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Four environmental, human rights and faith groups have expressed their support for a Bill currently before the Australian parliament that aims to strengthen the prohibitions on importing wood that has been illegally logged. However, they are disappointed that the Bill has missed the opportunity to explicitly prohibit timber produced with the involvement of bribes, fraud and tax evasion from entering Australia.

 The Bill would amend the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 to strengthen the Australian Government’s ability to identify timber and wood products that come from illegal logging, and to impose penalties on importers or traders that attempt to bring in illegal timber or wood products.

The Bill is currently before the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. The four organisations – Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Jubilee Australia Research Centre, Environmental Investigation Agency – US and the Center for International Environmental Law have lodged a submission in support of the Bill.

The Bill will strengthen the current law by:

  • Requiring importers to provide an import notice prior to bringing timber into Australia (with information like the species of timber they are importing and where it was logged)
  • Giving the government additional powers to seize and investigate potentially illegal timber, and
  • Enhancing current auditing, compliance and enforcement mechanisms.

The four organisations have also recommended further amendments to the law to crack down on corruption in timber supply chains, which is a driver of illegal deforestation and linked to money laundering and broader forest crime.

Mark Zirnsak, Senior Social Justice Advocate at Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania said “Corruption and illegal logging are inextricably linked and cause real harm to local communities in the places the timber is harvested. They lose out on sharing in the value of the timber harvested and can lose access to forests that provide their livelihoods. Not only is corruption a driver of illegal logging, but the trafficking of illegal timber facilitates organised crime. Criminally produced timber undercuts businesses that act within the law. It is critical that Australia’s illegal logging regime helps countries in our region to break this cycle.”

Fyfe Strachan, Deputy Director at Jubilee Australia, a Sydney-based research and advocacy organisation, said “Illegal logging cannot survive without customers to buy illegal timber or wood products. Stamping out illegal logging requires strong, enforceable laws in timber importing countries like Australia to prevent illegal timber from making its way to buyers. The amendments currently under consideration will make our illegal logging laws more enforceable and a more effective deterrent.”

Research released last year by the Center for Environmental Law and Environmental Investigation Agency – US found that Australia imports timber from a number of high-risk countries. In particular, China is both Australia’s largest supplier of imported wood products and also the world’s largest importer of illegal and high-risk timber.

Melissa Blue Sky, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law said, “While timber supply chains can be complex, this should not be used as an excuse to allow imports of illegal timber. The improvements to Australia’s illegal logging law in the Bill will help to make enforcement easier by requiring key information from importers at the time of import. All importers and timber traders should know where the timber in their wood products was logged and be confident that there was no illegality in their supply chains.”

Susanne Breitkopf, Deputy Director of Forest Campaign at Environmental Investigation Agency - US said, “Last year, the European Union took bold moves to crack down on deforestation by passing a law to ban products of deforestation from coming into the EU. It’s timely for Australia to consider how it can play its part in the global fight against deforestation. Strengthening its illegal logging regime is an important first step”

Read the full submission here.