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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 8918

Dr EMERSON (RankinMinister for Trade and Competitiveness) (13:17): The member for Bradfield has joined in the passing parade of coalition MPs who have alleged, based in part on a story in the Financial Review,that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia has been severely strained and damaged over this matter. I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight on that.

In terms of heritage, I have had a long association with the logging industry and also with conservation issues, going back to the days of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. I was involved during the Tasmanian forest issue—a very vexed issue at that time—the issue of the wet tropics of north Queensland and, subsequently, as the director-general of the environment department, the logging issue in Queensland. I can say, against that background, that the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill will support trade in legitimate forestry products. The government is developing the policy in accordance with our international obligations under the World Trade Organization—of course we would do that. The policy will be applied to imports from all countries equally and will also apply to illegally obtained Australian timber. In that sense it is nondiscriminatory. The policy makes a distinction between illegal and legal timber rather than between the countries of origin of the timber.

The bill will prevent the importation and sale of illegally logged timber and timber products in Australia. It is designed to support similar measures implemented by the European Union and the United States. So, far from it being a socialist plot and draconian legislation, this is part of a global effort to deal with the problem of illegal logging. It is part of the broader international effort to boost trade in legally logged timber and address the serious economic, social and environmental impacts of illegal logging.

The Indonesian government and other governments in the region have expressed their support for the eradication of the illegally logged timber trade, and obviously we are at one on that. There was extensive consultation with our counterparts in Indonesia, and that will continue. We have made the commitment in personal meetings—Senator Ludwig with his counterparts and I with my counterpart in Indonesia, the trade minister, Gita Wirjawan—that we will consult very closely on the development of the regulations. That is a source of great reassurance to them.

During this debate, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition gleefully read from a piece that was written in the Australian Financial Review titled 'Indonesia fed up with Canberra "dysfunction"'. The quoting from that piece has led me to come into the chamber to clarify the true situation. I would have let the water flow under the bridge, as we have done, having sought ourselves a clarification or retraction in respect of that particular piece. But, given that it has been invoked in the debate to seek to influence the way people vote in this chamber on that matter, I think everyone in this chamber and outside listening deserves a clarification. That clarification is provided in two documents. One is a press release from Gita Wirjawan, my counterpart, the trade minister of Indonesia. I will read some of that. It says:

Related to a news article published today by the Australian Financial Review titled 'Indonesia fed up with Canberra 'dysfunction'' the Ministry of Trade, Republic of Indonesia, would like to clarify that the statement in the news report quoting Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan in the published article was not sourced, originated from the minister, nor the ministry. The ministry was never contacted with regard to the issue. There was never an interview that took place with the Indonesian Trade Minister in relation to the issue with the Australian Financial Review. The Ministry of Trade has communicated with the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta in clarifying factual information that no such comment has ever taken place in view of the Australian government in Canberra.

This was followed up by correspondence from the trade minister, Gita Wirjawan, to Michael Stutchbury, the editor of the Financial Review. I sought, on behalf of Gita Wirjawan, a retraction. I was told there would be no retraction, that they stood by their story. The letter to Michael Stutchbury about the article written by John Kerin includes the following:

I would like to raise your attention to a recent news article published by the Australian Financial Review entitled Indonesia fed up with Canberra 'dysfunction', published in its 6 March 2012 print edition. For your kind information, I was subsequently informed that the lead author of the above article, John Kerin, has interviewed sources in the ministry but insisted on keeping them confidential. Nonetheless, I believe the article along with my photograph as shown is slander and misleading to the readers. We would highly appreciate a retraction of the article.

It could not be clearer. You have the Indonesian trade minister protesting strongly in the Financial Review. As I said, we could get neither a clarification nor a retraction initiated not by this government but by the government of Indonesia. That is a decision that the Financial Review made. But to have that piece brought into this chamber and used as evidence against the illegal logging bill is obviously highly misleading. I am not saying it was wilfully misleading. Obviously, if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had bothered to contact the Indonesian embassy in Australia or the Australian embassy in Indonesia, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would have known that the trade minister of Indonesia was completely put out by this, that he had given no interview and that he was very upset that his photograph was in this story as if to give the impression that such an interview took place.

Speaker after speaker on the coalition side said how important it is that we must not do anything to damage the relationship with Indonesia. In this chamber yesterday every one of them voted in favour of a policy towing back boats into Indonesian waters with no agreement from Indonesia. It has been made abundantly clear time and time again that the Indonesian government would not accept such a policy. They have said it publicly; they have said it privately. So let us forget the cant hypocrisy from the coalition. The coalition talks about the importance of maintaining a good relationship with Indonesia, which this government has, and then walks into the chamber, every one of them, to vote for a policy that would destroy the relationship between the government of Australia and the government of Indonesia.

We want some truth to come out in these deliberations in this parliament. There has been a highly misleading article and an attempt by the trade minister himself personally to get a retraction. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition came into this chamber and read it out gleefully saying that it is a wonderful thing from their point of view that there is a bad relationship between this government and the Indonesian government. There is not; there is an excellent relationship, and we will continue to consult on the regulations in the bill. That is the undertaking we have given and that is the undertaking that has been accepted by the government of Indonesia. I would think that there might be an opportunity at some stage for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition herself to recant and to say that she is sorry for the embarrassment she has caused by quoting from an article for which the Indonesian trade minister unsuccessfully sought a retraction from the Australian Financial Review.