The illegal logging vote reaches impasse

FEDERAL Forestry Minister Senator Joe Ludwick has described the Liberal-National Party Coalition’s action in voting no to legislation that would outlaw the trade of illegally logged timber as evidence of its relentless negativity.

He described the vote against the legislation as “not surprising for a coalition led by Dr No”, and a failure to deliver on a bi-partisan pre-election commitment. 

Senator Ludwick said it also meant Tony Abbott had backtracked on his pledge never to break a clear pre-election promise.

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester said the coalition supported efforts to reduce the impact of illegal logging, but cited the lack of consultation with the domestic timber industry and trading partners carried out by the Gillard Government as reasons for opposing legislation outlawing the importation of illegally logged timber.

Parliamentary Secretary Sid Sidebottom said Labor and the Coalition both took policies to combat the trade of illegally logged timber to the 2010 election. 

The Federal Coalition’s 2010 Illegal Logging election policy reads: “The Coalition will legislate to make it an offence to import any timber product which has not been verified as being legally harvested. We will require Australian timber importers and domestic processing mills to undertake a process of due diligence to verify the legal origins of the timber product and to disclose species, country of harvest and any certification. A transition period of two years will be provided to allow industry to adapt to these new measures.”

Senator Ludwick said on Thursday, August 16, Mr Abbott told the Parliament the “one thing I would never do is break a clear pre-election promise”.

“Four days after making that pledge, Mr Abbott broke it by having the Coalition vote no to the Government’s illegal logging legislation in the House of Representatives — legislation that would also deliver on the Liberal National election commitment. 

“Breaking a clear election promise is exactly what Mr Abbott did today when the Coalition voted no to the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill,” Senator Ludwig said. 

“Illegal logging globally costs around $60 billion each year and also directly threatens timber jobs by undercutting the price of legally logged timber. 

“This is a trade that benefits no one and has very serious environmental and economic impacts.”

Labor’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill complements the efforts of the United States and Europe to stem the illegally logged timber trade which the World Bank says is managed by ‘sophisticated criminal networks’.

Mr Sidebottom said the fact that both major parties took a commitment to the 2010 election is evidence of the serious nature of the illegal logging trade. 

“While the Liberals did their best to paint this legislation as a ‘green-conspiracy’, the fact remains that only Labor and the Coalition took an illegal logging policy to the 2010 federal election, while the Australian Greens had none,” Mr Sidebottom said.

“The truth of the matter is that the Coalition is deeply divided by Tony Abbott’s approach to what was a bipartisan election commitment.”

Senator Ludwig welcomed the Bill’s acceptance in the House of Representatives and said it was not too late for the Coalition to come to its senses. 

Mr Chester said the Coalition attempted to amend the Bill to set the commencement date of legislation and subordinate regulations as July 1, 2015. 

“This would have assisted timber processors and importers to adapt to the new measures,” he said.

The amendment was rejected.

“The Gillard Government refused to amend the legislation to allow for a greater time to consult with industry on the proposed changes,” Mr Chester said. 

“Timber processing operators already undergo exhaustive certification processes to prove the sustainability of their resource.

“Rather than thrusting changes upon the industry, the Gillard Government should allow sufficient time for the development and implementation of new systems to carry out the requirements of the new regulations.”