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Transcript of press conference: Melbourne: 10 August 2010: Labor's plan to restrict illegally logged timber; WTO report on NZ apples; immigration.

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Transcript: Tony Burke, Press Conference, Melbourne

Tony Burke posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010



TONY BURKE: Thanks everybody for coming out today, very much appreciated. I want to acknowledge the presence here today of Linda Selvey from Greenpeace. I also want to acknowledge industry represented today by the Timber Importers, and also would like to acknowledge the work that's been done for many years by the CFMEU, which has led to the announcement that we're at today.

At the last election, as then opposition, we took as an election commitment that we would find a way to restrict the sale of illegally logged timber in Australia. Illegal logging is a disaster for many developing nations throughout the world. It's something which is a direct threat to local jobs in Australia. It carries an economic cost, a social cost, and of course an environmental cost.

Finding ways of restricting illegally logged timber and restricting its import is complicated. Timber doesn't arrive with an ID sticker, and you need to find a way of being able to have standards that ensure as best we can, that timber which is imported into Australia has been logged responsibly, has been logged legally.

Today I want to announce that the government has determined the pathway that will go forward on this. If re-elected, then in 2011 we will be introducing legislation which will carry with it criminal penalties for those who are involved in importing illegally logged timber.

The pathway that we'd be going down is one of due diligence. There would be minimum standards that importers would have to be able to meet, minimum standards that they would have to follow in terms of due diligence that they'd undertake to make sure the timber they were sourcing had not been illegally logged, and also making sure that there was due diligence in knowing the source country, the species, and any verification or certification systems that were in place.

Those procedures would be a requirement for the importation of timber and timber products. When I say timber products, let me make clear we are not simply talking about logs; we are not simply talking about sawn timber. These principles will go all the way through, from the importation of furniture through to pulp and paper.

Importation of illegally logged timber is a challenge around the world. With this announcement, both with the breadth of it and with the criminal penalties attached to it, Australia will now join the cause and the ranks of countries such as the countries of the European Union, such as the United States, and be part of an issue which can only be dealt with globally.

LINDA SELVEY: Hello, I'm Linda Selvey, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. Greenpeace today welcomes the government's announcement that should they be re-elected, they will introduce the legislation to ban the importation of illegally logged timber.

Greenpeace has been working on this issue for about 10 years and in that time we've seen the massive destruction that illegal logging does to communities, to the forests, and to our environments. Around 20 per cent of the world's carbon emissions come from deforestation, and so it's an important issue also for our climate.

We strongly urge the Coalition to follow suit in the lead up to the election and to endorse this policy, so that Australian people won't be unknowingly turning other people's homes into their own homes through purchasing timber products such as timber decking and toilet paper, unknowingly knowing that they're contributing to such massive rainforest destruction.

It's criminal that about $840 billion worth of illegal timber comes to Australia every year and is imported and bought into people's homes. This legislation is also very good for business, because many businesses have already taken steps to make sure that they're not importing illegal timber. But they're being undermined by unscrupulous companies who are doing so.

Greenpeace has teamed up with a number of business players since 2007 to campaign for this legislation. That includes Bunnings and Simmonds Lumber and Kimberly-Clark, as well as a number of social justice groups who understand the important destruction that stolen timber does for all of us.

So again we welcome this announcement and we welcome the opportunity to work with whichever government comes in, following 21 August, to finally get in stage in Australia some legislation that will stop the importation of illegally logged and stolen timber into Australia.

TONY BURKE: Happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Minister, how hard is it going to be to get around these kinds of regulations?

TONY BURKE: The due diligence requirements will have to be followed. If you don't follow the due diligence requirements, if you're not willing to follow them and you're not willing to sign up to the codes of conduct and abide by them, then you won't be able to import timber into Australia.

If you say you're going to abide by them and then you choose not to, and you're involved with the importation of illegally logged timber, then the full range of penalties, including criminal penalties, will apply.

QUESTION: You promised to crack down before the last election. What guarantee can you give us that that will happen if you're elected in this next term?

TONY BURKE: The process of getting to where we are now has not been easy. We're talking about something where there is no automatic process where you can easily identify whether or not something's been logged legally or not. That's why you need to have a due diligence model.

