The below text originally appeared in the ITS Reporter on August 17. Reproduced with permission.
Why allow the Greens’ illegal logging campaign to mess with Australian foreign relations?
The Australian Labor Government must have made passage of the Illegal Logging Bill part of its deal for support from the Greens Party to have put the national interest at stake with the bill it rushed into Parliament this week.
With most of its trading partners objecting to the Bill, Indonesia threatening to take Australia to the WTO (and in a clear mood to engage in trade retaliation), and clear advice the measure contravenes Australia’s WTO obligations, there had to be a good reason for the Government to proceed with the bill.
Add to the mix the fact that the level of illegal product imported is negligible, and that PNG has pointed out the trade controls proposed will harm 10,000 low-income people who rely on small scale forestry, a lot had to be at stake.
Ending forestry has become an irrational holy grail for environmental campaign groups. Having succeeded with the compliance of State Labor governments over the past decade to undermine the regional forest agreements, they have almost succeeded in bringing the commercial forest industry to its knees in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW.
They have interfered with the domestic market, harassed companies and used tactics resembling blackmail, protected by an odious exemption for environmental groups against provisions in Australian competition law which make secondary boycotts an offence.
While the formal justification for the illegal logging bill is for Australia to act against illegal logging in exporting countries (Australia’s imports are so low it will have no effect), the Greens were happy to slip into the legislation a new layer of regulation also requiring Australian producers to demonstrate legality. This measure would have only one effect: increase costs and reduce the competitiveness of Australian producers.
For WWF and Greenpeace, the Bill is just part of a global play to use the exaggerated incidence of illegal logging to impose greater restrictions on forestry. Greenpeace conceded that it was less interested in bans on illegal logging than using import controls to demand that exporting nations follow Greenpeace policy on forestry, i.e. that there not be much of it.
While Craig Emerson boasts Labor trade policy is free trade policy, the terms of the Labor/Greens alliance require him to qualify that when it comes to forestry. The Greens want to use trade policy to pressure other countries to change their environment policy.
How effective is that when it invites trading partners like Indonesia, now Australia’s largest beef and grain market, to restrict Australian imports in retaliation?