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Transcript of interview with Ben Mclean: ABC NewsRadio: 25 August 2009: illegal timber imports, election commitment.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interview with Ben Mclean, ABC NewsRadio

25 August 2009

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Tony Burke Ben Mclean - ABC NewsRadio


Subjects: Illegal timber imports, election commitment

BEN MCLEAN: The Federal Government has been accused of reneging on an election promise to ban the import of illegal timber. It’s estimated that nine per cent of the timber imported into Australia is illegally logged. Major timber and furniture companies and the national body representing Australian plantation growers, wood and paper manufacturers, have signed a joint statement calling for a ban on the $400 million trade.

At the same time, the Fairfax papers have said the Government has changed its policy from advocating a total ban to instead focussing on encouraging the trade in legal timber. But Forestry Minister Tony Burke said that’s not true.

TONY BURKE: It’s a fairly creative article there today, and it’s wrong. The first stage in making sure that only legally-logged timber makes it into Australia is to be able to identify what’s legally logged and what’s illegally logged. And at the moment, around the world, we’ve got no systems in place to be able to identify the legal- from illegally-logged timber.

So the first stage is to be able to do that. That is why we have got agreements in place now with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. We’re then negotiating agreements with China and Malaysia as well because you need to be able to work out what’s legal and then have a verification process through timber processing that allows you to identify illegally-logged timber.

The information that we’ve been given is something in the order of nine per cent is illegally logged. Now unless you can identify illegally-logged timber, the only way to prevent the illegally-logged timber coming in would be to ban the lot and you would end up preventing 91% of legally logged timber from making its way here, too.

So the first stage is to be able to identify and that’s what we are negotiating internationally at the moment, with some success. What the Minute refers to— parts of which have been published in today’s paper— is the extra steps we can take in the interim to promote legally-logged timber.

BEN MCLEAN: But as it stands in Australia right now, is it illegal to import some of this illegal timber?

TONY BURKE: No it’s not, because we’ve got no way of knowing what’s illegal and what’s not.

BEN MCLEAN: So no-one’s been prosecuted for this at the moment?

TONY BURKE: You can’t prosecute what you don’t know about. So the first stage is to get the knowledge of what’s legal and what’s not. Once you’ve got that in place, then you’re able to move forward on making sure that what comes into Australia has been logged legally.

BEN MCLEAN: A joint statement has come out today calling for a ban. It’s been signed by companies like Ikea, Bunnings, Timber QLD, now A3P the national body representing plantation growers, wood and paper manufacturers in Australia. So clearly there is big push to get this ban in place and these companies don’t think your government is doing enough.

TONY BURKE: Well the problem in that statement is that at no point have they suggested how we would identify which timber products came from illegally-logged sources. That is the work that we are doing internationally with a fair degree of success. What we are also looking at - in the contents of the Minute that was published today - is how we can take extra steps in the interim to also promote legally logged timber.

We’re talking about something which is a massive problem around the world, and one with very few—if any—formal processes in place to get verification. You can’t ban something unless you can identify which bits are illegal. And that is the work that we’ve been doing and leading the world on internationally.

BEN MCLEAN: Where is most of this illegal timber coming from?

TONY BURKE: The allegations are that Papua New Guinea and Indonesia have been a significant part of it. There are other countries that are named from time-to-time and so our first ports of call to promote legally logged timber were to reach those sorts of agreements with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

But it’s not enough just to look at the harvesting nation. If you want to be able to make this work, then you also have to make sure that verification of what’s legal makes it all the way through the processing system. That’s where negotiations with countries like China and Malaysia are absolutely critical to be able to make this work.