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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8938

Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (12:20): I rise to speak on the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2012. Amongst the penalties included in the bill are $33,000 for an individual and $165,000 for a corporation for offences that include importing regulated timber products and processing raw logs without complying with the due diligence requirements. Those fines no doubt will act as a strong incentive to comply with the due diligence requirements. But what exactly are the due diligence requirements that must be complied with? We only find out the answer to that question when the regulations are developed at some time in the future. However, the bill in proposed section 14(5) says:

The regulations may provide for due diligence requirements for importing regulated timber products to be satisfied … by compliance with—

amongst other things—

… rules or processes established or accredited by an industry or certifying body …

Similarly, at proposed section 18 (5), referring to processed raw logs, the bill again says that the regulation may provide for due diligence requirements to be satisfied by compliance with rules or processes established or accredited by industry or certifying bodies. These certifying bodies, no doubt, will include the Forest Stewardship Council, the body supported by a number of radical green groups. For example, members of the Forest Stewardship Council ruling general assembly include Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund—the WWF—and other environmental non-government organisations, or ENGOs.

The debate has hardly started, and yet we see the Greens making a big direct play to get these green groups to issue certificates so they get their snouts right in the trough. We see ENGO sustainable certification bodies established or projected in a number of primary production areas: for example, forestry and fishing, and now beef and others, I believe. This raises the fundamentally important issue of how Australia will be governed in the future. It is certainly about how food, fibre and timber products will be harvested. The growth of the certification bodies highlights an apparent abdication of responsibility by the current federal government for making important decisions about primary production. I believe it also represents a direct attack on science and the role of scientists in decision making in primary production and other areas. It also belittles the role of experienced resource managers and potentially sidelines them.

It highlights the growing power of the ENGOs, especially their financial power and their ability to exert influence over government decisions. We are all familiar with references to 'big business' as a general term for wealthy and influential business organisations. Now in Australia we are seeing the rise of 'big environment', a large, wealthy network of environmental activists. How wealthy they are was shown by the Canberra Times article in December 2009 which reported that in that year Australia's four largest environmental groups had spent a total of $70 million, much of it for political lobbying.

Under this Labor government we have seen 'big environment' grow more and more powerful and influential, to the point where environmental activists now seem to be orchestrating much of Labor's policy on primary industry and natural resources. It appears that the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2012 will require both importers and domestic processors of logs to have a due diligence system in place to ensure that to the best of their knowledge they do not import or process products obtained from illegal logging. The exact requirements in relation to due diligence are not yet known and will be specified in regulations at some time in the future.

However, it is absolutely vital that the regulations must not give any form of preference to one certifying organisation over another. Industry people tell me that producers, exporters and importers are possibly faced with having to construct a whole new system to meet the requirements of this legislation and would feel themselves forced to join a sustainable forest management certification scheme. Our importers and domestic processors might also come to the conclusion that it is necessary, at the end of the day, to handle logs certified through such a scheme.

When this is the case, it is vital that they have more than one certifying body to choose from. It would be a nightmare scenario if the only organisation that the market enables to anoint timber products as sustainably produced was something like the Forest Stewardship Council Australia. The way the Forest Stewardship Council Australia, or FSC, operates is to force timber producers to go through an expensive series of steps to have their products accepted by the FSC as sustainable. In the case of the Australian timber industry, those industry groups and businesses that choose to go for a certification scheme for their products at least have a choice.

Apart from the Green-NGO dominated Forest Stewardship Council Australia, there is a body called Australian Forestry Standard Ltd, or AFS. AFS says that it covers the majority of certified forests in Australia, with more than 10 million hectares certified under Australian standard 4708, the Australian Standard for Sustainable Forest Management. However, through the supply chain from the loggers right through to the final end users, businesses are already under constant pressure to use FSC-certified timber.

One company that has experienced this is Ta Ann Tasmania. It uses timber harvested by others and which was previously destined for the woodchippers. Ta Ann value adds by veneering these previous woodchip logs into valuable veneer for plywood production. The timber is sourced from regrowth and plantation. Environmental activists are conducting what my Tasmanian colleague Senator Eric Abetz described in this place earlier this year as a:

… deceptive campaign to cruel the markets of Ta Ann around the world, prejudicing Tasmanian jobs when our unemployment rate in Tasmania is well over seven per cent, and heading north.

