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Friday analysis – time to get vocal on the China bans

Senator Bridget McKenzie accepts her Hi-Viz Heroes vest from a delegation of forest industry workers and AFPA chair Greg McCormack at Parliament House in Canberra.

The China situation worsened this week when a ban already in place on timber from Queensland and Victoria was extended to South Australia and Tasmania. Again, Chinese authorities claimed shipments were infected with pests, including bark beetle. Source: Bruce Mitchell

Again, everyone in Australia’s timber industry is very nervous, everyone is very quiet.

The various timber industry organisations and politicians who can usually be counted on to voice an opinion are still very, very quiet.

Everyone still seems worried about upsetting China.

Surely that boat has sailed. Isn’t it time some stronger language was used?

Or at least, those in charge should perhaps give some indication as to the

steps they are taking to alleviate or even resolve the situation instead of simply saying that “we are working at all levels to resolve these issues as soon as possible”.

No doubt there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes to solve these problems. Would it hurt to be told what some of that work entails?

Those forestry workers who have either been stood down or had their hours reduced deserve to be told that the people in charge are standing up for them.

The impact of the China bans on timber from South Australia, and in particular the Green Triangle, was possibly tempered by Timberlink’s announcement its new $59m CLT and GLT plant will be built in Tarpeena, just north of Mount Gambier.

Timberlink would have been conflicted when making its decision. Was it better to build in Victoria where the market for the eventual product would be, or build at Tarpeena where it already has a huge mill operation and access to the raw product?

Given the recent events in the Green Triangle, Timberlink’s decision is a nice boost.

Construction is due to begin next year with a completion date of 2023.

And in a boost for the native timber industry the legislation to clarify the legal anomaly created by a Federal Court ruling in May that created significant uncertainty for Regional Forest Agreements has finally hit Federal Parliament.

Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie introduced the legislation on Wednesday.

It now begins what will hopefully be a swift passage through Parliament.

For her efforts Senator McKenzie was presented with a Hi-Viz Heroes vest from a delegation of forest industry workers and AFPA chair Greg McCormack at Parliament House in Canberra.

The assault on Australian native timber has sparked comments that closure of the industry would mean we would be consuming more imported product.

Suggestions have already been made that such a move could result in illegally sourced timber coming into Australia.

The results this week of an Australian-first national DNA testing program used to verify the species and origin of imported timber sold at retail outlets in a way confirmed those suggestions.

The Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam lauded the fact that “more than 60%” of the labels were accurate.

That also means more than 30% wasn’t labelled accurately.

Under the Illegal Logging Act Prohibition Act 2012, importers are required to undertake due diligence, including identifying, assessing and managing any risks that the timber may be illegally harvested.

The Department can issue infringement notices for breaches of the regulations, with penalties up to $2664 for individuals and up to $13,320 for body corporates.

Those fines are simply not high enough.

The maximum penalty for a serious breach of the legislation can be up to $111,000 for individuals and up to $555,000 for body corporates, and up to five years’ imprisonment.

And those maximum penalties – which will almost never be imposed – again are simply not punitive enough.

If Australian means to be serious about illegal logging operations overseas it should be equally serious about the penalties.