Update on the illegal timber scandal

Feature Story - 4 August, 2011
Illegal timber audit announced, highlights urgent need for tough new laws

Greenpeace recently exposed illegal timber used at a prominent development in Sydney’s CBD.

Seven activists climbed a 50 metre construction crane and hung a banner reading ‘Stop Illegal Timber’. Other activists cordoned off piles of illegal plywood sourced from the last remaining rainforests of Malaysian Borneo.

Greenpeace also released a report explaining how timber from the illegal logging operations of notorious Malaysian company, Samling is being turned into plywood and sold across Australia by a retailer called Australia Wood Panels (AWP).

We also provided the developer with a sample of certified legal and sustainable plywood as an example of the plywood they should be using.

The fact that AWP’s illegal timber products are used in a development with the highest environmental rating highlights the pervasiveness of the problem and the urgent need for the government to put in place tough laws to ban illegal timber imports.

While the government has not yet responded to our calls for effective new laws, the developer responded that same afternoon. Frasers announced it would direct its builder, Watpac Construction, “to undertake an audit of all timber used on site, to remove any timber not FSC certified and to ensure robust procedures are in place to manage our 5 Green Star compliance.”

It is great to see a developer taking responsibility for the impact of its actions and this sets a good example for other projects claiming to be green. However, it is ultimately the Australian Government’s responsibility to stop this kind of illegal timber being imported into the country in the first place.

Unreliable certification

The initial response from Fraser’s development company was to sight paperwork to support the legality of the timber. But the certificate sighted does not provide proof of legality and it again highlights the need for comprehensive Australian laws.

The paperwork comes from a Malaysian Government agency and is not independent, third party certification of legality or sustainability, as was claimed. The paperwork is also dated March 2009, before the evidence of illegal logging was documented by Greenpeace and its partner organisation in Malaysia, Earthsight. This unreliable certification is an example of what the Australian Government is considering accepting as proof of legality under proposed laws.  

The Australian Government needs to ensure that the new laws only allow independent, third party certified timber, such as FSC, into this country - especially timber from high risk countries with high value rainforests like Malaysia.

Industry support

Earlier this year, a broad alliance of timber industry representatives and environment and social justice groups sent a Common Platform to the government. It outlined 11 key elements essential for effective legislation and urged the government to adopt them.

Illegal timber isn’t fair on anyone. Australian businesses and Australian households deserve to know they aren’t using timber directly related to rainforest destruction, species loss and climate change.

Ask the government to take action – Say No to Bad Wood