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Inquiry into Elephant Ivory and Rhino Horn Report speech

Thursday 20 September


I present the report and the corrigendum to the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement on the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, together with the Hansard recording of proceedings and documents presented to the committee, and move:


That the Senate take note of the report.


On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, I table this report into our committee's inquiry into Australia's domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. I initiated this inquiry to examine whether or not Australia's legal domestic market, as it currently stands, is contributing to poaching or illegal trade and if Australia should take more of a legislative, regulatory and enforcement measure to further restrict or even close down our domestic market in these products.


Before I speak about the detail in the report, I want to draw the Senate's attention to the fact that in 2017 there were 1,028 rhinos killed in South Africa, while between 20,000 and 50,000 African elephants are killed each year to supply the illegal ivory trade around the globe. That equates to about one elephant every 26 minutes. Earlier this month, Elephants Without Borders reported it had discovered the fresh and recent carcasses of 87 elephants close to the protected Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, killed and stripped of their tusks by poachers. The most common poaching gun is the AK-47. Increasingly, poachers spot elephant herds from helicopter and target their prey from above. Poachers also use machetes, spears and even watermelons spiked with cyanide. Sadly, despite growing international attention, the recent elephant poaching is driven by extraordinary consumer demand for their tusks, delivered through organised crime. Yet the existence of legal domestic markets around the world that continue to fuel the poaching crisis in Africa includes Australia. The rate of annual elephant losses still exceeds the birth rate, which means extinction of these species in the wild is the only current possibility. Indeed, earlier this year we lost Sudan, the planet's last male northern white rhinoceros.


What we on the committee learnt during this inquiry was that Australia is not immune from contributing to this global problem, both as a consumer market and, given our close proximity to the Asian region, as a transit route. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's 2016 World wildlife crime report: trafficking in protected species identified Australia as a destination and transit country for ivory, and we heard that repeatedly throughout the inquiry. Investigations of online traders, auction houses and antique dealers in Australia revealed, during the inquiry, domestic markets for ivory and rhinoceros horn worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Across a nine-month period in 2016, the International Fund for Animal Welfare found 2,772 ivory items for sale at 175 auctions in 21 auction houses in Australia and New Zealand. They of course include carvings, figures, jewellery, walking sticks, billiard cues, picture frames and the like, but they also include raw carved tusks. A carved rhinoceros-horn cup was sold for A$67,000. Every piece of ivory—every tusk, every carved statue, bracelet or trinket—represents an elephant who has paid the ultimate price.


A census in 2016 estimated the number of African elephants has declined to around 350,000. Further, it found the African elephant population had declined a further 30 per cent between 2007 and 2014. In the last century, we've in fact witnessed a 95 per cent decline in that species. In recognition of this ongoing problem, in 2016 the international community agreed to a non-binding resolution that called upon all members of the CITES treaty to implement a domestic plan on elephant ivory. Since that time, a significant number of countries have implemented such a domestic trade ban. The world's largest consumer of elephant ivory, China, implemented its ban in 2017. The world's primary exporter of elephant ivory products, the United Kingdom, is currently in the final stages of reviewing its legislation that will implement a domestic ivory trade ban. The United States legislated its ban in 2016.


But Australia is yet to introduce an equivalent ban. Within Australia, the domestic trade of ivory and rhinoceros horn remains unregulated. It remains legal. As the rate of slaughter as far as higher than the rate of reproduction, the extent of poaching, fuelled by this consumer demand and the existence of legal domestic markets for ivory and rhinoceros horn, is driving these species into extinction, and we are contributing to that. In the past four years, 36,000 people have written to the Australian government supporting a domestic ban.


When Galaxy Research conducted a poll last year on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, it found that 77 per cent of the Australians that were surveyed thought that trading in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn within Australia was already illegal and a further 76 per cent want the trade banned. So this is why we took the steps that we did in this inquiry to put our first recommendation in place, to call on the Australian government through the COAG process to work with the states and territories to implement a ban on elephant ivory and rhino horn trade. We need to do what like-minded countries have done and ensure we are no longer a destination country that is fuelling the poaching crisis going on in Africa, and support our African countries, as they're calling for us to do, to ensure that we give value back to these animals so that our children will see these animals in the flesh and not just in picture books in future generations, like we currently do with the Tasmanian tiger. I seek leave to continue my remarks.