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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6316


Mr KELVIN THOMSON (2:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Will the minister outline to the House the policies taken by the government in relation to supporting Australian jobs by combating illegal and unsustainable logging. Can he provide examples of dangerous and reckless logging practices?


Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Wills for the question. Illegal and unsustainable logging is often presented as being purely an environmental problem. It is of course also a very real threat to Australian jobs. You only have to visit a timber mill in the nation to see that people are perilously aware of the threat that can be posed by imports of illegal and unsustainable logging. To that end, the government is continuing to negotiate internationally to have methods of verification of and certification for timber in order to be able to ultimately prevent illegally logged timber from entering Australia. You need not only to be able to verify and certify what has been logged legally, which is the reason we have our agreements with both Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but also to be able to have a level of cooperation where the processing itself occurs, which is why we have been having further discussions on that with China.

The question from the member for Wills also invites me to provide examples of where some appalling logging practices have taken place. I am reminded of the example of Axiom Forest Resources, a company that engaged in logging in the Solomon Islands in the 1990s, at the same time that the Leader of the Opposition was both its chairman and a shareholder. I read with interest an article earlier this year in the Sunday Telegraph. The title of the article is: ‘Malcolm Turnbull linked to mass logging operation in Solomon Islands’. It went on to report about the island of Vangunu, home to just over 2,000 people in the Solomons. The Leader of the Opposition’s company certainly left its mark on the island; it was never the same. A report provided by AusAID said:

… more like a clear-felling operation and bearing little relation to an attempt at even retaining a token sample of future commercial crop on the site.

Further:

The degree of canopy removal and soil disturbance was the most extensive seen by the authors in any logging operation in tropical rainforest in any country …

The impact from the destruction of the resource was such that, instead of it being done in a sustainable way, the resource was essentially shot to pieces and that then had an ongoing impact on the soil. When rain went through, the water would take in the order of 24 hours to a week to clear and, in the rainy season, the plumes became a semi-permanent feature.

It was also revealed in March 2007 that the chairman of that company bought in at $200,000 and sold out one year later for $25 million. That is not a bad story for the Leader of the Opposition but a pretty shocking story for the residents of that island in the Solomon Islands. In a 1997 report into logging practices in the Solomon Islands, it was also revealed that complex corporate arrangements where consistently entered into to avoid tax. This is something that would be known fairly well by someone who has been willing to be an opportunist in this way—an opportunist who was also willing, as the minister for the environment, to describe rainforests as ‘the lungs of the world’ some years after he had decided to be part of an operation that was clear-felling the lungs of the world.


Mr Pyne interjecting


Mr BURKE —We have the Manager of Opposition Business wanting to talk about ‘Where is there a smear? Where is it grubby?’ I tell you that it certainly was for the people living in the Solomons; it certainly was for them. They certainly had a resource shot to pieces. They certainly had to deal with something. What was the role, as the chairman of the company, that the Leader of the Opposition when this came to light described himself as having:

My only involvement with the company was as a corporate doctor.

Well, a doctor that may well have made the company pretty healthy but left the Solomons feeling pretty sick. The people of this former island paradise do not thank the Leader of the Opposition, the doctor, for his prescription. They live with it every day. They live with the cash grab. They live with the resource destruction of a first-grade political opportunist—someone who might be willing to cover Australian farmland with trees while he is clear-felling the islands of the Pacific.