Ron Boswell’s valid complaint in the January-February 2013 edition of Quadrant regarding the self-assumed role of green activists in imposing their approval standards on the products of primary industries requires some expansion in terms of recent history.
It was I, as Forestry Minister in the early years of the Howard Government, who foresaw this problem when the Forest Stewardship Council was in its infancy. I implemented the processes necessary to create an Australian National Forestry Standard, eventually formalized some four years later during the period when Senator McDonald was the Minister. This delay was totally the result of the intransigence of the green movement, whose involvement as an interested party was obligatory for the Standard to be endorsed by the Standards Association.
In fact, when first invited, every green group declined to participate, a matter that was only resolved when I made a threat to draw public attention to a book, Green Gold by Paul Romeijm, which can be downloaded as a free pdf file by clicking here. This book described in considerable detail the scam enacted in Holland, where investors were putting money into a green-endorsed Costa Rican tree plantation. What they did not know was that the green promoter received large commissions — even though it was in possession of an expert report that said that the land was totally unsuited to the species to be grown.
Obviously, having obtained a seat at the table, the Australian public could assume that green groups would have ample opportunity to make an informed and positive contribution to creating a standard for forestry endorsed by the democratically elected Australian Parliament. But no! When all other participants endorsed a draft standard, the greenies opposed it. When this was brought to my attention I told my department to invite them to write a minority report. To the best of my knowledge they declined to do so, most probably because there was nothing wrong with the original. Unfortunately, when I was later transferred to other responsibilities, I was unable to pursue this issue and bring it to a speedy conclusion. Clearly, as Boswell implies, those delays allowed the NGOs the opportunity to establish the credibility of the FSC.
At the time of implementing the process in Australia, I conducted a nine-day tour of five nations to plead with their forestry departments to endorse an already established international standard, of which few seemed to have knowledge. Nor did they understand the impending green threat. My itinerary included the UK, Holland (as an importer), Finland, Canada, and the USA, where a high-ranking official questioned me as to why a free enterprise country needed to involve itself in setting standards for industry. The official was slightly surprised when I suggested it could be that, without one, the US timber industry might be unable to sell its products without the endorsement of an unelected, unaudited foreign-based entity.
Ron Boswell’s article endorses my prediction and further identifies the failure of the Australian Parliament to give appropriate backing to Australian industry, both at home and within the international diplomatic forums
for on which we have spent so much to gain recognition. Surely the British High Commissioner and Japanese ambassador should be called in to explain their countries’ attitudes to our government’s standards, considering the examples Ron has provided.
This new process of attacking the secondary and tertiary sector to close down primary industry was brought stunningly to my attention by the then-president of the Rainforest Timber Producers Association, who clearly predicted the demise of Third World forests and their fauna, such as the orangutan, as a result of the boycotting of rainforest sawn timber, particularly at the retail level. To paraphrase his words, the green NGOs had little success with the blockades and protest tactics used in Australia, as Third World forestry workers were likely to take muscular action to protect their jobs. So the campaign shifted its focus to retailers in consumer countries, with consequences both ironic and tragic.
As a result of the campaign’s impact, the rainforest timber industry created a new industry, palm oil plantations, as well as other slash-and-burn primary production that required the total destruction of rain forests and primate habitat – the same habitat that had survived for years in partnership with timber harvesting.
This situation is now reaching the dizzying levels of high farce as the Gillard government proceeds to further erode our trade relations with Indonesia by becoming the green-prompted arbiter of what sawn timber Australia will permit to be imported. If this further reduces the ability of Indonesian timber outfits to turn a profit, it will result in even more destruction of primate habitat.
All this while, the Australian people are being invited via TV ads to donate money to save the orangutan. The scandal and the shame is that the very same organisations now rattling the cup are the same ones who have created the circumstance of the creatures’ destruction.
Wilson Tuckey was the Member for O’Connor from 1980 until 2010