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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8898

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (11:46): I rise to speak on the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 before the House and the amendment circulated by the coalition in this respect. I begin by saying that I have a great concern about this bill passing the House and the Senate. I support the move by the coalition with its amendment but, in any event, I do not support the thrust of this bill and the direction it is taking.

Mr Jenkins: But you'll do the right thing.

Mr BRIGGS: I will take this opportunity to congratulate the former Speaker, the member for Scullin, on his announcement and on a fine career.

I do not support the direction of this bill. I think it is another example of the Green crusade, through trade policy, that we are increasingly seeing. We are seeing it through this bill. We saw it do most damage, of course, 12 months ago when the government shut down the live cattle export industry overnight because of a Green push, through a TV show. It damaged much of the important relationship between Australia and Indonesia, an extremely important trading partner. So much damage was done through that action, by government policy, because of the pursuit by the Greens of this industry. That is simply what it is—they are pursuing this industry, and now they are pursuing this industry through trade policy.

It has all the worst elements of a step back to before the 1980s. There are many on the Labor side who believe, as I do, in the Hawke-Keating action to unburden Australia of its trade protections. This is a new step—a new use, and an increasing use, of trade protections, through Green activism, to damage our trading relationships with extremely important trading partners.

I thought the speech of the deputy leader, the shadow minister for foreign affairs and trade, was a terrific enunciation of the problems with this bill, in that it creates problems with extremely important trading partners such as Canada, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand—you name it. This puts at risk our reputation, and puts us at risk of challenge under the WTO and its provisions.

We hear much from the trade minister about the coalition's supposed questions in some of these issues, and we have heard in the last few weeks from the trade minister on foreign investment; he has been out there writing op eds and what have you about the coalition's position. Yet the trade minister is strangely silent when it comes to inserting quite outrageous provisions in bills such as this which puts on, in effect, a trade protection against very important trading partners. And I think it shows up the trade minister for a singing and dancing sideshow of a trade minister, when he should be fighting—as, in fairness, the minister for regional development has been—against this play by the Greens to insert their activism through trade policy.

This has undoubtedly done further damage to an already damaged relationship with Indonesia. We have seen this week this House dealing with a bill to try to undo the damage of the Labor government's changes to border protection laws four years ago. Obviously, and importantly, the Indonesian relationship is vital in ensuring that our border protection is looked after and is competently managed. It can only be competently managed if the Indonesians are cooperating. Now, of course, if we continue to use legislative instruments, and we continue to take action such as shutting down the supply of food overnight, we will bear the consequences of those actions, quite obviously. Another sovereign state is entitled to react if Australian domestic law tries to manage or govern the actions of another government, and that is exactly what this bill is seeking to do with developing countries.

If the truth be told, the biggest issue with illegal logging is that it is occurring in developing nations; it is a challenge for developing nations. Rather than act like some sort of—dare I say it—Green deputy sheriff in the region, maybe we should be trying to work with these nations to ensure that they can continue to develop so that they have stronger internal, domestic structures, so they can themselves take action where appropriate, rather than trying to use Australian domestic law, through trade policies, to insert these Green purist pursuits, when the truth is that the real intention of the Greens is to shut these industries down.

We have seen it in Tasmania. I heard the honourable member from Tasmania speak on this bill just before and he made the point that the green activism and the forestry debate in Tasmania has done so much damage to his state. Of course it has, and now we are seeing it through our trade policy.

It is shameful that the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in this Labor government, who claims to be an inheritor of the Hawke and Keating legacy, would stand by while this action is being taken. The minister for trade realistically should explain to this House why and how he thinks it is in Australia's trading interests to be pursuing these Greens policies through this bill and others. It is another example of the most insidious part of this Green-Labor coalition. On the second anniversary of the 'there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead' announcement, we have another example where the Labor government has completely lost its way in ensuring that good, open and free trading arrangements are put in place to the benefit of our country, not policies which damage our relationships with such important allies and trading partners in our region, such important countries to Australia's future.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you know very well that the Indonesians in particular will provide such a great opportunity for our country in the coming years. Why would we consistently and continually poke them in the eye when it comes to our trading arrangements with them by using Australian domestic actions and law to try to force change in their own sovereign country? It is a terrible, terrible piece of legislation and I cannot support it in the form in which it is drafted and as it appears before the House. I am not alone in that. There are other members on this side who hold grave concerns in relation to this bill.

