Domestic trade control framework
Chapter 4 considers the absence of a domestic ivory and rhino horn trade
control framework in Australia, and evidence that the market within Australia is
unregulated and inadequately monitored by any Commonwealth, state and territory
agency. It then examines the argument that if Australia does not establish a
trade control framework, it risks organised crime groups using Australia's
weaker domestic control framework to facilitate the trade in illegal ivory and
rhino horn. The risk of this occurring is considered with respect to the
antiques industry, auction industry and online marketplaces.
The chapter examines these three at-risk industries, their
vulnerabilities, and steps they have taken to address the illegal trade. Finally,
the chapter considers stakeholders' reflections about the impact societal and
cultural change has had on demand for ivory and rhino horn products.
Elephant ivory and rhino horn: an unregulated domestic market
As discussed in chapter 2, regulation and enforcement of the trade in
ivory and rhino horn is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment
and Energy (DoEE) and Australia Border Force (ABF). A criticism of the current
exotic wildlife trade framework in Australia, which includes ivory and rhino
horn items, is that it inadequately monitors and regulates the trade within
Australia. As discussed in the previous chapters, the Commonwealth government
does not regulate the domestic trade in wildlife, including elephant ivory and
rhino horn. However, it is an offence under section 303GN of the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to be in
possession of ivory or rhino horn (and any other wildlife specimen) that has
been illegally imported into Australia. Each state and territory governs the
internal movement of wildlife species within its jurisdiction.
However, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) the
Australian Capital Territory, under the Nature Conservation Act 2014
(ACT), is the only jurisdiction with legislation that prevents the trade in
ivory and rhino horn.
On that basis, advocates for a domestic trade ban challenge the view
that the current regulatory framework is sufficient:
...regulators cannot say with absolute confidence that the
Australian domestic market for ivory and rhinoceros horn and the potential
illegal trade in items does not contribute to the poaching crisis in Africa.
Australia's contribution to the poaching and illegal trade of ivory (and
rhino horn) is a point of contention between the DoEE and civil society groups.
As outlined in chapter 2, the 17th Meeting of the Conference of
the Parties (CoP17) agreed to the resolution that 'all Parties and non-Parties
in whose jurisdiction where there is a legal domestic market for ivory that is
contributing to poaching or illegal trade' be closed.
The DoEE maintains there is minimal evidence to suggest Australia is
contributing to the poaching of elephants and the illegal trade in their ivory.
Correspondence from July 2017 between the then Environment Minister and the then
South Australian Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation
detailed Australia's support for countries that have closed their 'domestic
ivory markets that are driving poaching and illegal trade'.
However, the Environment Minister wrote that 'Australia's small domestic ivory
market is not significant to international illegal trade'.
The DoEE reflected the former Environment Minister's comments:
Australia promotes and supports international commitments to
strengthen wildlife trafficking laws including the closure of significant ivory
markets which are contributing to poaching. The most effective measures to
combat illegal trade in elephant and rhino are those taken by significant
source, transit and destination countries.
The DoEE added that of all the wildlife species, 'more is known about
elephants population' and evidence from the most recent CITES Elephant Trade
Information System assessed:
Australia's domestic ivory market...as being small and/or
well-regulated. In addition, it's noted that most seizures of ivory in
Australia is of small, worked items being traded as personal effects. That's
what's legal in Australia. It's legal elsewhere in the world.
On this basis, the DoEE reviewed the CoP17 resolution and its relevance
to Australia, and concluded that the 'call for the ban was for parties that are
driving poaching, and all of our assessments about our domestic trade are that
it is not driving poaching'.
The committee challenged the DoEE on this view, and pointed to reports of
issues with its gathering and use of data.
In response, the DoEE explained that although issues of data integrity existed
between it and the Department of Home Affairs:
...internationally it's very well known what drives the
poaching of elephants and what drives the poaching of rhino, and Australia is
not considered significant in any international way in the poaching of those
animals. And the resolution is quite specifically worded around that. It is to
close domestic markets that are leading to poaching.
The committee heard other concerns regarding the current trade control
framework and Australia's decision not to implement a domestic trade ban. The IFAW
reported that it had consulted with Commonwealth and state and territory
governments, and through this engagement 'revealed a lack of understanding as
to who possesses the regulatory responsibility to deal with the domestic trade
of exotic wildlife products' in Australia:
The federal government believe they lack the jurisdiction to
regulate domestic trade of ivory and rhinoceros horn and see it firmly as a
state responsibility. Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales
governments are all of the opinion that it is the federal government who should
be regulating and monitoring the trade.
According to IFAW, it is these situations that 'provide[s] ideal cover
for the illegal trafficking of ivory and rhinoceros horn to occur'.
