Illegal logging is an international problem that has serious implications for environmental management and for the economies of developing countries in particular.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that in some developing countries up to 70 per cent of timber is illegally logged, with a loss in revenue and capital of more than $20 billion per year.
The destruction of tropical rainforests in particular from illegal logging is a cause of global concern with large quantities reported to have been stripped from environmentally sensitive areas in the Amazon river basin, Madagascar and many other nations either side of the Equator.
Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry estimates that approximately 10 per cent of the total timber product imports (valued at more than $4 billion) into Australia are at risk of being illegally logged.
One of the challenges for law enforcement authorities is that once the timber has been processed into furniture, paper or building materials for example, it can be very difficult to establish the original source of the timber used.
A significant international effort to stamp out illegal logging has been under way for decades, with mixed results as corruption and criminal networks have undermined this work.
There is universal agreement across the political spectrum in Australia that illegal logging is a scourge that must be minimised as much as possible.
However, it is important that any actions are within the rules of the global trading environment to avoid accusations of trade protectionism and potential expensive legal action through the World Trade Organisation.
In the last sitting week of Parliament, the Coalition successfully forced the Government to postpone the parliamentary debate on its Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill and refer it to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee for detailed examination.
While the Coalition in-principle supports legislation to prohibit the importation of illegally logged timber or products manufactured from illegally logged timber we have been alarmed at the cavalier way in which the Government has been dealing with this important trade issue.
It is concerning that the Minister with responsibility for this legislation is none other than Senator Joe Ludwig, who is best known for his catastrophic mismanagement of the live cattle trade to Indonesia that has halved the value of that trade.
His panicked response to video footage collected by animal rights activists and broadcast on Four Corners does little to inspire confidence in his judgement.
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