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Transcript of interview with Grant Goldman: 2SM Breakfast: 26 August 2009: illegal timber imports.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interview with 2SM 1269AM Breakfast with Grant Goldman

26 August 2009

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Tony Burke 2SM 1269AM Breakfast - Grant Goldman


SUBJECTS: Illegal timber imports

GRANT GOLDMAN: A growing number of timber industry bodies are calling upon the Federal Government to fulfil their election commitment and prevent the importation of illegal forest products into Australia. Now we’ve been told that the Minister is yet to reveal a policy options paper on the matter. We have him on the line, good morning Tony.

TONY BURKE: G’day Grant.

GRANT GOLDMAN: How are things?

TONY BURKE: Good, good. Thanks for giving me the chance to come on here today.

GRANT GOLDMAN: Look they’re obviously very worried in the timber industry that millions of dollars worth of illegal product is getting into Australia. Are we making moves to eliminate that, and if so, how, because it would be very difficult?

TONY BURKE: Look, the first thing is, people have a right to be concerned about illegal logging. You’ll often see the publicity about what it does to vegetation and landscapes across the world in some of the poorest nations. But also what is often not recognised is it then becomes a direct threat to Australian jobs.

GRANT GOLDMAN: When does it become illegal logging? In countries like Indonesia they burn down whole forests and don’t particularly care, and so whilst it might be immoral, it’s certainly not illegal.

TONY BURKE: It will depend country-to-country where they draw the line. But when you take your worst examples of something that’s completely unsustainable, it’s most likely even against the law of the country where it’s happening. They’re the sorts of worst examples that usually also fit into the basket of being illegal.

Now since the election we made the commitment that you referred to that we restrict it. We've been dealing with the pre-condition to all of it, which is to be able to identify it. An illegally-logged bit of wood looks very similar to a legally-logged bit of wood. They don’t carry an ID tag. We need to be able to verify and identify from the time it’s logged through whichever country it’s processed in - which is often a third country - through to when the timber or timber product makes it into Australia, to be able to identify illegally-logged timber.

GRANT GOLDMAN: You are going to have to rely on other countries here too though to toe the line, aren’t you, and that has got to be very difficult, particularly in those third world countries?

TONY BURKE: Yes and so when I first started in meetings with my counterpart ministers in those countries talking about this, there was a good deal of wariness as to where we were heading. We’ve now got agreements in place with both Papua New Guinea—that was signed earlier this year—and with Indonesia which was signed last year. We are still working on agreements with China and with Malaysia. I've spoken to them on each occasion that I've had meetings, and we had the officials continuing to work on that. It’s getting closer but with any international negotiation, until you’re there, you’re not.

And so we’re trying to get those agreements in place first. I know that sounds like, well, why do you have to do that? But until you have agreements from the countries to put these things in place, then you can’t identify what’s coming into Australia, and the estimates - and they’re only estimates - say that they reckon about nine per cent of what we import into Australia is probably illegally logged. So we can’t be in a position where we just ban all imports and 91 per cent that’s been done perfectly legally goes out the window too. That’s not an option.

GRANT GOLDMAN: Well, under the Free Trade Agreement we wouldn’t be able to do that anyway, and it seems that we do have Free Trade Agreements with most countries in the world these days.

TONY BURKE: And as an exporting nation we do well out of those agreements.

GRANT GOLDMAN: Correct me if I’m wrong, just on that, if we try to stop an import at any stage and it turns to be legal, that can be taken to a court and Australia can be in a lot of trouble, can’t they?

TONY BURKE: Well what it then allows is retaliatory action. So, if we break the rules on them, then they have permission from the World Trade Organization to break the rules back on us. Given that we rely so heavily on exports, that’s a harsher penalty against Australia.

GRANT GOLDMAN: It could be very costly.


GRANT GOLDMAN: To me this whole timber thing it’s almost in the too-hard-basket, to be honest.

TONY BURKE: And I think for years it’s been seen that way. In less than two years now, we’ve got the agreements in place with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea which are regarded generally as being two of the most significant nations where you need to take action in this area. We still aren’t in the point of being able to deliver until you can get through the countries where the timber is in process and that’s why the agreement with China is so important. We’ve commissioned an options paper which I will release, but I can’t release it until I’ve received it.

GRANT GOLDMAN: So he’s on the money as far as that’s concerned, Rod McInnes from Timber Queensland? He says that you get to reveal the policy options paper so that at the very least it does exist.

TONY BURKE: Well it will exist, we’ve commissioned someone to produce it and provide it to me. I haven’t been provided with it yet. Once I’ve got it and I’m able to go through it, then it will be released publicly. We’ve commissioned on the basis of that we’ll able to do two things. One, as the international agreements come into line, we’ll be able to properly manage the systems so that we can identify what’s been logged illegally and find ways of restricting that coming into the country. But secondly, in the meantime, so that we can start to take more immediate action, find ways of promoting legally-logged product.

So the shift towards making sure that, in the meantime, we can promote legally logged timber isn’t a step away for a minute from us wanting to restrict the illegal logging, but we need to be

able to identify it. Very little work had been done. In 12 months we got a fair way, in 18 months we’ve actually got a lot further than people thought we would. But I don’t want to have to wait in the hands of the processing nations like China to determine at what point we can actually start putting the restrictions in place.

GRANT GOLDMAN: Fair enough. Good to talk to you, thank you for your time this morning.

TONY BURKE: Thank you Grant.