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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8888

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (11:05): It is good that the opposition have in-principle consideration, after three reports have called for action—but they still find ways of not supporting a very good bill. They always find something to do with process or whatever that is not quite up to their standard. I find that very disappointing, as will most timber workers and the timber industry generally, I believe.

The object of the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 is to reduce the harmful environmental, social and economic impact of illegal logging by restricting the importation and sale of illegally logged timber products in Australia. The bill represents a major step by Australia to prevent the trade in illegal timber products both nationally and internationally. It will create greater certainty for Australia's domestic timber producers and suppliers and provide an assurance to consumers that the products they purchase are legally sourced.

We have to get our own industry back into some sort of economically sustainable condition so that we have enough local timber to supply our markets, put our foresters back to work and grow that industry. We should ask ourselves why we need such a bill. Australia has been under pressure for years now to ensure that our product is legal and certified to the highest world standard, which it is. But by certifying all export timber, it adds considerable cost to the processes. If we allow the import of timber that does not have that certification, we are doing damage to our own businesses and markets. Australia imports approximately $4.4 billion per annum of timber products—excluding furniture—or 0.034 per cent of global production. Of these imports, the proportion of illegally logged timber is estimated at nine per cent or around $400 million, so the damage to our industry will be quite significant if we keep allowing this to continue.

With the passing of this bill, it will be an offence to import timber products containing illegally logged timber, with a penalty of five years imprisonment for breaching the prohibition. Australia's share of the social and environmental costs of illegal logging, therefore, can be estimated to be about $23 million per annum. For many years illegal logging has been recognised as a significant global problem due to its impacts on forest degradation, climate change, habitat loss and community livelihoods in developing timber-producing countries. Deforestation and degradation of tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific through illegal logging also constitutes a threat to Australia promoting legal and sustainable forest management in the countries of this region. The problem is exacerbated through lack of measures in timber consumer countries to restrict or prohibit the importation of illegally logged timber and wood products. In response, major timber consumer countries such as the United States and the European Union are implementing measures to prevent trade in illegally logged timber and wood products. Timber producing countries such as Indonesia are also developing timber legality verification schemes to reduce illegal logging and demonstrate the legality of their timber products to their trading partners.

We have the idiotic situation in Australia where we are developing a highly sustainable and certified industry and our biggest critics, the Greens, are paying scant attention to the illegal logging going on overseas and driving our potential customers to go to places like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea for their supply. It makes no sense at all. While we are highly regulated in Australia, both for harvesting and for our exports, the local industry relies on self-regulation to verify the legal origins of imported timber and wood products. This is undertaken through a mix of voluntary procurement policies and procedures. In some cases, importers assess the risk of products being sourced illegally and put in place arrangements to verify that the products come from legally logged sources. The definition of 'illegally logged' in this instance means harvested in contravention of the law in force in the place, whether or not in Australia, where the timber was harvested. The challenge of prescribing individual requirements in a definition is complicated by the range of legislation, given the number of countries—85 in total—from which Australia imports timber products. An unintended consequence of the prescriptive definition of 'illegally logged' is that it may result in some elements of applicable legislation being overlooked or excluded through omission.

The current arrangements are considered by industry to be inefficient because not all businesses undertake any form of due diligence or legality verification and may obtain an unfair cost advantage by sourcing and selling cheap illegal timber. Legitimate operators are also uncertain what constitutes an adequate level of due diligence under the voluntary arrangements. This situation has led to inefficient, highly variable, potentially inadequate legality verification practices, with industry having a limited capacity to resolve this matter through self-regulation. A more structured approach is therefore required.

The Australian government's policy objective is 'to combat illegal logging and associated trade by establishing systems that will promote trade in legally logged timber and, in the long term, trade in timber and wood products from sustainably managed forests'. The government is seeking to meet this objective by identifying illegally logged timber, restricting its import into Australia and requiring disclosure of species, country of harvest and certification at the point of sale. Any regulation to identify and restrict the importation of illegal timber into Australia would similarly apply to the domestic industry. The idea is to identify the multiple elements described in this government's election commitment for what would be defined as illegally sourced timber.

To provide a workable definition that can be assessed using legality verification systems, it is proposed that legally sourced timber products are defined as those where timber suppliers have right of access to the forest, complied with the legal right to the harvest and paid all taxes and royalties. Establishing a framework for promoting trade in legally logged timber is an important step towards achieving the government's ultimate goal of promoting trade in timber and wood products from sustainably managed forests. The illegal logging policy objective provides a further demonstration of the government's commitment to the principle of environmentally protected and sustainable forest management.

Each country is different and standards vary depending on the degree of developĀ­ment. That is why this bill is important: we need to have a certification process that has world acceptance, not the lowest common denominator of assessment. We want to pull the standards up to ours, not diminish them to Third World standards. That way, we can not only ensure that any timber product that comes into Australia has the highest standard of sustainable timber verification in the world but also work towards assisting other countries to improve their standards of forestry to a properly sustainable level.

Why should Australian workers lose their jobs because we import wood from countries with unsustainable, unsafe practices and questionable workplaces, as can be seen in developing countries? These countries need to know that there are big gains to be made by replanting after harvesting, caring for the soil and training their workforce on safety issues, and who better than Australian timber workers to help them? In a press release yesterday, the National Secretary of the CFMEU, Mr Michael O'Connor, stated:

Workers, their families and their communities are holding on for grim life in the face of imports that unfairly undercut them. They expect urgent action from their representatives.

The cost advantage that imported manufactured illegally logged wood products unfairly enjoy over manufactured products that utilise legal timber is conservatively estimated to be 20 per cent of the total cost of production.

Wood products represent the second largest sector in Australia's manufacturing industry and cheap, imported products are costing workers their jobs and killing their communities.

We had bipartisan support for taking action on preventing imports of illegally logged timber and imported wood products that utilise it. We have had three separate inquiries, each of which has recommended action.

Further delays are not acceptable and not feasible for timber processing and wood products manufacturing workers, their families and their communities. Their livelihoods are on the line.

Mr O'Connor from the CFMEU is exactly right: Australia is certainly losing out. Australia has to compete on costs now, but if there is similar certification across the region then it evens out the competition so that all timber products from South-East Asia, and including ours, will compete on the quality of the wood and its use rather than its method or legality of harvest.

At a time when forestry and its products are being very carefully scrutinised, especially in Tasmania, this bill is important to ensure the standards we expect in Australia can be extended to all products that come into the country. As everyone well knows by now, Tasmania is going through massive structural change in the forest industry, brought on by some terrible practices of the Greens, who have brought disrepute on our state and our markets for completely selfish reasons. In fact the Greens have a lot to answer for in Tasmania, with the slump in the economy. So it is even more important that we get certification right. I believe we already have more than world's best practice, but if we have to turn more somersaults, spell out more clearly what we do and how we do it then so be it. But under no circumstances can we see workers lose their jobs because Australia is importing illegally logged timber with slack or lower standards of assessment of harvesting practices. Our neighbours to our north can and must come to a world-accepted standard; we need an accreditation process acceptable to all so that we can all go forward.

Timber is a renewable product with a very small carbon footprint. It has much advantage over many other products that we use in day-to-day activities. I fully support the intent of this bill and hope that it passes quickly so that it can give a lift to those who work in this very sustainable industry not only in Tasmania but right throughout Australia. If we allow proper process and make this bill work properly it will be of advantage to this great industry, the timber industry of Australia.