"If we don't act Australia is likely to become a transit country to wildlife trafficking destination hot spots such as Vietnam and Thailand." - Press Conference, Tuesday 3 July 2018


SUBJECTS: Parliamentary inquiry into the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn.

LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: The world's elephant and rhino populations are at a tipping point. Each year between 20,000 and 50,000 elephants are being killed to supply the illegal ivory trade around the world, and there is only some 29,000 rhinoceros worldwide. This illegal trade is a serious crime, and that is why the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement is holding its first public hearing in Sydney today into Australia's domestic trade in ivory and rhinoceros horn, to determine how Australia can keep pace with other OECD countries in closing the legal loopholes in our domestic ivory and rhino horn trades, and to ensure that Australia is not contributing to wildlife trafficking.

Evidence we’ve heard today has revealed that ivory is being smuggled through customs and that there is a confusion with some State governments regarding this as a Commonwealth responsibility whilst the reality is that Australia's domestic ivory and rhino horn trade is unregulated. What we've also learned is that law enforcement has limited capacity and resources to stop ivory at the border, and that's where the non-government sector and concerned citizens are doing more of the regulating than the regulator.

There are around 50 auction houses in Australia known to trade in ivory and rhino horn according to evidence given by the International Fund for Animal Welfare to the inquiry. The Department of Environment has also confirmed in their evidence today that they do not monitor ivory and rhino horn sales in Australia, nor do they do random checks of traders seeking the relevant providence documentation that is required to import and export ivory and rhino horn.

The Department claimed that the trade is small in Australia. How do they know that if they are not monitoring the trade? The Government does have a role in enforcing the laws of the legal wildlife trade, which is a criminaloffence. So this lack of monitoring is a failure the Government to apply the law. The Government’s lack of implementation of these laws has been described today as a paper tiger. 

With the closure of domestic markets in China and Hong Kong, if we don't act Australia is likely to become a transit country to wildlife trafficking destination hot spots such as Vietnam and Thailand. This is a global issue and a transnational problem - Australia needs to play its part in ending this illegal wildlife trade.

There is so much leadership going on at the global level to ban ivory and rhino horn. Bans are being implemented in the UK, the US, France, the EU, Taiwan, and now even China. So what we want to find out is Australia being left behind? Are we actually enforcing the laws thatrecognise that wildlife trafficking and trade is a serious crime

What we heard today is that national, uniform laws banning the trade domestically will mean Australia will help make the world a safer place for elephants and rhinos. I think that we need torecognise that as a country tasked with handing over the world's natural heritage to the next generation we have a duty to ensure our threatened species are protected. And I think what we need to find out through this inquiry is whether we are creating an opportunity for the laundering of the illegal wildlife of ivory and rhino horn, whether into Australia or transiting through Australia.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So the main part of the inquiry is to improve our laws. We've obviously got the ban on trade but once it's in Australia it's allowed? 

SINGH: That's not quite correct. Australia is a signature to the CITES Convention, that is the convention into trade of endangered species. There are no laws banning domestic trade in ivory and rhinoceros horn in Australia but under international rules, no specimens can be imported for personal or commercial uses, unless for scientific research or under a certificate proving the specimen predates 1975. Once it is in the country it is legal to trade across borders because we have no laws in place for that. But there is no monitoring going on by the Commonwealth into whether or not trading of ivory and rhino horn claimed as pre the CITES convention has the necessary provenance documentation to prove it. 

JOURNALIST:  So we've got that loophole which people are finding a way to abuse because there is no adequate monitoring by our authorities and therefore it lets the ivory come through and people know that we are allowing it to happen?

SINGH: I think we need to recognise Australia is part of a global movement here, because we are a member of the CITES convention - along with 183 other countries - so we need to play our part. What we need to discover through this inquiry is whether our current laws, or lack of laws, are enough, or whether we are inadvertently contributing to this global organised crime. That's why Labor very much welcomes the UK government's plan to legislate a ban on the sale of modern day ivory and we look forward to learning from the UK's approach. The UK went through a rigorous consultative process and now of course the EU are following suit. I think that if we want to do all we can to ensure that these incredible species of elephant and rhinoceros do not become extinct than we need to be looking at our own laws internationally, nationally and at a state level.

JOURNALIST: Will the inquiry also be looking at giving the Australian Border Force more training or resources to be able to identify when this is happening and to stop it at the border?

SINGH: Absolutely. We will be hearing from those government officials next week in Canberra. Clearly we need to understand whether or not they are equipped to understand how to identify rhino horn and ivory. We've heard evidence today that some organised crime syndicates actually try to hide ivory through dyeing it a different colour and making it look older so that it is “vintage” rather than modern day. We need to understand whether Border Force are equipped to be able to identify this at the border and what they are doing to ensure that these products are regarded just like any other criminal products such as drugs and firearms when it comes to stopping them at the border. 

JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea as to how often it does come through into Australia borders? Is it a very regular occurrence? Do you have those numbers on you at the moment?

SINGH: What has been clearly identified today is that there is a lack of data. Whilst there is some data that is provided by the Australian government to the CITES Convention, the fact is that it seems as though the government simply doesn't know. That is a problem in itself. This is where it comes back to the need for monitoring, random checks and law enforcement to be better resourced and equipped to do this role. 

JOURNALIST: Is it just art in antiques that we know the ivory and horn are being used in?

SINGH: It's antique stores, it's auction houses. There have been a number of investigations by the non-government sector into where it is being sold. Online locations are another source. It is certainly prevalent in all three of those but some auction houses - one in particular in Australia - has banned the buying and selling of ivory as have some online platforms as well. There is some self-regulation going on but certainly it is still readily available throughout Australia and online. Thanks everybody.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.