping to pass a Private Members Bill. Unfortunately, he can no longer initiate this process, however, he has been speaking to other MPs about the matter and Tom believes he has the support of another MP who has agreed to initiate the Bill upon his/her approval of the final draft which Tom now has readily available.
These developments have only occurred very recently and I have had nothing to add whilst our office has been receiving calls...Please be aware that this matter is receiving attention—
etc. So, he had made commitments to the couple and then gave the excuse that the elevation to the ministry prevented him from taking further action. We still have not seen anything appear through this government, hence I have introduced the bill in the interests of people who may be affected by this. I commend the bill to the house.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. Carmel Zollo.