Historic illegal timber legislation passes

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Feature Story - 19 November, 2012
For over ten years Greenpeace has been campaigning to end devastating illegal logging practices. This week, the Australian Government passed legislation which will finally make illegal timber… illegal. Doing so is a vital step towards global forest protection.

"Expecting or asking one country to combat illegal logging while at the same time, receiving or importing illegal logs does not support the efforts to combat these forest crimes….In fact, allowing the import and trade of illegal timber products could be considered as an act to assist or even to conduct forest crime."
Muhammed Prakosa, Indonesian Forest Minister, January 2003.

Ilegal timber legislation

Alongside a broad coalition of industry, church groups and environmentalists, tens of thousands of Greenpeace supporters have taken action to make this a reality.

In 2009, we formed an alliance with the biggest names in the timber industry and Australia’s leading social justice and environment groups to make sure the government lives up to its promise. Most recently these groups signed a Common Platform to outline the key elements needed in laws to effectively stop illegal timber imports.

As Greenpeace Forests Campaigner Reece Turner puts it, "the Bill finally delivers on the Government’s 2007 promise to criminalise a trade that many Australians would already expect to be banned. Illegal logging involves land theft, trashing national parks and breeds corruption and human rights abuse. It's a huge challenge to countries in our region including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.”

Costing the earth

Illegal timber is big business. There are estimates that Australia imports of between $400m and $800m worth of illegal timber products each year, with the highest risk products including outdoor hardwood furniture and decking from tropical forests (1).

The legislation makes it a criminal offence to import timber from illegal logging operations, with significant repercussions for offenders including jail time of up to 5 years, forfeiture of illegal timber and fines. The important issue now, however, is to make sure that customs are effectively resourced to inspect and investigate high-risk timber.

There is a lot more work to do, both here and on the ground in countries like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, where deforestation continues at breakneck speed.  But today, it’s great news that from now on Australian businesses and Australian households should know they aren’t using timber directly related to rainforest destruction, species loss and climate change.

(1)  The Australian Government commissioned a report in 2005 which estimated illegal timber imports to be $A400m but more a more recent estimation by the EU Commission put the figure at $A840m. See http://www.thecie.com.au/RIS%20illegal%20logging/17%20-%20EU%20submission.pdf, p6-7