Australia passes illegal timber law

23 November 2012

After five years of negotiation and development, Australia’s parliament this week passed the country’s Illegal Logging Prohibition (ILP) bill, its equivalent of the EU Timber Regulation and America’s Lacey Act.

The law makes it an offence to import and process timber considered illegal in the country of origin, making both timber traders and manufacturers the possible target of prosecution.

For serious and serial offenders who "knowingly or recklessly import or process illegally logged timber products", the maximum penalty is up to five years in prison, with a fine of A$275,000 for a company and A$55,000 for an individual.

The Australian government estimated that around 10%, or A$4bn worth, of the country's timber imports would fall foul of the law.

Stephen Mitchell of the Australian Timber Development Association, which represents traders, told a conference in Malaysia in October that the timber trade had pressed for compulsory measures on illegal timber, rather than a code of conduct, to stamp out cut-price illegal competition and create a "level playing field for trade". But he added that there remained uncertainties under the ILP about what comprised acceptable legality assurance and due diligence risk assessment.

As the bill also covers domestically produced timber, there were also fears that environmental NGOs might use it to attempt to close down logging in certain parts of the country.

Australian businesses offering timber legality and verification services, and importers which have already put tougher timber sourcing and tracking systems in place, were expected to benefit from the bill.