Environmental Groups Condemn Government's support of the PNG Forest Industry Association

March 19, 2002

Friends of the Earth Australia and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Eco-Forestry Forum (EFF) are appalled by the Australian Trade Commission┬╣s (Austrade) involvement with the PNG Forest Industry Association (FIA) through supporting its seminar in Port Moresby. Austrade is a member of the seminar organising committee and it is holding a trade fair at the FIA seminar. The seminar starts today.

Corruption within the PNG logging industry has been well documented. Examples can be found in official reports such as that of the Barnett Commission of Inquiry in 1988; the Ombudsman Commission in 1998 and the recent World Bank Independent Forestry Review. There has also been a continuous stream of revelations in print media and in numerous television current affairs program.

The Barnett report concluded that some of the logging companies:

"are now roaming the countryside with self assurance of robber barons; bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignoring laws in order to gain access to, rip out, and export the last remnants of the provinces valuable timber."

Justice Thomas Barnett who led the inquiry was nearly stabbed to death during his investigation and the records of the National Forest Authority were destroyed in a deliberate case of arson around the same time.

Subsequent to the Barnett Inquiry, AusAID and the World Bank attempted institutional reform of the forestry sector. Unfortunately, over one decade of this effort failed to effect a more responsible and sustainable logging industry. Recently, a Senior Inspector of Police reported serious smuggling activities taking place in a logging camp in the Western Province. He claims that guns are being brought in on empty log barges. They are then being traded for illicit drugs that are being brought into the Province. EFF and their member organisations continue to receive complaints from local communities of illegal logging, human rights violation and severe environmental destruction. Illegal logging, social harms and environmental damages are all subjects of a current claim to the World Bank Inspection Panel.

"Supporting the FIA will undermine local groups, communities and other sectors of the PNG civil society who have been working very hard to reform and to restructure the logging industry. This sector of PNG society is actively encouraging more sustainable small to medium scale community-based forestry initiatives. It is foolish for Austrade to be seen to be colluding with the FIA instead of finding effective and credible means to promote more viable and environmentally sustainable alternatives." Commented Anthony Amis, FoE's Forest Campaigner.

The PNG Eco-Forestry Forum concluded that this industry body has shown no commitment to forestry reform and it has not accepted environmental or social responsibility. Furthermore PNG FIA have been pushing for lower log taxes (which will encourage more logging and less financial return to the community), less regulation and other such measures as evident from their regular articles and advertisements in PNG media. In short, their record is one of simply opposing any reform on all these issues and trying to muddy the water with misinformation.

For further information contact:

Anthony Amis
Friends of the Earth Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9419 8700

Joe Meava
Information Manager
PNG Ecoforestry Forum
Ph: 675 983 5464