Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Government backs down on banning illegally logged timber

Tom Arup The Sydney Morning Herald

August 25, 2009

THE federal Forestry Minister, Tony Burke, has approved changes to an election promise to ban imports of illegally logged timber to instead ''promote the trade'' of legal timber.

The changes come as the peak body for the Australian timber plantation and paper industry joins Greenpeace today to call for the Federal Government to fulfil its promise to block imports of illegally logged timber.

In a document obtained by the Herald that was signed by Mr Burke in January, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry recommends the new policy direction be adopted as it ''leaves open the option to consider a broad range of policy options for combating illegal logging''.

The document says domestic industry has concerns that ''any action'' to block timber that has been illegally logged overseas may hurt its bottom line.

The Government believes 9 per cent of all timber imports - worth $400 million annually - is logged illegally, mainly in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

During the 2007 federal election Labor promised it would ''encourage sourcing of forests from sustainable forest practices and seek to ban the sale of illegally logged timber imports''.

But under the changes approved by Mr Burke the policy now says ''the Australian Government will combat illegal logging and its associated trade by establishing systems that will promote trade in legally logged timber and wood products and, in the long term, trade timber and wood products from sustainably managed forests''.

Greenpeace's forests campaigner, Reece Turner, said the policy to block illegally logged timber had been abandoned with the minister's approval, and he called on the Government to keep to its election commitment.

Greenpeace will today make public a statement from the paper and timber plantation industry group A3P and a number of other timber companies calling for the original policy to be implemented.

A number of large timber and furniture retailers, including IKEA, Bunnings, Fantastic Furniture, Danks Hardware and Simmonds Lumber, made a similar call in June.

Mr Burke said he was committed to a policy that has ''systems of verification and certification which begin in the country of harvest and continue through to nations where the timber processing occurs''.

''That's why Australia has already negotiated agreements with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and why we're in further discussions with Malaysia and China.''

The Agriculture Department has commissioned the Centre for International Economics to prepare a report considering all policy options, from a voluntary industry code to full bans at import and export. It was expected the centre's report and policy recommendations would be given to the minister last month, but Mr Burke said he had not received either.