We went through the Regulatory Impact Statement process. This is a formal process which, quite properly, governments have to go through in working out what they should do. The recommendation that came back to us on that is not the recommendation we've chosen.

The recommendation that came back in the Regulatory Impact Statement was that we only be involved in the work that we're already doing in capacity building in poorer nations, to try to reduce illegal logging that way. We took the view that we should continue with that work as we have been, but that's not enough.

There needs to be a penalties regime. It needs to be one that can be practical and that business can work with, but there needs to be a penalties regime which doesn't just say logging legally is better, that actually says illegal logging is wrong. That says the impact that this has throughout the world is something that should not occur. That says that the impact that this has to Australian jobs is an unfair style of competition when we're talking about illegal conduct.

The impact that all of this has on the environment on this planet is something that we should view as unacceptable, and have penalties attached. So we had to go through those processes, but certainly the final path that we follow is one that was open to us, and not to be determined by a consultant. And our view was that the full range of penalties were the right way to go.

QUESTION: From the Greenpeace statement, would it be fair to say that not all the major timber companies are on board with this?

LINDA SELVEY: There are some major timber companies who have worked with Greenpeace in order to lobby the Government on this. But we know that around a quarter of outdoor timber for outdoor furniture comes from illegally logged timber. A large amount of timber decking and so on that's on sale is illegally logged. So this absolutely has to stop.

The Australian people don't want this. We know that over 90 per cent of Australians want legislation to stop the importation of illegally logged timber. We don't want to buy stolen timber. But at the moment unfortunately it's very difficult for people to make those choices.

QUESTION: On a completely different issue, the issue of apple importation from New Zealand, how strong a stance is the government likely to take against that?

TONY BURKE: We will be vigorously defending our biosecurity. We're an island nation. We have a biosecurity status here that is second to none. There are diseases and pests that exist in other countries that can ravage their agriculture that we simply don't have, and that's worth protecting. It's important to protect it for our farming sector; it's important to protect the biosecurity for our environment as well.

So the announcement that Stephen Smith and I have made today about appealing the decision of the WTO is one which the Australian Government will undertake with full vigour. Our biosecurity status is very important. It is a cornerstone of a whole lot of our competitive strength in Australia. And we believe that the restrictions that we have on the importation of apples from New Zealand are rigorously science-based, and we have every right to have science-based protocols in place to protect our biosecurity status.

QUESTION: So you would refute the WTO's belief that there is no scientific basis for this, that it's merely a matter of competition?

TONY BURKE: If we weren't refuting it we wouldn't be appealing it. We don't accept that that judgement has it right, and that's why we'll be appealing. We went through the full import risk analysis, which is entirely a science-based process.

Australia is a trading nation. We're not afraid of trade, as a nation, and we're happy to take on the world. We do well as an exporting nation as a result of our willingness to trade. But biosecurity status in Australia is something special and something worth preserving, and something that we will defend in any international court.

QUESTION: What would you say is - what are our apple and pear imports worth on a financial scale?

TONY BURKE: Where the dollar's moved recently, there's some changes in the figures over very recent weeks, so I'm not going to throw the figure forward because it actually will have varied. We've had significant movements in the dollar of late.

We're talking about a very significant industry in Australia, and an industry that's not afraid to compete. We've got Tasmanian apples being exported all the way to China at the moment. And we have a significant advantage in Australia on exports because we're counter-seasonal to where most of the world lives, and therefore we can be producing fruit at times of the year when the rest of the world is out of season.

So there's good opportunities for Australia, but none of that is a reason to compromise our biosecurity status. Our restrictions are science-based and that's what we'll be arguing.

QUESTIONS: Does anyone else have any questions? Okay in that case I have one more topic for you I'm afraid, which is what's your reaction to the arrival of the latest immigration ship?

TONY BURKE: The responses on those issues are given by Chris Evans, who's the Minister for Immigration, and I'd leave it to him to comment. Certainly on the issue of immigration, there are some ads which the Liberal Party have put forward at the moment, involving a particular vessel where I believe there are some serious issues of judgement that Tony Abbott needs to take into account, as to the appropriateness of using that particular vessel.

QUESTION: And do you think - and I know again this isn't your portfolio - if things fall over with East Timor, would the Labor Government be reconsidering Nauru?

TONY BURKE: Our priority is to have a regional processing centre, and the discussions are continuing with East Timor. Thank you.

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