As the political game-play of the Australian Federal Election goes on, environmental policy issues, such as illegal logging, will no doubt be caught up in the process.
Earlier this month, in a pre-election promise, Australian Forests Minister Tony Burke announced that Australia’s reinstalled Labor Government will press ahead with a policy on illegal logging that will potentially have a negative impact on its immediate neighbours. Sitting next to him during the announcement was Greenpeace Australia CEO, Linda Selvey.
According to the ALP’s policy, the new Gillard government will “introduce tough new legislation making it an offence to import any timber products into Australia that have not been legally harvested.”
Reports of the new policy conflict between accounts that it will run on an EU-style model of ‘due diligence’ against the Lacey Act’s prohibition based on producer-country laws.
Regardless of the chosen system, critics believe such a policy fails to recognise the implications for Australia’s key trading partners, as well as the costs that would befall local producers and importers alike.
They also raise the question as to whether such systems, which must respect international trade regulations, would even survive a challenge under WTO rules.
The Coalition appears to be more flexible in its policy. Despite also committing to new legislation, and alluding to a due diligence model, the party does leave room for negotiation by insisting that all impacted stakeholders would be consulted closely in the drafting of the legislation, regulations and other related measures.
This includes key trading partners such as PNG and Indonesia – partners that, according to news reports and internal sources, were not consulted before the recent Labor announcement.
In aligning with Greenpeace, it would appear the Labor government has already shown its hand in the illegal logging debate, just as it did before the last election when it courted the Greens by agreeing that it would impose controls on so-called illegal timber imports. Here again, Labor has sided with the Greens and with a global campaign run by Greenpeace and WWF to try to restrict the forestry industry in developing countries.
In the coming weeks, the Australian policy on illegal logging will most definitely find itself at the mercy of the political process, with the Independent’s and Greens working hard to influence ALP and Coalition policy. As with other key environment issues, the forestry industry must simply wait to see what eventuates.