By David Brazil
Australia has the opportunity to make an important stand in the fight to save the remaining rainforests of Sarawak and other parts of the world on August 21, when federal parliament considers the Customs (Rainforest Timbers) Amendment Bill.
The bill was introduced in March by Senator John Coulter of the Democrats. Following intensive lobbying by environmental groups, plus the endorsement of the bill by many independent-minded parliamentarians, there is some evidence that it may receive Labor Party support.
Coulter's bill arose out of the Australian Rainforest Memorandum, a statement prepared by the Rainforest Information Centre in Lismore outlining Australia's involvement in rainforest destruction and the steps necessary to remedy the situation.
The bill would amend the Customs Act to restrict the importation of all timber grown in rainforest areas. Only wood from plantation or regrowth areas would be exempted. In addition, no wood could be imported from areas where the felling of trees is not approved by traditional owners and inhabitants.
The bill outlines the readily available alternatives to rainforest timbers and promotes the use and development of plantation timbers and composite board and alternative materials.
If the bill is successful, Australia will be in a position to lobby the international community to take responsibility for rainforest destruction and place further pressure on Malaysia to stop illegal logging operations in Sarawak, the source of most of Australia's rainforest timbers. In speaking to the bill in federal parliament, Coulter pointed out that "at present rates of forest loss, all but a few of the remotest forest regions could have disappeared by the early 21st century".
For information on alternative timber products, the RIC Ready Reckoner, listing environmental rating and suitability of more than 100 timber products, is available from the Rainforest Information Centre, PO Box 268, Lismore NSW 2480, tel (066) 21 8505.