Government to move on illegal logging imports – October 2017

Filed under: Politics, Trade and industry, Trade,

Assistant Minister for Agriculture Anne Ruston says Australia's illegal logging laws are being improved to reduce compliance costs for timber importers and processors.

Senator Ruston said the Government had worked closely with stakeholders to cut red tape yet ensure that illegally logged timber does not enter the Australian market.

“Illegal logging has significant global economic, environmental and social impacts and undercuts our legal and legitimate timber producers,” the Minister said.

“We are as committed as ever to combatting illegal logging, while conscious of the need to avoid unreasonable and unnecessary costs on businesses—this will lead to better prices at the local hardware store for consumers.

“Following a comprehensive Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) process … I am pleased to announce that the Government will move quickly to progress amendments to the Illegal Logging Prohibition Regulation 2012.

“The amendments will streamline and simplify arrangements for those businesses and individuals importing or processing timber products certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) schemes, slashing regulatory costs by more than $4 million per year.

“This reflects the fact that both certification schemes are internationally recognised as providing rigorous forest management and chain of custody standards.

“With the conclusion of the RIS process and announcement of the reforms, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources will move to end its existing 'soft-start' compliance approach where the focus has been on educating businesses and individuals of their obligations under the laws.

“We continue to support businesses and individuals in understanding the requirements of the illegal logging laws, but the time has come to get serious about applying penalties to those found to be not complying with their obligations.”

From 1 January 2018, any businesses and individuals that fail to comply with their due diligence obligations may face significant financial penalties.

Senator Ruston said the theft, laundering, and trade of illegal timber occurred throughout the world, estimated by Interpol to cost the global community more than US$51 billion each year.

In August SBS reported, “Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of timber products coming into Australia could be from illegally logged forests, but the federal government cannot be sure because most importers are not complying with a five-year-old law.

“Enforcement has been delayed again while the government tries to make importers complete legally required paperwork certifying timber is legally logged - prompting calls for penalties to be finally imposed.

“Non-compliance can attract criminal charges, millions of dollars in fines and even five years in jail.

“Decades of campaigning in Australia against illegal logging saw parliament pass the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act in 2012 to stop imports, in line with similar laws in the United States and Europe.

“’It brings Australia into line with international standards of developed nations in terms of importing illegal timbers, which has do to with deforestation, habitat degradation and threats to wildlife and nature,’ said Distinguished Research Professor Bill Laurance from the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity at James Cook University.

“’In fact they're supposed to be implementing the rules” he said. “But there's no real enforcement. Nobody's being fined, there's no jail terms, there's no crackdown.’

“’It doesn't really take much enforcement. All the government really needs to do is to make examples of a couple of the really egregious sinners, and you'd be amazed how everyone suddenly starts waking up and doing the due diligence,’ Professor Laurance said.

“A so-called enforcement “soft start” for the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act was due to end in May last year but has been extended by the government to give industry more time to comply.”

SBS also reported, “An Agriculture department review released in February of Australia's 512 biggest importers found “non-compliance to be at 59 per cent, this was largely inadvertent”.

“’It is estimated that each year up to $400 million of Australia's forest products imports come from sources with some risk of being illegally logged,’ the department said.”

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