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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8944


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:51): I was about to say to Senator Boswell, 'It's amazing what flattery can do for you!'—then I was going to start my speech by flattering both Senator Boswell and Senator Colbeck for their contribution on this bill before the chamber relating to illegal logging. But I am not flattering in the way of seeking any return: it is always good to follow people of the calibre of Senator Colbeck and Senator Boswell in a debate on these quite technical subjects. Senator Colbeck will make a great minister dealing with this area in a new government and I know that Senator Boswell has had a long passion not only for sustainable forestry but for exposing how some of the radical green groups are destroying Australian industry.

I want to speak on this bill and oppose it on several grounds, some of which have been covered by my colleagues. But I will start with a broad historical approach to this. When I was the forestry minister many years ago, trying to stop the importation of illegally logged timber was paramount in the work that my department and I were doing. In fact, the coalition had promised it, as I recall, in the 2001 election and again in the 2004 election—and, I suspect, since then. We have been determined to try to do something about importing timber that has been illegally logged. As I found out at the time, the concept was easy to grasp; putting the rules into place in the form of legislation was exceedingly more difficult. The Labor Party have tried but, as with most things when it comes to governance by the Labor Party, their attempts have been fraught with problems. Hence this bill before us, which we will be opposing for all the reasons mentioned by Senator Colbeck and by Senator Boswell, some of which I will elaborate on now.

The thing that disturbs me most about illegal logging and the importation into other countries including Australia is that there should not be any call for importation of any sort of timber into Australia. Australia has some of the most significant forestry assets in the world, and forestry was an industry that was entirely sustainable. But the Greens political party has succeeded over a period of time in destroying what was a major industry for Australia, a big work creator for Australia and an industry that was fully sustainable.

I remember Richo, then Senator Richardson, as environment minister coming up to Ravenshoe behind Cairns in the early nineties and standing before a forest and saying, 'We are bringing in World Heritage listing to save this pristine forest'. You could just hear him above the boos and hisses from the large crowd gathered there. Unfortunately for Senator Richardson and for the Labor Party at the time —and I think Richo later acknowledged this in his book Whatever It Takes—the pristine forest that he wanted to save had been logged for 100 years, and it had been logged so sustainably that Richo, the Greens, the Wilderness Society and the ACF thought that it was a pristine forest. It had been well managed, it had been harvested sustainably and it had produced some of the most magnificent timbers. Richo said this in his book Whatever It Takes—it is a bit old these days but I still recommend that anyone should have a read of it. It just shows how interested in power the Labor Party is. It is not interested in governance; it is just interested in power, and Richo made that quite clear in his book Whatever It Takes. But he did refer to this. This had nothing to do with saving the pristine forest and nothing to do with environment; it was all about getting Greens second preference votes in Sydney and Melbourne, and Richo was very open about that.

But this is how the Greens work. Here was an industry that employed so many people. I was encouraged back in the days when I was minister to have the CFMEU—well, the ‘F’ part of the CFMEU—work hand in glove with the Howard government to save the Tasmanian timber industry. I thought we had achieved that. Everyone will recall that magnificent rally in the 2004 election when John Howard was mobbed by forestry workers, and I have to say the forestry part of the CFMEU assisted in arranging that function. As a result of that, we won two seats in Tasmania and we had saved the industry.

But the Greens never give up. When other ministers came along and the government changed, they were back in their own old ways of trying to shut down this sustainable industry. They have continued with the fishing industry; they have almost succeeded there. So we import a lot of timber now that we do not have to. We already import most of our fish but, thanks to the Greens, we will import practically all of it. I am told that just today former Senator Brown has been appointed to the board of Markets for Change, the group that is quite open about shutting down the timber industry in Australia. So we will have all imported timber. Of course, the Labor Party fall for this because they need the Greens votes to keep Ms Gillard in power as Prime Minister. It is as simple as that.

I understand this group, Markets for Change, is trying to commercially penalise Harvey Norman, one of the very few Australian retailers that actually supports the Australian manufacturing industry. Most other furniture retailers in Australia import their furniture from China. The one who makes a virtue of using Australian manufacturing is Harvey Norman, because it creates jobs for Australian unionists and workers. But what happens? Ex-Senator Brown and the Greens want to shut him down. Why? Because he is using Australian timber in some of his furniture products.

This bill would not be needed if Australia had continued its vibrant, sustainable native forest industry. Any reasonable observer who gets in a plane in Cairns and flies to Hobart will see magnificent stands of Australian forest, most of which have been logged for 100 years, but you would not know it.

They have been sustainably managed over many years. They have created jobs.

We used to export timber. Now we are in a situation where, thanks to the Greens, Australians are buying timber from countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific, who we all know are illegally logging. So, thanks very much, Greens political party, you have contributed to the raping and pillaging of some very special tropical timbers in countries in South-East Asia and in the Pacific! But it does not matter; the Greens have had their way!—they have shut down yet another Australian industry.