Ta Ann's reputation is being defamed, and their markets drying up.

One example is where an activist group called Markets for Change flew to London before the Olympic Games and convinced the local company buying plywood for a basketball court not to use Ta Ann's products that they had previously agreed to purchase. A spokesman for the London contractor was quoted in the media as saying:

The reason we've stopped or we've suspended purchasing from Ta Ann is mainly because of the controversy around the logging in Tasmanian forestry. The NGO's will have to be happy with any changes that they can make to enable the product to be purchased by us again.

The Olympic basketball court represented one contract. Far more serious for Ta Ann has been the persistent lobbying by Markets for Change of the company's overseas customers for flooring products, especially in Japan. I understand that this has directly cost the company a significant percentage of its market there, which must directly affect jobs in Tasmania.

It is no surprise, then, to see media reports that Ta Ann's board of directors could decide as early as the end of this month to close down the operations in Tasmania. This is a company which last year injected $45 million into the Tasmanian economy and provided hundreds of jobs. They are hoping that there still might be a so-called peace deal between environmentalists and industry emerging in coming weeks, despite the recent collapse of negotiations over the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement, or IGA.

As well as conducting an ongoing campaign against Ta Ann, the Markets for Change activists are also targeting retail chain Harvey Norman. Harvey Norman is selling furniture made from sustainable Tasmanian timber, but that is not good enough for Markets for Change.

Both Ta Ann and Harvey Norman products are certified by Australian Forestry Standard, but of course Markets for Change and their fellow activists say that that is not the right certifying body. The Markets for Change website tells businesses like Ta Ann and Harvey Norman what they should do, saying that they should:

… give preference to plantation products with full Forest Stewardship Council certification.

So there we are, trying to force producers and buyers to use Forest Stewardship Council approved material.

It is a familiar pattern. In July last year Greenpeace activists climbed on a construction crane on the Central Park development in Sydney in a protest over the use of plywood that the organisation claimed was sourced illegally. Soon afterwards, Greenpeace trumpeted the news that the developers had promised not to use any timber that was not certified by the Forest Stewardship Council—again, direct action to make sure that other companies use only FSC certified material.

The examples I have drawn here relate to timber and timber products. However, the aims of the ENGOs go far beyond just timber in Australia. In Australia we have already seen the formation of the Forest Stewardship Council for timber products, the Marine Stewardship Council for wild-caught seafood, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council for farmed fish, and now a so-called roundtable for beef production. These are all WWF initiatives. Last year WWF International stated it was focusing on commodities including beef, bioenergy, cotton, dairy, farmed fish, palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, sugar, timber and wild-caught fish. It intended to target companies such as commodity traders, manufacturers, retailers and banks, insisting they deal only with producers endorsed by WWF.

It is by no means far-fetched to say that WWF and other ENGOs fully intend that all food and fibre products harvested in Australia will be forced to go through one of its cash-producing 'sustainability certification' processes. They will want every food and fibre product—every single one—to be certified. Australian primary producers should think about that. These are the schemes that cost individual producers thousands of dollars for the initial certification process and then regular ongoing costs for auditing.

Someone who has studied the impact of such sustainability certification schemes worldwide is Alan Oxley, one of Australia's most influential advisers on international trade. He was previously Australian Ambassador to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, which was the predecessor to the World Trade Organization. Mr Oxley said:

WWF has made no secret of its strategy to pressure companies occupying strategic positions in the supply chain, such as dominant consumer goods manufacturers and retailers, to adopt its certification standards. Other NGOs such as Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network are aggressively attacking brand names and leading products of major companies to encourage them to join the strategy.

He went on:

ENGOs will also engage a method often referred to as 'greenmail' to force companies into certification. 'Greenmail' involves action to devalue the public perception of a brand name or company reputation of producers and retailers through advocacy campaigns aimed at consumers and processors. Running negative campaigns against brand labels with significant market position is common. The aim is to pressure these businesses to align with or adopt certification systems developed by NGOs. Once the company adopts that system, it has become an agent for delivering the sustainability values of the NGO. By these means, ENGOs are able to influence, and even control, the supply chain.