The Indonesians themselves have made it very clear that they think this is a disastrous bill. As the deputy leader said earlier, on 6 March this year there was a story in the Financial Review which said:

Indonesia’s Trade Minister … blasted the Gillard governnment's lack of consultation over an illegal logging bill which he says threatens the future of Indonesia's $5 billion export forestry industry. He is threatening to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organisation if it proceeds.

Similarly, submissions from Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea to the Senate inquiry have also expressed concerns with the bill. There have been a range of legal experts in Australia and international trade experts who have said similar things and expressed similar concerns. Yet the trade minister stays unusually silent over there when it comes to these concerns. It is a real shame that the trade minister will not come in and express his concern along with us and have this bill changed or amended enormously before it goes ahead.

We make the point through our amendment that these concerns that have been raised by important trading partners, by neighbours and by developing countries in our region have not been the subject of the full consultation that is required at the very least before this bill proceeds. At the very least, the amendment that we put forward seeks to address that to some degree, giving the government additional time. But, as I say, I am still extremely reluctant and I am against the thrust of this bill because I think it ultimately does little if anything to reduce illegal logging in developing countries in our region. But, at the same time, because it is purely a protection measure in its nature, it will inevitably increase the cost of timber for consumers in Australia.

We know that that is an open policy position of the Greens, in fairness, to protect the Australian industry, and we heard the member for Melbourne outlining that just then. But we see the Labor Party completely split when it comes to these issues and whether to continue down the path that Hawke and Keating pursued in the 1980s and 1990s or whether to go back to the good old ways that the Secretary of the AWU, Mr Paul Howes, and the new Secretary of the ACTU, Mr David Oliver, would like the Labor Party to pursue. That is the old-fashioned protectionist economy, the settlement economy that existed in Australia prior to the 1980s. This is another reason that this bill should offend those of good economic conscience on the other side who believe that Australia's future best lies with an open and trading economy, because this bill completely offends those principles. Thus I cannot in good conscience support it.

It also has to be remembered that this is another example of Australia using its diplomatic power in the wrong way. I would have thought we want more than anything to develop better relations in the Pacific region. I know the government has put effort into that through the member for Corio, the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. That is an important step, an important issue for us to pursue. It is very important that Papua New Guinea, Fiji and other countries in our region continue to develop as we wish them to and that their populations continue to enjoy a better standard of living, more opportunities and all the great things that Australians get. We can and do play a very important role in that, but what we should not do with our role is misuse that power with bills such as this. We should not use domestic law to in effect threaten other countries—developing countries—or tell them what to do with their sovereign nations, how they should run their sovereign nations and how they should enforce good law in their own sovereign nations. There is indeed a better way to pursue this issue.

There are questions raised about the amount of illegal logging going on and how big a problem this is. The member for Melbourne asserts that it is an enormous problem, that it is causing great carnage. There are others who say that is not the case. In any event, this is clearly a development issue. It is not an issue of criminality; it is an issue of development in those regions. The more and the quicker we can encourage and assist by good economic development measures and good governance measures our developing neighbours to ensure they have very strong operational domestic laws and strong domestic economies, the better and quicker we will be able to address—or they will be able to address, more importantly—some of these concerns.

We can assist through that, and indeed we do. We do good work, and I think the member for Corio has done some good work in his efforts to ensure that in our region we are working for a way to have faster and better development in those countries.

But this is not the way to do it. This is wrong-headed, bad policy. This legislation will cause damage to our reputation with the World Trade Organisation. It runs counter to the pursuit of an open and trading economy that the Australian government has held to, in a bipartisan manner, for the last 30 years, as you well know, Deputy Speaker Leigh. There are of course always people who are concerned about open and trading economies and the pursuit of free trade mechanisms and agreements and so forth. But, ultimately, we know from the evidence and from the benefits of the rise in living standards Australians have enjoyed since those policies have been pursued in a bipartisan manner that they have led to far better outcomes in our country and in developing and developed countries around the world.

This bill runs counter to that, and that is why it is such a bad bill. It will not stop the practice of illegal logging. It will increase the cost of timber in Australia and it will damage our international relationships with very important trading partners at the wrong time, when they are already under pressure. It is a bad bill and it should not be supported.