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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8907


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (12:28): I rise to speak on the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill. Saying we are against illegal logging is really making a motherhood statement. Virtually all of us are against illegal logging. We are opposed to poverty, we are in favour of world peace and we are against illegal logging.

There are no arguments with attempts to halt illegal logging. There are lots of good reasons to do so: loss of biodiversity, loss of income to the country of origin and the fact that illegal logging is of itself a theft and that it entrenches corruption and it causes land management issues with degradation of soils unless, of course, they are replanted and managed correctly. If they are not, it becomes a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. So we are agreed that most if not all Australians are against illegal logging, so the question is not about our intent but what we do about the problem.

Well, one thing we should not do is play the role of colonial master by issuing edicts from Canberra or from Australia on the way other countries should run their affairs. We should strive at every opportunity to make sure we work in partnership with our near neighbours. It has been decreed by the government that this is the Asian century. In fact, the government have appointed Ken Henry to author a white paper on Australia's future in Asia in this century. We need a mature relationship with Asia. That is why any changes we make to our relationship with Asia must be made with understanding and preferably with the support of the nations affected. None of the nations targeted with this bill seeking to outlaw the importation of illegally logged timber support illegal logging, so it should be easy for us to reach a common position with them. We cannot do that without consultation of course. So what do we have? We have Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia and PNG, along with others, all expressing reservations before a Senate inquiry about the bill. Indonesia and Canada are strongly concerned and are not happy with the negotiations thus far. I quote from the Financial Review of 6 March 2012:

Indonesia's Trade Minister, Gita Wirjawan, has 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.

It is worthwhile remembering that Indonesia is our second closest neighbour, it is the biggest Muslim nation in the world, it has a population approaching 240 million and, most importantly from my point of view, it is a functioning democracy. Indonesia should be one of our highest foreign policy priorities. Good relations with Indonesia are not just desirable; they are in fact essential.

I have mentioned the dangers of acting like colonial masters. When you look at our recent past it is not hard to see some stages when we have done that. Most notably, we—that is, Australia—made the live cattle decisions, we have issued intentions to pass legislation affecting palm oil production, we have been crashing around like a drunken elephant in the area when it comes to people-smuggling and we have been making declarations which affect other countries without actually firstly consulting with those countries and taking them with us on the journey.

If we look at the live cattle exports decision we see it has been a shameful exercise, given the way we have treated this most important neighbour of Australia. We have managed to offend them at every turn and we—I mean Australia, and in that case it was driven if not by government policies then by the ministers at least—have effectively halved the live cattle industry exports from Australia to Indonesia. It was all because of a television program and, against departmental advice, a unilateral decision to stop the trade immediately. It disrupted meat supplies and offended national pride, it was a religious insult and, as I have said, it smacked of colonialism. All the years of careful nurturing of one of our most important relationships and it was all trashed overnight! The tremendous goodwill that we as Australians bought with our biggest ever single foreign aid project directed to rebuilding after the tsunami disaster was washed away in an instant. So let us not be led by the same minister down the same path again—consultation and cooperation are paramount. We should be able to achieve something good in this space, but we must do it with cooperation.

We run the risk of doing exactly the same here again, as it is not the only area where this government has got ambition confused with capability. We have seen it with the NBN, the South-East Asian Economic Community, the East Timor solution, the green loans and pink batts fiascos, cash for clunkers and, right now, we have just seen the latest policy reversal, on the use of Nauru as a processing centre. The modus operandi of this government is to make the big announcement and then try and work out what it means afterwards. There is a very grave danger that once again we are heading down that path.

It is worthwhile noting that a number of key producer countries, including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, are developing legality verification, chain of custody and forest certification schemes as we speak. It is far better to be inside their tent helping them than to be throwing rocks from outside it. We need to be friends and to cooperate. But what these countries have asked for is time and consultation, to give them a chance to have a serious input and time to develop systems to comply. You would be aware, Deputy Speaker Thomson, that the coalition took to the last election a policy of outlawing the importation of illegal timbers. We will continue to support that policy. That policy also asked for a two-year consultation period while the regulations were developed. Once again, we are being asked to push through parliament this bill before the regulations are complete and before those countries know how they are likely to be affected. There is also the chance that our local industries will be quite significantly affected, and this revolves around certification. The affected countries are developing certification processes, but the proposed legislation places the onus of proof on the retailers here in Australia to be able to provide evidence. It makes it an offence to import illegally logged timber. It should make it an offence to knowingly import illegally logged timber—and therein lies a very real danger for our businesses.

Some of these countries are developing economies and we would be fools to think there is not some level of corruption in those economies. That means that, as these protocols are developed, if somebody were to illegally obtain a certification process that they offered to an Australian business, the Australian business could well be in contravention of our laws and not have any idea that they were in possession of illegally logged timber. You can imagine the case of a small piece of finely crafted timber with different inlays; it may be a product that is 95 per cent legal product and five per cent illegally logged product. Then, of course, the business becomes totally liable.

All we will need are a couple of highly public infringements to shut down the entire trade. This would have an effect on our businesses but it would also undermine the exports of countries from where we are sourcing our timber legally. That scenario could mean that the price of timber would reduce because markets would be reduced for these countries. If the price of timber reduces you can be sure that, as night follows day, it will lead to increased illegal logging because, as income falls, people tend to increase production. So that would be totally counterproductive, and I know that is not what the Australian government would like to see happen.

We in the coalition are urging the government to show a bit of caution, to show a bit of consideration and to think through what can go wrong for once rather than just thinking through what can go right. Trust me, things that can go wrong are always out there and we should prepare ourselves for that possibility. So we in the coalition urge caution. We are pushing the government to delay implementation of this bill and to go back to the consideration and consultation process with the countries involved so that we can come up with a common purpose approach that they too can support and that they will know will be of benefit to their countries rather than a hindrance.