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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9120


Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (15:29): In this consideration-in-detail stage, I would like to respond to what the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has just said—that the coalition had displayed an abrogation of responsibility. Let's focus on exactly what is in the legislation before the House this afternoon and, therefore, why we say our amendment is necessary. The government have put forward legislation which under proposed section 8 establishes a criminal offence, with a penalty of five years imprisonment, for a person where:

(a) the person imports a thing; and

(b) the thing is, is made from, or includes, illegally logged timber; and

(c) the thing is not prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this paragraph.

The government have introduced legislation which will pass into law if they have their way, yet when this bill comes into force there will be no way for a law-abiding citizen to know what they need to do to avoid breaching section 8. There is no detail as to what the due diligence defence actually requires. In fact, law-abiding citizens will not even be able to find out which kinds of timber attract the operation of section 8, which will impose on those citizens, if they make an innocent mistake, a penalty of up to five years in prison potentially.

Let's be completely clear about what this legislation does. Let's not hear any more of this talk of high and noble aims. Let's focus on a detailed analysis of what this provision specifically does under the bill that the government are seeking to ram through the House this afternoon. If an importer brings into Australia a chair, for example, made almost entirely of plastic or metal but which happens to include some wood and, if it turns out that that wood has been illegally logged under the law of another country, then under the operation of proposed section 8 that importer will be liable to receive a knock on the door from a government inspector and will be liable to be imprisoned for up to five years. Those are the plain words of section 8, on the face of it.

The government come in here and talk about abrogation of responsibility when they have put forward this legislation without bothering to have ready the regulations which specify what a law-abiding citizen must do in order to comply with this law; without bothering to specify in the regulations the nature of the due diligence that a citizen must carry out to ensure that he or she is not breaching the law; and without even bothering to specify in a list the kinds of timbers that are defined as illegally logged. In these circumstances, it is extraordinary that the parliamentary secretary would use the term 'abrogation of responsibility', because it is the most remarkable abrogation of responsibility that this government would propose to introduce legislation imposing such penalties while making it effectively impossible for a citizen to find out what he or she has to do to comply with the law.

It is all very well for the parliamentary secretary to talk about the international criminal trade in illegal logging; there is no dispute from this side of the House that illegal logging is a problem that needs to be addressed. We merely ask this of the government: get your house in order, make it clear in the law of the land what is required of a citizen to comply with the law and get the regulations in place and operational. That is why we have moved this amendment. It is not because we have an objection in principle to the notion of greater action being taken against illegal logging—indeed, as the parliamentary secretary has rightly pointed out, that is our policy. It is because introducing legislation which would go onto the books, be part of the law of the land, and which would impose these very serious penalties without it being possible for a citizen to find out what he or she needs to do to comply with the law when the bill gets royal assent is an abrogation of responsibility.

What we are in fact seeking to do here is assist the government in coming up with an additional amount of time in which it can do the job it ought to have done before bringing in this legislation—that is, getting the regulations in place following proper consultation with the importing sector and the timber sector so that citizens know what they need to do to comply with the law. That is not by any means an unreasonable proposition from the opposition. On the contrary, we are seeking to be helpful, to assist the government to do what it should have done of its own volition.