The Victorian government’s newly-released Air Quality Strategy makes big promises - 'Clean Air for All Victorians'. But without clear actions it risks amounting to a lot of hot air. The Strategy document reports that air pollution is costing Victoria's health system $1 billion every year, with health impacts including respiratory and heart-related problems, asthma, diabetes, dementia, stroke and cancer, as well as mental illness. The Strategy sets out the plan for the period 2022 to 2030, with new 'actions plans' to be released every two years. It is strong on reassuring statements of a clean air vision. There is a positive commitment of $2.8 mil to establish Air Quality Improvement Precincts in Melbourne’s Inner and Outer West. However, the strategy is light on detail in many other areas, particularly for new initiatives.
For people concerned about residential wood smoke the strategy calls to mind the phrase 'kicking the can down the road'. We are yet again to be publically consulted - this time for an options paper. This follows being consulted in 2017 on the EPA's Policy Impact Assessment on solid fuel heating, and in 2018 for the Clean Air Summit, and in 2021 for the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Health Impacts of Air Pollution. The education plan to 'inform wood heater owners about the impact of wood heater smoke on people’s health and wellbeing' also lacks detail. Will this involve a funded population-wide education campaign to raise awareness of the harms of air pollution? How about a health warning label on wood heaters? Or will this amount to little more than expanded information on the EPA's website? We hope not. It was also galling for clean air advocates in Latrobe Valley to see no mention of tighter pollution controls for power stations, despite their many years of advocacy on this issue.
Government needs to make the changes to address wood smoke pollution that 77% of Australians want to see. Fortunately if you live in Victoria, you still have an opportunity to make your voice heard. Send your email now to your candidates for the Vic state election - we've automated it so it's easy to do. Go to: https://stopwoodsmoke.good.do/swsp/stopwoodsmoke/