If I could be bothered talking to any of them at close quarters I would like to understand, one day, what the underlying theme of the Greens is. Do they want Australia to be a totally mendicant state, where we just rely on borrowed money and government handouts for our living? Because you would think that the Greens are determined to shut down any industry Australia has. I have mentioned the fishing industry; it is on its knees. I have mentioned the forestry industry; it is on its knees. The Greens are attempting to shut down the manufacturing industry. It is because of the Greens—because Ms Gillard wanted to be Prime Minister and needed their support—that we have this carbon tax that is continuing to send Australian manufacturing jobs offshore. Yet the Labor Party is the great party of the workers! Most of their senators were formerly members of unions. They are supposed to be looking after the jobs of workers, but they have introduced a tax that sends manufacturing jobs offshore.

The one competitive advantage Australia used to have in the manufacturing area and in our cost-of-living area was that we had the greatest supply of cheap energy anywhere in the world. That cheap energy allowed us to compete. But again the Greens, and the Labor Party because they have no courage, have introduced this tax which will effectively, in time, shut down the coal industry.

Some people still believe in the fools' paradise: they think foreign investors are rushing into Australia to invest in our vast mineral products. Well, they should really have a look at the facts. Most of the international investors are now avoiding Australia. You will not see it happen tomorrow or next week or next month, but it is happening. The investment is going into Africa, which investors now find is more secure than Australia. Investment is going into South America, where they have comparable minerals to Australia but do not have taxes like the carbon tax and the minerals resource rent tax. So there is another industry that the Greens have been instrumental in shutting down.

All credit to the Greens. They have these views and they have been enormously successful because there is a party that is weak and lacking courage—the Labor Party—who are not prepared to stand up and look after Australian jobs or do something about the enormous cost-of-living increases we are having in Australia at the moment.

Do you know that in 2001—I think that was when it was—China used to consume, if my memory is accurate, about 1.2 billion tonnes of coal every year. By 2015 China are going to be consuming 7.5 billion tonnes of coal every year. Thanks to the Labor Party and the Greens, Australia's carbon tax is putting up costs of living and sending more jobs overseas. It is supposed to reduce Australia's carbon emissions by five per cent by 2020. Isn't that going to save the world, when China is increasing its coal usage from 1.2 billion tonnes a year to 7.5 billion tonnes a year by 2015! How ridiculous! How could the Labor Party fall for the Greens' line? They know, I guess, that eventually the cycle will change—you will get a Liberal government back, which will reverse these things. The first thing we will do is abolish the carbon tax. It distresses me as an Australian—forget about my politics or the political party I am involved in—that these industries go overseas and that we continue to tax ourselves. Again, with this Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill the sentiment is right, but it should not be necessary. If we had a vibrant industry in Australia this bill would not have been necessary.

I will move to the detail of the bill. As a member of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills I alert the Senate to a number of concerns that committee had to this particular bill. There are very substantial penalties imposed by regulation—five years imprisonment. The Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills rightly said that those sorts of penalty provisions should be included in the primary legislation, not in some regulations that might, at some time in the future, be promulgated. The Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills had a number of other concerns, including the reversal of the onus of proof on strict liability offences. These concerns were raised by the committee, which is helping me come to my conclusion that this bill should be defeated.

I am also concerned about the impact that this legislation will have on the timber importation industry in Australia. I think it is a matter of fact that 97.5 per cent of the total volume of timber product imported into Australia is sourced from supplier countries where legality is not an issue. We acknowledge that 2.5 per cent of imports might be from illegally harvested forests and yet to try to address that problem we bring in the proverbial sledgehammer. That is not to say we should not keep trying but this bill, regrettably, is not going to do that. In its present form the bill is inefficient and it is bureaucratic, and it has been suggested in evidence given to the Senate committee that it is quite unworkable. As I mentioned, it is an overreaction to the possibility of illegal product entering Australia. As I understand it, those figures came from ABARES.

The timber-importing industry itself has been working with governments, since my time in government, to restrict the import of timber products sourced from illegal logging activity. But any instrument that does that must be workable, efficient and cost effective and, regrettably, this bill and the regulations—most of which we have not seen—do not seem to be the way to go.

The bill is certainly inconsistent with the government's commitment to cutting green tape and improving international trade efficiencies and arrangements. The Labor Party in opposition waxed lyrical and long about the need to reduce green and red tape. We all know their record. They have reduced red tape by a figure of, let's say, one, at the same time as they have increased regulations by a figure of about seven. So they have got rid of one and brought in seven. That is the Labor Party's commitment to a reduction in red and green tape.

There are real concerns that the timber product imported from high-risk countries is sourced from illegally logged material, but it is only a very small amount and there needs to be a better way to actually address those particular issues than the way this bill and the regulations do.

There is the issue of working more closely with our neighbours in Indonesia and PNG. We know that the Labor Party take a very cavalier attitude to Indonesia. You have only to look at how they stopped the import of a very substantial part of the protein consumption by the Indonesian people by cutting off the live cattle export without any warning to the Indonesians. We know what the Indonesians, rightly, think about that. We would be offended and we well understand why the Indonesians themselves are offended. Because this bill is poorly thought through—it takes the Big Brother approach to our neighbours in South-East Asia—it is also fraught with problems and should this legislation go ahead it is also likely to offend our nearest neighbours.

The time allotted for this speech is, regrettably, coming to an end but, for those and many other reasons I would have liked to have spoken on, I will be opposing this bill.