When they hear that statement, perhaps Australian cattle producers can understand why WWF has been so keen to include McDonald's, the largest single buyer of Australian beef, and JBS, our largest single beef processor, on its Australian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. WWF sees this roundtable as a first step towards pushing Australian cattle producers into another one of its costly sustainability certification schemes.

A couple of years ago, WWF US Senior Vice President Jason Clay gave an interview explaining how WWF's roundtables work. He said:

… we convene roundtables—meetings of all the members of a commodity’s value chain—everyone from producers, traders and manufacturers to brands and retailers, as well as scientists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Together we agree on the key impacts of producing a commodity - deforestation, water us, and so on - then design standards to minimize these impacts, which are ultimately certified by an independent third party. The participants publicly commit to producing, buying and selling within these standards, to be part of the commodity roundtable, forming a chain of sustainability.

Of course, to successfully achieve what Mr Oxley accurately describes as 'greenmail' and devalue the public perception of the brand name or company reputation of producers, the ENGOs first have to convince the Australian public and international buyers that current practices in forestry or fisheries or beef are environmentally unsustainable.

How can they possibly do that? Australia rightly insists that its primary producers maintain production methods and standards that are amongst the very highest in the world from an environmental point of view. I will tell you why ENGOs can portray our primary production methods as 'unsustainable' and in need of their own particular brand of expensive sustainability certification scheme. The ENGOs can do that because, while the current government continues to insist on stringent environmental standards from our primary producers, this Labor government says and does nothing to defend them. Instead, being politically captive to the Greens and radical green policies, it surrenders at the first sign of manufactured outrage. Instead of governing on the basis of good science, sound management principles and good old-fashioned common sense, this government is itself managed by social media. For this government, science can be trumped by emotion. It surrenders fact to opinion and rational management to the 140-character Twitter message.

This is a government had responded to a television program by shutting down Australia's live cattle export trade. That cost the cattle industry millions and millions of dollars and is still hurting cattle producers and related business operators throughout Northern Australia. Then of course later, realising the enormous harm it has done by such an emotional, knee-jerk reaction, the government reversed its decision.

This is the government that encouraged efficient harvesting of fish in southern waters and agreed to the use of a large international trawler but then panicked at some of the reaction to the vessel's arrival and banned its operation. What that did was effectively cast doubt over Australia's fisheries management and fisheries science. Our fisheries science and fisheries management are internationally acknowledged as amongst the very best in the world. This is the government that gave in to the slick, well-funded lobbying campaign of international environmental activists and closed much of the almost one-million-square-kilometre Coral Sea region to most forms of fishing. That was completely unnecessary.

This is the government that allows ENGO activists to use deceitful public campaigns to target timber suppliers operating sustainably in well-managed forests. This government does nothing. This government stands on the sidelines and watches. It does nothing to defend sustainable businesses providing vital Australian jobs. It allows damaging campaigns to be waged against markets for sustainable Australian products here and overseas without lifting a finger or saying a word to help protect the jobs of Australian workers.

Who is running this country? Clearly not the current government. It looks more like mob rule. Scientists and resource managers must be seething with anger and frustration when sound, long-term advice is overruled for expedient short-term politics. What we see from some green groups is in fact antiscience. Science is complex and rational. The ENGO messages are inevitably simple and emotional: 'Save this, save that and save the other; donate now.'

What is to be done? Clearly, the government must speak out on behalf of Australia's primary producers and the sustainability of their farming, forestry and fishing practices. Then they must take action to back up those words. They must support our wealth-creating, job-creating primary industries in the marketplace. In other words, they must refute the lies told about our primary producers by the ENGOs. Then these ENGOs must be made accountable. The government should urgently re-examine the exemption of the ENGOs from the secondary boycott provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act—for example, where the ENGOs encourage the boycott of products not carrying the sustainability certification label they prefer.

The government should also examine what looks to be a free ride for activists who take apparently illegal actions but use the excuse that they were doing it for the environment. Why do these big environmental organisations, which seem to be able to spend millions and millions of dollars lobbying government and running advertising, PR and social media campaigns to influence the public opinion, enjoy tax-free charity status?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Moore ): Order! Senator, your time has expired.

Senator BOSWELL: I seek leave to incorporate the last page of my speech.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: This has not been previously agreed. We will return to your request after we go through the next process. We will keep it under consideration. If you can show the remainder of your speech to the whips, that may facilitate it.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.