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Time to end illegal logging

28 May, 2024:

I rise today somewhat incredulous that our country hasn't previously acted to stamp out the importation of illegally logged timber into Australia. So I rise to emphatically support the Illegal Logging Prohibition Amendment (Strengthening Measures to Prevent Illegal Timber Trade) Bill 2024, which will strengthen regulations around the importation and processing of timber products from overseas. It's critical that we monitor and regularly improve our systems to address the problem of illegally sourced timber from overseas making its way to the Australian market.

Acting to stop the importation of illegal timber would shut down that fatuous argument that Australia should continue to log and destroy our own beautiful native forests simply because other countries are illegally logging and perhaps some of that timber ends up here in Australia. Already in Australia almost 90 per cent of the timber that we produce here comes from plantations. So, to ensure a future domestic supply, the timber industry should be focusing on expanding plantation timber and engineered wood production.

However, a lot more needs to be done to protect our own native forests and bushlands both from illegal logging and from legal but outdated, highly destructive logging practices. Here in Australia we have our own serious problems with illegal logging and deforestation which are yet to be adequately addressed and which are certainly not addressed in this bill. For example, this bill does nothing to address illegal logging undertaken in Australia by industries other than the timber industry. As an example, we can look at the illegal logging undertaken by the beef industry here.

When the act that this bill amends was passed in 2012, it was hot on the heels of the European timber regulation, which brought in similar reforms. Importantly, that was 12 years ago. Since then, the European Union has considerably progressed its thinking and its laws and has taken concrete action to address illegal logging caused by other industries. Australia simply has not kept pace. On 1 December this year the European deforestation regulation will come into force. That regulation will require exporters to the EU of all sorts of products to conduct due diligence to ensure that the products have not been produced on lands subject to deforestation or forest degradation and that
they have been produced in accordance with the laws of the country of production. It will capture exporters of cattle, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, rubber and soya to the EU. If exporters want to send those products to the EU, they will have to prove that they have been produced without causing deforestation. Australia must follow suit.

Let's take the cattle industry as an example. In relation to that industry, Greenpeace Australia said recently that Australia has one of the world's worst rates of deforestation, driven mostly by the beef industry. Every single day about 100,000 native animals are killed from this destruction as threatened species habitat, including for the iconic koala, is bulldozed at a rate of knots. In just five years, 668,000 hectares of koala habitat was bulldozed by the beef industry for pasture. That's 2,400 times the size of the Sydney CBD. Major global markets like the EU are moving rapidly towards responsibly sourced beef. If the Australian beef industry does not clean up its act, it risks losing market and financial access, which would be a disaster. It is deeply disappointing to see the minister for agriculture seemingly go against his own government's goal of zero new species extinctions by railing against the EU's critically important deforestation-free regulations. This bill does not prevent illegal land clearing from occurring here. It only means that timber mills will not be able to process timber that was logged illegally.

The second key area that needs urgent action by Australian governments is the devastation caused by legal logging of native forests in Australia. This bill of course does nothing to address that. Australia is well overdue to completely phase out native forest logging in this country. New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland must follow the lead of Victoria and Western Australia in banning clear-fell logging of remnant native forests. In this age of climate change and species extinctions, continuing to destroy these precious habitats is anachronistic and senseless. Logging contributes to climate change. Logging of mature forest releases carbon that has taken centuries to accumulate. Each year, logging releases greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to around six per cent of Australia's annual emissions. Logging also destroys critical habitat for threatened species. We are facing an extinction crisis.

Despite the government's promise to prevent further extinctions, the continued logging of our native forests is a major threat facing endangered species like koalas, greater gliders and the Leadbeater's possum. Not only is native forest logging still perfectly legal in some states; regional forestry agreements mean this logging is exempt from scrutiny under our national environment laws. If a regional forestry agreement is in place between a state government and a state owned forestry corporation, vast swathes of logging can be conducted without any of the protection afforded by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. In 2020 in my own state of New South Wales, logging destroyed or degraded 40,000 hectares of Australian public native
forest—40,000 hectares of thriving ecosystems.

