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Wednesday, 16 August 2006
Page: 65


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (2:31 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs.


Senator Abetz —I thought it was going to be forestry.


Senator BOB BROWN —I am sorry?


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Abetz, interjections are disorderly.


Senator BOB BROWN —I ask a question regarding forestry in Papua New Guinea. I ask the minister whether it is true, as stated in a new report from the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Papua New Guinea Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights, that $400 million of illegal logging material is imported into Australia each year? Will the government stand by its pre-election commitments and statements from the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Abetz, that it will bring an end to this illegal influx of wood into Australia, which has some pretty terrible community consequences back in Papua New Guinea?


Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Brown for the question, which might have had a more responsive answer if it had been directed to the relevant minister, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. But I understand that Senator Abetz, as the minister, has acknowledged that that is correct.


Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I will take your direction on that. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Abetz, is responsible for forests within this country. My question is to do with forestry in another country and the trade in goods. Senator Coonan’s portfolio covers both those areas and the question is properly directed.


The PRESIDENT —You have asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I am sure she will attempt to give you an answer.


Senator COONAN —I always try to give a very responsive answer. In answer to Senator Brown, I understand that Senator Abetz has already acknowledged that that is the case and that there will be a report coming out later this month that will deal with this issue.


Senator BOB BROWN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. A report does not deal with the question of whether the government is going to move to end the import of illegally logged material from Papua New Guinea. That is what the minister can give an answer to the chamber about. Is the minister aware that last week four non-government organisation staff were beaten by police while doing fieldwork in Papua New Guinea? Is she aware that a senior lawyer representing communities fighting logging issues has received death threats? Is she aware that several Greenpeace activists have been threatened with arrest on trumped-up charges in that country? Is the government prepared to use its undoubted huge diplomatic strength to bring an end to the corruption in this industry in Papua New Guinea?


Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I again thank Senator Brown for the supplementary question, which contained a number of assertions and assumptions. I am astounded that Senator Brown seems to know what is in the forthcoming report. With the greatest of respect, I suggest that Senator Brown wait for the report so that he can see the issues that will be dealt with.