Thursday, 11 June 2009

Labor 'backing away' from illegal timber pledge

By Linda Mottram for Radio Australia

Environmentalists are asking Australia to honour a promised ban on an estimated $400 million worth of illegal timber imports each year.

Greenpeace, and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, have accused the Prime Minister of backing away from his election pledge.

And they have support from a former Papua New Guinea conservation department official, Lester Seri, who now represents Conservation Melanesia.

Mr Seri says poor governance and corruption continue to drive illegal logging in his country, and says Australia is complicit if it does not ban imports from the trade.

"My plea here is if the Australian Government could help us to really put in place mechanisms, stringent mechanisms that you can actually monitor and if at all possible control illegal logging in Papua New Guinea," he said.

Australia's role

Greenpeace Australia's head of campaigns, Steve Campbell, said the importing of illegally-felled timber can be disguised through the manufacturing process.

"We have identified timber importers in Queensland who are selling this timber but it doesn't just come in as logs or lumber, it also comes in as finished products, so some of the logs from Papua New Guinea go to China, get manufactured into your sofa or plywood... and certification can deal with those chain of custody issues," he said.

Before the last election, the Labor Party said the negative impacts of illegal logging on climate change, ecosystems and indigenous rights, as well as corruption and good governance, all pointed to the need for a ban.

But Greens Senator Rachel Siewert questioned government officials about the issue at a recent inquiry and found their answers suggested little interest in banning illegal timber imports.

"I would have thought their lack of action and also the answers they were giving us in terms of maybe not going to a ban but going to things like codes of practice and standards is a fairly strong indication that they don't intend going down the road of a ban," she said.