Conduct of the inquiry
On 28 March 2018, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
(the committee) initiated an inquiry into the trade in elephant ivory and rhino
The terms of reference for the inquiry were as follows:
Pursuant to paragraph 7(1)(g) of the Parliamentary
Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010, the committee will examine the
legal and administrative arrangements for ensuring Australia’s compliance with
its obligations, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to restrict the trade in elephants and
incidence of importation to, and exportation from, Australia of elephant ivory
and rhinoceros horn products;
adequacy of existing arrangements and resources for the screening of imports
and exports for elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn products;
involvement of serious and organised crime groups, including international
crime groups, in the importation, exportation and/or sale of elephant ivory and
rhinoceros horn products in Australia;
arrangements exist with auction houses, electronic market places and other
brokers to prevent illegally imported elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn being
sold in Australia;
effectiveness of existing domestic legislation and compliance frameworks to
restrict trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn products, with particular
regard to the role of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Border
effectiveness of current monitoring and regulation, including the extent and
use of legally mandated provenance documentation attached to elephant ivory and
authenticity of provenance documentation and the effectiveness of measures to
detect forged or fraudulent documentation;
potential to strengthen existing legislation and administrative arrangements,
including through agreements with the states and territories, to reduce the
domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn products;
supporting efforts to close domestic markets for elephant ivory and
rhinoceros horn products;
engagement by Australian law enforcement agencies with regional and
international counterparts to address the illegal trade in elephant ivory and
nature and effectiveness of measures, models and legislation adopted in other
jurisdictions to address the trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn; and
any other related matters.
The committee received 84 submissions listed at Appendix 1. In addition,
the committee received 1135 form letters, all in support of Australia
implementing a domestic trade ban.
The committee held hearings over five days in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth
and Canberra. A list of witnesses who appeared at the public hearings is at
The committee also received a number of additional documents and answers
to questions on notice (see Appendix 3).
The committee thanks all individuals and organisations for their
participation in the inquiry.
The illegal wildlife trade is having a devastating impact on natural
environments globally. This global trade has resulted in elephant and rhino
species experiencing a drastic decline in their population numbers, and in the
case of the northern white rhino, a complete decimation of that species.
The global trade is facilitated, in part, by transnational criminal
organisations. The profits generated from the illegal wildlife trade,
especially elephant ivory and rhino horn, converge and facilitate other
criminal activities such as money laundering, human trafficking and illicit
Evidence suggests established illegal wildlife trafficking networks are used to
fund militia and terrorist activities.
In response to the illegal wildlife trade and profiteering from the
exploitation of endangered species, the international community came together
in 1975 to establish the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES) to restrict the trade in flora and
fauna species to prevent their extinction. Today there are over 35 000 species
listed and offered various degrees of protection under CITES, including both species
of elephant and five species of rhinoceros. However, despite CITES' success, the
illegal wildlife trade has continued, especially for elephant ivory and rhino
In recognition of this ongoing problem, in 2016 the international
community agreed to a non-binding resolution that called upon CITES members to
implement a domestic trade ban on elephant ivory. Since that time, a
significant number of countries have announced, or have implemented, a domestic
trade ban on elephant ivory. 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 legislation that would implement a domestic
ivory trade ban. The United States legislated its ban in 2016.
Despite this international movement to implement domestic trade bans,
Australia is yet to act. Although the Department of the Environment and Energy
is supportive of those countries that have implemented domestic trade bans,
it does not view a ban as necessary in the Australia because evidence suggests
the domestic ivory market is not contributing to poaching or the illegal trade.
However, civil society representatives challenge this view.
Evidence to this inquiry revealed a weakness in Australia's current
wildlife trade control framework; chiefly, the absence of regulations that
apply to the domestic market. For example, there is no legal requirement for
any ivory or rhino horn item to be identified as a pre-CITES item before it is
traded within Australia.
The committee heard that this lack of regulation is problematic because the
illegal wildlife trade exists alongside the legal trade, and acts as a conduit
to the illegal trade.
Other broader concerns were discussed with the committee. Civil society
groups called into question existing law enforcement and border control
arrangements. In particular, criticisms were directed at the enforcement of
environmental laws and the lack of prosecutions against people found in
possession of illegal ivory and rhino horn. Civil society groups argued the low
prioritisation of environmental crime had resulted in the wildlife trade
becoming a low risk/high reward venture. Screening procedures to identify
illegal ivory and rhino horn at Australia's border were also criticised.
The committee heard overwhelming support for the implementation of a
domestic trade ban for both elephant ivory and rhino horn. The individual
traders and industry representatives that would be adversely impacted by a ban also
recognised that action is needed. However, there was debate about the best way
to implement a domestic ban, and what type of exemptions would be included if
one were implemented. Advocates for a domestic ban described the UK framework as
a model of best practice. The committee considered, at length, the UK framework
and stakeholders' views about its application in Australia.
Evidence to this inquiry highlighted the legal considerations that would
need to be taken into account when considering the implementation of a domestic
trade ban in Australia. Constitutional limitations restrict the Commonwealth
government from unilaterally implementing a domestic ban; however, advocates
and legal experts detailed options for how the Commonwealth government could
proceed with a domestic trade ban.
Structure of the report
This report considers the following issues in six chapters.
Chapter 2 provides background information about the illegal wildlife
trade, with a specific focus on the illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino
horn. The chapter then describes the CITES international trade regulatory
framework and its application in Australia, including Australia's domestic
trade regulations for ivory and rhino horn.
Chapter 3 first looks at international efforts to implement domestic
trade bans, or stricter measures since the 2016 Conference of the Parties
(CoP17) of CITES. It then considers in more detail the proposed UK framework
currently being considered by the UK Parliament, in particular, evidence for
and against the exemptions in that framework, as well as the compliance,
enforcement offence and sanction provisions. The chapter concludes with
consideration of how a domestic trade ban could be implemented in Australia.
Chapter 4 examines Australia's current trade control framework, and its
gaps. It considers the elephant ivory and rhino horn trade in Australia, and
arguments that a domestic trade ban is needed to reduce the risk of criminal
networks use of Australia's domestic market as a means to trade illegal ivory
and rhino horn. Specifically, legal markets can act as a conduit of the illegal
trade. This chapter then proceeds to address evidence of industries that have
been found to be at-risk of facilitating the illegal trade. These include
online marketplaces, and the auction and antique industries. This chapter
concludes with consideration of societal and cultural change in consumer
behaviour, and how this has impacted on the desirability for items made of
ivory and rhino horn.
Chapter 5 looks at the current enforcement and border control measures,
including screening processes for ivory and rhino horn at Australia's border, training
of customs officers and concerns about the low level of prosecutions. This
chapter then considers: compliance, seizure and trade data; and the CITES permit
system (including provenance). Finally, the chapter examines education
initiatives to inform customs officers and the general public.
Chapter 6 outlines the committee's views and recommendations.
Throughout this report, a 'domestic trade ban' refers to the total ban
on commercial activities that involve elephant ivory and rhino horn, unless
those items meet specified exemptions. Commercial activities
the buying, selling or hiring of items made of, or containing
ivory or rhino horn;
offering or arranging to buy, sell, or hire ivory and rhino horn
keeping ivory and rhino horn for the purpose of sale or hire;
exporting and/or importing ivory and rhino horn into or from
Australia for sale or hire.
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