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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8909

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:39): It is a privilege to follow the members for Mayo, Wannon and Grey in putting some of the coalition's concerns in relation to the Illegal Prohibition on Logging Bill 2011. The name of the bill suggests it would be something we could all agree on in this place. But it is typical of the pattern of this government in developing legislation. Whatever sector the government are seeking to regulate or legislate, they rush in a piece of legislation with little to no consultation, are stunned by a set of factual and well-developed points on why the legislation will not work and are then caught in this scramble to somehow amend or deal with the problem they have created by not being thorough in the first place in developing their legislative response.

There is no doubt that, in relation to the illegal logging prohibition bill before us, that that is exactly the approach the government has adopted yet again. But, this time, there are more serious consequences that are not just of a domestic nature; there are also trade and international diplomatic relations consequences—another set of serious consequences from a poor government with a poor legislative program and an inability to get the settings right before they bring a bill into this chamber. Most seriously, Australia being a trading nation and relying so heavily on trade both in the past and in the foreseeable future, it is of grave concern to have some of our closest trading partners and nearest neighbours, including Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, expressing concern about this bill in such vocal and strident ways in evidence to the committee that considered these matters.

The coalition has, of course, sought to address some of the deficiencies here by moving amendments to delay and to allow sufficient time for parliamentary scrutiny of any regulations. But it is impossible to understand what the government is actually intending without having regulations to examine. We simply do not know. Of course we want to prevent illegal logging—that is the concern of lawmakers and legislators. As federal members of parliament, we as legislators are of course concerned with illegality but, to be concerned with illegality, we have to define what is legal behaviour and what is illegal behaviour. We cannot possibly know what the government intends, as our trading partners cannot possibly know what the government intends, will be legal or illegal behaviour.

So why are we moving to pass such a bill today? Why are we not having a thorough consultation and scrutiny process about the regulations so that everybody can understand what is legal and illegal and how they ought to operate and how they can make their business and investment decisions to enable sustained economic activity in this space. I think there is an answer to that question, but, inevitably with this government, it comes back to a political question. The member for Melbourne belled the cat, because the real agenda of this bill is, of course, the Australian Greens and the fact that this government is absolutely and utterly beholden for its political power to the Australian Greens. The member for Melbourne is one member in this place. The entire government is beholden to the one, the member for Melbourne, who in his speech sought to say that he would like to see the definition of illegal logging expanded in the legislation. So the real drivers of the government, the member for Melbourne here and the Australian Greens in the Senate, have belled the cat. Their agenda is to expand the definition of illegality; therefore, the government will have to listen to them in order to stay in power. That may be one reason why we are not seeing the regulations before us today. That is a serious question that I think the minister and the government must address before this bill is accepted by either the House or the Senate.

The government is in this constant arm wrestle with the Australian Greens. It is well known; it is in the public domain. We also heard the member for Melbourne call for the expansion of the due diligence requirements, so we can see that there is a real program and intention in the development of this legislation from the coalition allies and drivers of the government, the Australian Greens, to expand the terms of what is illegal logging and to make it more difficult for people to log. We know that the Australian Greens have an agenda to stop logging completely, whether it be plantation logging or any kind of forestry industry. We know that is their real agenda and we know that they want to make it more difficult. So the government has brought us in this chamber to a point where nobody can tell us what the real agenda of this bill is.

I think this is an entirely unsatisfactory situation, particularly when we have important trading partners like the Indonesians expressing their very clear concern, and I think it is worthwhile to repeat for people in the House who have not heard it yet, what this bill will do.

The Indonesians—in reporting in submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade—said quite clearly that they were very concerned about this bill. The deferral of the legislation until 2015 to provide time to ensure the legislation will not have unintended consequences will unnecessarily harm the mutual trade between our two nations. The member for Wannon was exactly right: that is diplomatic speak for, 'Please do not do this because you are going to create a major trading problem between our nations.'

We have heard from members of this House about the debacle that was created with the live export knee-jerk reaction of a minister and a government seeking to deal with television programs and play with our diplomatic relations as a consequence. That had serious consequences for the people in the live cattle industry. It had serious consequences for the diplomatic efforts between our two nations. It had serious ongoing consequences for our relationship with Indonesia and managing so many vital issues in the world today. This bill will have consequences.

The passage of any legislation in this regard will have consequences as well. So I think it is right for members of this place—especially those concerned with our trade relationships and trade policy and good-quality legislative outcomes of the chamber—to get up and express concern. Not only do I support that this must be deferred until the regulations are in place—a reasonable and practical response that our partners are seeking; I also express my grave concern about using trade policy in this manner to pursue the real objectives of the Australian Greens and the green movement in Australia and worldwide today. We know there are many international green groups and green groups within Australia who are seeking to use our trade policy as leverage in their ongoing environmental and social pursuit of their causes. That is what we are all being dragooned into here today.

It would be interesting to see if the government would bring in such a bill if they were not in coalition with the Australian Greens, if they did not have pressure from the member for Melbourne who wants to expand definitions and see greater definition of illegality in relation to logging all around the world. Remember that this is intricately connected with our diplomatic efforts in foreign aid. Papua New Guinea and Indonesia receive Australian taxpayers' dollars in the form of foreign aid. I support that in most cases. We also have to consider that they are developing nations with vastly different legal and other frameworks. It is inappropriate for the Australian parliament to dictate what Papua New Guinea or Indonesia should be doing when trying to develop and sustain their economies. We do not want them to be the recipient of our aid dollars forever into the future. We want to help them develop strong self-sustaining economies that allow them to produce the best wealth for their citizens. It is in our interests to have strong trading partners and regional neighbours that can sustain themselves and a strong economy. The bill says we are prohibiting illegal logging. That is a fantastic objective that everybody supports, but there are no regulations and there is no design that our trading partners understand about how the bill will work on the ground. That has serious consequences for our relationships. That is why I am here to raise these concerns about this bill, along with so many of my colleagues.

This is not an area that should be toyed with by the government. If they want to pursue a green agenda or placate the Australian Greens, surely the Clean Energy Finance Corporation $10 billion was enough. Why do we have to further damage our trade relationships with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and other very important trading partners in our region simply for that objective? There are ways of dealing with the problem of illegal logging but they are not defined in this bill before us today. There are things that we ought to do to restrict illegal logging and to ensure that Australian businesses are not having to compete with illegal timber products flooding into Australia. There is a lot of speculation about the quantity and the nature of this problem.

We cannot—and I do not think we ever will—achieve legislation in this place which mandates what happens in countries like Indonesia in a way that is meaningful. Through partnership we can do what is already happening, and that is see the development of certification programs and improvements in the circumstances of locking in many of these countries. Australia is already pursuing those objectives, but this bill is obviously ill timed. It is completely and utterly without form or without any real ability for our trading partners or any member of this place to articulate what will happen in the regulation. We do not know. The department says it might take six months but we understand how slow the process of developing any regulation has been. We estimate it will take 18 to 24 months at a minimum if consultation is done properly and—to be frank—when we are dealing with trade matters, consultation ought to be done properly. It ought not to be a luxury or something that we discard so easily in so many pieces of legislation. Consultation matters with trading partners. Consultation with the industry matters. To see yet another piece of legislation which really will achieve no effective end, no real definition and no form places Australian importers and Australian businesses at risk of illegal behaviour without any real benefit to Australia and without doing anything about the problems related to illegal logging.

I have spent my time expressing the concerns about this bill. I thoroughly support the coalition's amendment, without which there is no way that I could support this legislation in the House today.