The Regulations to the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act come into force this November. Importers of wooden furniture, timber, cardboard and paper products will be required to demonstrate and document that their imports are of low risk of containing illegally logged timber.
These Regulations are based on an illusion – that people can know and control things far beyond their understanding and sphere of available information.
Wood-products have usually come through long supply- and manufacturing-chains, are often made of multiple components and may have been manufactured in third countries. Illegal timber looks the same as legal. The origins and identity of each component of an import would generally lost in the complexity of time and space.
Even if you could somehow magically go back in time, and identify and track all components from the original forests, you would have to know relevant foreign laws and the behaviour of unknown third parties in relation to these laws.
It is bad enough that governments fall into the trap of believing that they can obtain all the necessary and current information, from their own countries, to successfully plan society. When they start to hold their citizens liable to obtain and process large amounts of complex and unknowable information, and from foreign countries, there’s a problem.
The matter needs to be seen in perspective. There are no cases of illegal timber proven to have entered Australia. If the government believes that reducing illegal logging in other countries is something they should get involved in, they need to take effective action focused at the source of the problem.
For all its green feel-gooderism, the “action at a distance” model of these Regulations will not work. It will generally not be sensitive enough (low probability of distinguishing illegal timber from legal), and runs the risk of being non-specific, creating false positives and blocking trade of legal products.