Backed by members of the international environment lobby, the timber import industry and the unions, Australia's environment minister Tony Burke says a re-elected Labor government would clamp down on any timber and by-products sourced illegally.
The new rules would shift the responsibility from the overseas source to the Australian wholesale buyer.
Presenter: Bo Hill
Sperakers: Tony Burke, Australia's environment minister; Linda Selvey, chief executive, Greenpeace Australia Pacific; Aida Greenbury, managing director sustainability and stakeholder engagement, APP; Alan Oxley, principal, ITS Global
BO HILL: The Australian Government has for years been under pressure to stop the importation of timber cut from old growth forests and unsustainable sources.
Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has called illegal logging a disaster.
BURKE: Timber doesn't arrive with an ID sticker and you need to find a way of being able to have standards that ensure as best we can the timber which is imported to Australia has been logged responsibly, has been logged legally.
BO HILL: If re-elected in this month's general election, the Australian Labor Party will introduce the new rules in 2011. Any Australian company unwilling to sign up will be unable to import timber. Those who do will have to ensure their supplies are from legal sources or face criminal charges.
Environment campaigners have been calling for this for years. A chief executive of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Linda Selvey, joined Mr Burke for the press conference this Tuesday.
SELVEY: Every year, Australia imports 840 million dollars worth of illegally logged timber and timber products. For the first time, the government is proposing legislation that will ban the importation of illegally logged timber into Australia.
BO HILL: Such a clampdown was promised at the 2007 election by the Labor Party.
BURKE: The process of getting to now has not been easy.
SELVEY: Greenpeace was concerned that it feared that the government was taking a long time to get around to making this announcement. However, we do know that it's actually quite difficult to distinguish illegally logged timber from other timber, but it would also help if the countries where most of this logging is occurring are able to put in place mechanisms that can better track timber and better enforce their own legislation.
BO HILL: This is not an inconsiderable obstacle. The Asia Pulp and Paper group is part of the Indonesian Timber and Plantation company, Sinar Mas and APP says it follows Indonesia's environmental law. It has been accused of illegal logging in the Chinese province of Yunnan and for accepting timber supplies from illegal Indonesian sources. APP sustainability and stakeholder engagement manager, Aida Greenbury, says the environmentalist lobbyist like Greenpeace and others should respect Indonesian law.
GREENBURY: The Indonesian Government, the ministries and environment ministries, they are very strict in scrutinising everybody operating in Indonesia, not just with APP, but they are very strict with that and certain NGOs seem to be totally disregarding Indonesian laws and regulations, that's the difference between the two.
BO HILL: Aida Greenbury says APP was involved in the Australian government's consultation process on the new accreditation code for timber imports. She says while the company welcomes tougher rules, new policies would have to respect international trade regulations.
GREENBURY: You've got to make sure that the agreement has to be in line with the laws and regulations and the special planning and development policies of both countries, otherwise it might be in violation of WTO rule.
BO HILL: Others have raised free trade questions since Tony Burke's announcement.
Alan Oxley, is from ITS Global, a consultancy whose clients include Australian and Papua New Guinean timber industry associations.
OXLEY: I don't believe this system would survive a challenge under WTO rules. I am not sure that it can actually last in the long run. This is much a function of the politics of the day. There's press and sloth between the Greens and Labor Party. This happened before the last election where Labor agreed that it would impose controls on so-called illegal timber imports. This has been a campaign run by Greenpeace and WWF for sometime and is part of a global campaign to try to restrict forestry in developing countries. They have made really PNG a pawn in this whole debate in my view.
BO HILL: Concerns have also been voiced within Australia. Some say prices of timber by-products and other daily household goods could go up. This at a time when the Australian Timber Importers Federation says Australia will come to rely on imported timber to address a housing shortage and a strong import sector will be vital.