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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9125

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (15:52): Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill. My father, who unfortunately passed on three years ago now, used to have a saying: less haste, more speed.

And I think this is the case with what we are trying to help the government with here: rush less, and let us for once get something right.

There are many people out there in the general public in Australia who say: 'Why don't the two sides of parliament work together?'. Well, we are trying to work with the government. In fact, we have an almost identical goal—we both wish to get rid of illegal logging. But what we are doing here is trying to save the government from itself. We are trying to save the government from rushing in and, given the record of this government, which I raised in the second reading debate, we are trying to save it from yet another costly and embarrassing stuff-up on Australia's behalf. We will be judged as being overbearing and overconfident, the colonial masters of the Pacific, and then eventually hauled back to the plate and back to a previous position—as we have just seen on asylum seekers—where we will have to admit that we were wrong.

Of course we, on this side, want to see the end of illegal logging, because there are losers all round—the soil loses, the country loses and the people of the country lose. There are very few winners in illegal logging except, of course, those who steal the resource. But we need to get the regulation right. In fact, the intent of the bill is that it requires the accurate description of legally logged timber products for sale in Australia.

What we are trying to do with the amendments moved by the member for Calare is to ensure that the trading partners have time 'to implement systems that allow traceability and achieve compliance with the regulations and legislation and that, very importantly, Australian importers have the time to design and implement processes for traceability and demonstration of due diligence.' This is because the problem we have with the legislation as it stands is that the onus is on the importer and on the seller of the timber in Australia to prove that the timber was not illegally logged. It is very difficult if you happen to be sitting in your suburban store in Byrneside, or Melbourne or wherever, to look at an article and say: 'Well, I definitely know that the sides were made from legal timber and the back was made from legal timber, but I am not so sure about the inlay in the top.'

Those traders are going to have to rely on the compliance mechanisms of the country from where the timber is sourced. At this stage, they cannot rely on that regulation. Those countries are trying, as we speak, to develop that regulation. We know that these are countries that are not as developed as Australia and that, from time to time, cash might pass under the table to achieve such certification, but this is a chance for these countries who wish to continue this trade with Australia to do the compliance right. Of course, if it is done wrongly and we see major prosecutions in Australia, then we run the risk of the trade stopping altogether. And if the trade stops altogether, we will not see a decrease in forestry in these countries. As we know with any economically traded, agricultural produce, as the price falls, production rises, because people try to cover their losses by harvesting more, planting more and, in the case of illegal forestry, logging more trees, which will find their way to the market. Perhaps this is not in Australia but to somewhere else in the world. The net effect is, in fact, counterproductive.

We do not come into this chamber in a belligerent manner. We are not shouting at the government. We are saying: 'Just hold up a bit. Let's see if for once we can get something right.' Then we can go back to the people of Australia and say, 'Yes, we have had an intelligent conversation, and we have come to an intelligent compromise.' That is what the member for Calare is asking for. That is why I am supporting his amendments. And that is why the government ought to perhaps listen to us on this one.