Australia urged to ban illegal timber imports

ABC News: Stephen Crittenden: 28 May, 2010

United States congressman Earl Blumenauer has called on the Australian Government to legislate to ban illegal timber imports into Australia.

Mr Blumenauer, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives for the timber state of Oregon, says Australia is part of a global supply chain and positioned strategically on the edge of a vast area where some of the most destructive logging practices have been taking place.

Mr Blumenauer is dismissive of arguments that Australia is such a small market for imported timber that a ban on illegal imports would have little effect.

"I think people look to Australia in a way that actually is disproportionate, perhaps to your numbers of people," he said.

"It would have a great deal of impact if Australia would step up its efforts to prevent illegal logging from entering your chain of commerce."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to ban illegal timber imports at the 2007 federal election.

Forestry Minister Tony Bourke has indicated the Government still intends to keep the promise.

But the local timber industry has been anxious since August last year, when The Age newspaper reported that Mr Bourke had signed off on changes that significantly watered down the original election policy.

In December last year, Mr Blumenauer urged Mr Rudd to keep his election commitment.

Mr Blumenauer says it is important that Australia legislates to criminalise illegal timber imports, as opposed to establishing a voluntary or industry regulated system.

"The problem with a less aggressive and comprehensive effort is that it continues to advantage people who cheat," he said.

"If we have points in the line of defence against illegal logging that are weak it's going to end up undercutting what we're all trying to achieve.

"So it needs to be comprehensive, it needs to be enforceable and Australia is positioned in terms of the regard that people have for it around the world and its geographic location, to be able to have profound impact in changing this unfortunate pattern."

Indonesia is a major source of illegally logged timber and is undergoing more rapid deforestation than any other nation on earth.

In recent weeks, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been speaking out against what he describes as a powerful timber "mafia" in the country, and has directed Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission to take action.

This week, Mr Yudhoyono signed a pioneering agreement with the Norwegian government under which the Indonesian government will impose a two-year moratorium on any further logging of old-growth rainforest, in return for which Norway has agreed to pay Indonesia $1.2 billion.