In 2022, the environment minister delivered her speech on the State of the environment report. This report made for utterly devastating reading, even for the most hardened of political heads. It was an indictment of the efforts of previous governments to enact even basic measures to protect our environment and ecosystems from broad and deep destruction.

In her speech the environment minister promised to overhaul our broken national environment laws this term. Subsequently, the minister also promised to end the regional forestry agreement exemptions. But now, over 18 months later, this government is no further progressed on and has expressly washed its hands of substantive environmental law reform in this term of government.

The minister has also evaded the phase-out of regional forestry agreements by saying that this may not happen until 2040 when those contracts expire. It is unbelievably disappointing. With the bill, the government is legislating to protect overseas forests while not protecting our own native forests. It's little wonder that Australia stands as the only developed country in the world classified as a deforestation hotspot. We are also a global leader in mammalian extinctions and we are one of seven countries responsible for more than half of global biodiversity loss. A shocking part of this story is that the native forest logging industry in Australia is loss-making. It is not commercially viable. It has to be propped up by taxpayer subsidies to survive. Even worse, the vast majority of our native forest timber is being sold off, not as you would have been led to believe for beautiful timber products or the construction of our homes or furniture, but for cheap, low-quality products such as woodchips, fence palings, tomato stakes and pallets. The vast majority is shipped overseas on the cheap for pulp. It's really quite sickening.

Last year the native forest logging division of the New South Wales forestry corporation lost $30 million despite receiving $80 million in government subsidies. In 2021, it lost $20 million, and, in 2022, $9 million. As taxpayers we are subsidising the destruction of critical habitat of Australia's unique native species.

The Blueprint Institute, a conservative think tank, has conducted cost-benefit analyses of logging of our native forests. It has done that for the Central Highlands of Victoria, for the North Coast of New South Wales and for Tasmania. Its work assessed the economic potential of native forest conservation by modelling the value of carbon sequestration, water supply and tourism against continued logging. In all three cases the Blueprint Institute's findings demonstrated conclusively that there is no economic case for continued logging of our native forests.

Victoria has shut down native logging in that state because it is not financially viable. For the North Coast of New South Wales the modelling showed that ending native forest logging in 2024 instead of 2040—the date that the regional forestry agreement is currently scheduled to expire—and using that land instead for carbon sequestration and tourism would deliver a net benefit of $45 million in present-day value. That is after paying generous compensation to the industry and workers and making pay-outs to break trade agreements. It also found that managing the North Coast region in a manner consistent with conservation would abate an average of 0.45 million tonnes of carbon annually, which equates to a net present value of $174 million. In totality, from the present to 2040, using the forests of the North Coast for purposes other than logging will generate at least $294 million in revenue. The numbers for Tasmania are even more compelling. So it is nonsensical to continue subsidising this lossmaking industry, particularly in the current context of increasing climate change disasters and native species extinctions.

So, yes, we do need to ensure that illegally logged timber from overseas does not make its way here. This is a vitally important step. But even more importantly we need to take care of what's happening in our own backyard and to crack down hard on the vast problem of illegal logging here in Australia. If the Labor government is genuinely concerned about the issue of deforestation, forest destruction and extinctions then the carve-outs for regional forestry agreements from our national environment laws must cease. State governments must also ban logging of our native

This is why, in partnership with the WWF, last year I launched the Forest Pledge. The Forest Pledge is a promise by signatories to do what they can to help end native forest logging in this country. It is supported by 36 environmental and civil organisations, including WWF, the Climate Council, the Public Health Association and the Blueprint Institute. It is also supported by 29 scientists, experts and academics, and, importantly, it is supported by former senior politicians from both sides of the political spectrum, including Bob Debus, Geoff Gallop, Robert Hill and others.

While I do support this bill and feel it is a vitally important step, I also use this opportunity to urge the government to fulfil their promises this term to do more to protect and preserve our forests right here at home by, firstly, cracking down on illegal logging and deforestation by industries other than the timber industry and, secondly, by ending native forest logging once and for all across the entire country