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Government indecision on tropical timber trade must end



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FRED CHANEY MP MEDI A R E L E A S E

Member for Pearce Shadow Minister for the Environment GOVERNMENT INDECISION ON TROPICAL TIMBER TRADE MUST END

The Hawke government stands condemned for its failure to reach or announce a decision on Australia's role in the tropical timber trade.

At a time when the Foreign Minister is attempting to improve relations with Malaysia, the government's continued procrastination on the issue is a disgrace.

For the countries in our region, particularly Malaysia, this is a most sensitive matter. It is also a matter of great concern to many Australians who want maximum preservation of this" vital ecological resource.

Producer countries, and the Australian people, have a right to know where the government stands on demands for restrictions on the import of rainforest timbers and its attitude generally to forest management practices in these countries.

The history of delay and indecision by the government is extraordinary.

Fifteen months ago it received a report from consultants it commissioned to study the question of Australia's role in the tropical timber industry. It is generally believed that the overwhelming majority of departmental opinion supports the view in that report against trade restrictions of any kind.

Yet still there is no decision. A non-government Bill came before the Senate in March advocating restrictions on imports unless certain conditions were satisfied, impossible conditions, in our view, and we did not support the Bill. The government did not even have the courage to field a speaker.

In February we announced rejection of the blunt instrument of import bans aa being potentially’counter-productive in terms of reducing forest loss and enormously harmful to our international relations. We accept that forest management in some regions must be changed to achieve fully sustainable operations, as an International Tropical Timber Organisation mission found was not happening in Sarawak.

Australia can best contribute to this goal through cooperation with our neighbours to help develop sustainable industries, including sustainable forestry operations, Australia's forestry expertise is both respected and welcome. That should be the focus of government attention when it finally summons the courage to declare its hand on this difficult issue.

Perth 31 J u l y 1 9 9 1 Contact: Keith Kessell (09) 250 2533

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