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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 13873

Mr Laurie Ferguson asked the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, upon notice, on 22 November 1999:

Have any Australian forests obtained certification of sustainable forest management in accordance with the requirements of (a) the Forest Stewardship Council, (b) ISO 14000 or (c) similar certification systems; if so, what are the details.

Is he able to say whether forest certification systems are in place in APEC countries; if so, (a) in what countries and (b) what specific certification schemes are in place.

Has the Government adopted a formal attitude towards certification; if so, what are the details.

Mr Tuckey (Minister for Forestry and Conservation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)(a) I am not aware of any Australian forests that have obtained certification under the Forest Stewardship Council's scheme.

(b) I am advised that North Forests, operating in Tasmania, has obtained ISO14001 certification for its Environmental Management System (EMS) in December 1998.

I am also advised that a number of state forestry agencies and some major private forest owners are in the process of developing their EMSs to the ISO14001 standard.

(c) I am not aware of any alternative schemes currently operating in Australia. However in response to growing demands for certified timber, Australian Governments, in partnership with Australian forest owners and industries, have decided to sponsor the development of an Australian Forestry Standard. The standard will provide a basis for voluntary certification of forest management in Australia.

(2) (a) and (b) The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has not done a comprehensive study of certification schemes operating in APEC countries. I am advised that considerable resources would be needed to research the answers to this question which would require an unreasonable diversion of the resources of the department. I am not aware of any consolidated study of certification conducted within APEC member countries.

A review paper entitled International Approaches to Forest Management Certification and Labelling of Forest Products, produced for the Australian Government, provides comment on a range of countries, including some members of APEC. A copy has been placed in the Parliamentary Library.

(3) One of this Government's primary policy goals in the forests area is for the adoption of sustainable forest management practices within all Australian forests. Sustainable forest management is a fundamental element of the National Forest Policy Statement to which the Government is firmly committed. It is also a foundation of the RFA processes that will guarantee the Australian forest industry security well into the future, while also providing a world class forest reserve system.

Certification is one of many tools for promoting sustainable forest management. Currently, certification and labelling schemes are principally market driven and operate primarily without direct Government intervention. The Government has no policy of changing this approach provided that the market operates fairly, allows access to all forest growers and managers and schemes remain credible.

By way of demonstrating a partnership approach to achieving sustainable forest management, rather than a more interventionist approach, the Federal Government is jointly sponsoring the development of the Australian Forestry Standard in partnership with industry and State and Territory Governments. The Australian Forestry Standard will set a domestic and international benchmark for the achievement of sustainable forest management. It will also be the basis by which independent third parties may audit the performance of Australian forest growers and managers, including for the purpose of certification.

Recognising that the proliferation of International certification and labelling schemes have the potential to undermine the credibility of quality schemes, I have initiated International discussions on the issue. At my direction, Australian officials hosted an International meeting on certification and labelling, in New York, which was aimed at developing Australian understanding of certification and labelling issues and to present a model to ensure that schemes are comparable and to promote equivalence. This meeting was well received and has established Australia as a leader in international discussions on this issue.