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Proposed laws to stop illegal logging imports too weak to work

By Reece Turner - posted Monday, 2 May 2011

Australia imports around $840million worth of illegal timber products each year. This is sold in the form of outdoor decking, plywood for construction and pulp and paper products. Nearly a quarter of imported outdoor furniture sets come from illegal or suspicious sources.

So there's a pretty good chance that each and every one of us has unwittingly purchased a timber product made from illegally logged timber.

Australia currently has no laws to stop this happening.


The ALP understood the enormity of this issue when it promised to ban illegal timber imports as part of its 2007 election platform.

It was a popular decision. After all, the rate of illegal logging in our region is amongst the highest in the world.

Illegal logging threatens species like the orang-utan and the Sumatran tiger with extinction and is a major driver of deforestation. Deforestation accounts for up to a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than world's entire transport sector.

Illegal timber is sometimes blood timber - linked to organised crime and to violent civil wars. It comes mainly from countries with weak governance, where corporate criminals can cause enormous environmental damage with little consequence to themselves.

Labor's pledge was also popular with the timber industry as the trade in illegal timber products undercuts importers and retailers trying to do the right thing.

Popular with the environmentalists and with business, banning illegal timber imports seemed like an obvious move for the government.


Not so. Over a year and a half later, in early 2009 the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests, Tony Burke was still procrastinating over the legislation.

To move things along, in June 2009, major industry players including Bunnings, IKEA, Fantastic Furniture and Simmonds Lumber answered this concern with a 'Joint Statement' calling for a halt to illegal imports. A3P, Timber Queensland and timber importer Agora followed suit in August.

In December 2009, 11 members of the US Congress wrote directly to Prime Minister Rudd encouraging him to follow through on his election promise and bring in laws similar to the US Lacey Act. The Lacey Act makes it an offence to trade in illegal timber.

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About the Author

Reece Turner is Greenpeace Australia Pacific Forests Campaigner

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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