19 November, 2012, Canberra: A broad coalition including major timber importers, retailers, environment groups and churches have welcomed the passing of the government's Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill in the Australian Senate.
The passing of the Bill fulfils a 2007 Labor election promise and promotes Australia as a leader in global forest protection. Only the US has similar laws in place. The EU has a regime due to take effect next year.
"The passing of the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill finally delivers on the Government’s 2007 promise to criminalise a trade that many Australians would already presume to be banned. Illegal logging often involves land theft, trashing national parks and breeds corruption and human rights abuse. It's a huge challenge to countries in our region including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia,” said Reece Turner, Forests Campaigner with Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
“We congratulate the Government who have delivered this historic legislation with the support of the Greens and Independents and look forward to working on the detail of the regulations with the broad coalition of business and civil society who have supported it," said Turner.
John Gillam, Bunnings Managing Director said;
“Over the past decade we’ve been calling for a ban on the sale of illegally logged timber in Australia. Passing this legislation is a big step towards this goal.”
“This is an important law in the global fight against corruption and cross-border organised crime. It recognises that businesses should have responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure products they import are legally sourced,” said Dr Zirnsak, social justice spokesperson for the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania. “This type of law has been recommended by the World Bank to help stem the loss of between $10 and $15 billion a year from the revenues of governments around the world as a result of illegal logging.”
The legislation makes it a criminal offence to import timber from illegal logging operations, with significant repercussions for offenders including jail time of up to 5 years, forfeiture of illegal timber and fines. There are estimates that Australia imports of between $400m and $800m worth of illegal timber products each year with the highest risk products including outdoor hardwood furniture and decking from tropical forests (1).
The illegal timber trade not only wreaks environmental havoc and impacts on communities where the logging occurs, it also deprives export countries of tax revenue and disadvantages legitimate businesses in Australia which strive to ensure their timber products are legally sourced.
The passing of the new laws are the result of a wide grouping of organisations and businesses who want to see illegal timber pushed out of the Australian market. In an unusual alliance, timber merchants and retailers including IKEA, Bunnings, Simmonds Lumber and Kimberly Clark joined environment and social justice groups, Uniting Church, World Vision, WWF, Oxfam, The Wilderness Society and ACF to call on the Government to come good on this important election promise (2).
The organisations who have pushed for the laws are working collaboratively with Government to construct the regulations and to minimise costs upon business whilst maintaining the integrity of the objective of the laws. Greenpeace warned that for the new legislation to be effective, the Government must provide additional resourcing to compliance efforts. "There is little point having these laws if the Australian Government does not provide customs officials with more resources so that all shipments of high risk timber can be thoroughly inspected and further investigations pursued," added Turner.
For further comment contact:
Greenpeace Campaigner, Reece Turner, 0408 754 910
Greenpeace Media Officer, James Lorenz, 0400 376 021
Dr Mark Zirnsak, Uniting Church 0409 166 915
(1) The Australian Government commissioned a report in 2005 which estimated illegal timber imports to be $A400m but more a more recent estimation by the EU Commission put the figure at $A840m. See http://www.thecie.com.au/RIS%20illegal%20logging/17%20-%20EU%20submission.pdf, p6-7
(2) Joint Statement on Eliminating Illegal Forest Products in Australia:http://www.greenpeace.org.au/forests/jointstatement.pdf (2009) and Common Platform: http://www.goodwoodguide.org.au/assets/docs/CommonPlatform.pdf (2011)
The text of the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill is available on the Senate website at: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbillhome%2Fr4740%22