The DoEE refuted the IFAW's argument that 'Commonwealth and the states [are]
pointing to each other'.
The DoEE stated that there are only laws in place for the international trade,
and 'there are no laws on domestic trade', therefore:
...it's not a matter of governments shirking responsibility or
not enforcing laws. The laws that are in place are for international trade and
they are in place at the Commonwealth level under the EPBC Act. I just want to
make that very clear. There are no laws regulating domestic sale.
For this reason the DoEE does not:
...monitor an unregulated market. It doesn't require—you're
allowed; people are allowed to sell these items domestically. It's not a
regulated market. There's nothing really for the department to be monitoring.
If there is evidence that items have been illegally imported, then the
department is very interested in that, because that is what we are
regulating—imports and exports over Australia's border. So we don't have powers
because it's not regulated. There's no almost no point. The people in the
auction houses aren't necessarily doing anything that's illegal.
Although targeting the ivory and rhino horn trade in high-risk countries
is important, IFAW argued that strengthening Australia's domestic trade
regulations through decisive government action on this matter would support
...efforts of 29 African range states to protect elephant
populations for the future and implement a legislative ban on the domestic
trade of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in Australia.
The Animal Defenders Office (ADO) commented that 'a progressive country
like Australia cannot justify playing a role, however small, in driving these
magnificent animals to extinction',
and for this reason was supportive of a:
...regulatory framework that with some reasonable and very
limited exceptions prohibits the trade of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in
all Australian states and territories–that is to say both across and within
state and territory borders.
This support for a domestic trade ban, with limited exemptions, was
conveyed by the vast majority of submitters and witnesses to this inquiry. For
example, all but one non-government witness supported a domestic trade ban
(with exemptions) on ivory and rhino horn items. The committee heard that failure
to do so would result in an increased risk of criminal organisations exploiting
Australia's weaker control framework, and the continued facilitation of the
illegal trade of ivory and rhino horn through the domestic market.
Risk of displacement
Many witnesses highlighted that, if Australia fails to implement a
domestic trade ban, actors involved in the illegal trade could move their
operations to Australia to exploit its weaker control framework. This phenomenon
is known as displacement.
The Born Free Foundation highlighted the issue of displacement in Asia, with
reports that ivory traders from China are moving to unregulated markets, such
as Vietnam and Laos. Born Free argued that the risk of displacement means the
domestic trade issue 'should be seen less as a domestic affair and more as a
Both the Centre for Environmental Law and the Environmental
Investigation Agency (EIA) shared the concern about displacement. The Centre
for Environmental Law stated:
...a common concern is that displacement will see the activities
of these resilient criminal networks shift to states where legal rules are lax
in substance or implementation or are ambiguous or non-existent.
The EIA stated that displacement is a key issue, and that:
For anybody who might suggest that perhaps the total amount
of ivory and rhino horn trading in Australia is relatively low, now is your
opportunity to prevent it from becoming any higher because of the displacement
from those countries that have introduced bans.
The British High Commissioner to Australia, Her Excellency Menna Rawlings,
also called for global action in order to combat displacement because:
...as we close down markets, [criminal groups] might shift to
other places—is a risk that countries like Australia can and should be mindful
of as they consider their own case for legislation. Annual figures for the
illegal wildlife trade range from seven billion pounds to 17 billion pounds.
We're talking about big transnational organised crime operations here. That's
the illegal trade, and then obviously the legal trade might become more
attractive here if it's more difficult in other places. It does create a global
context in which the level of expectation for countries to look at some sort of
domestic ivory trade ban becomes more and more important.
Environmental investigator Dr Sylvia Loh made clear that Australia needs
to enact a domestic ban, in line with its international counterparts;
otherwise, Australia will be viewed as vulnerable and subsequently exploited.
Mr Luke Bond echoed Dr Loh's comment, and added Australia is just another
player in the international wildlife trade, and for that reason, needed to have
a 'more global perspective on what [Australia's] role is and what [it] can do
to make a difference'.
Whilst acknowledging that Australia is not a major destination or transit route
for this trade, Mr Bond opined that it is Australia's role to be a leader in
this space, to multiply the impact of a domestic trade ban across the globe.
These opinions were shared by Professor Grant Pink, who expressed the
view that whilst this debate is a national issue, it is also global, and
Australia does not:
...want to be seen as the weakest link where we create a market
for people to trade illegally or around the margins. That's critically
important, and I think that's why we're seeing leadership in those countries
that you mentioned and the London declaration.
The legal trade: a conduit for
The committee heard from civil society groups that warned an unregulated
legal market is 'a conduit for illicit trade'.
According to IFAW, the illegal trade is facilitated by the parallel legal
wildlife trade (worth an estimated US$3 billion per year),
which provides 'an avenue for the supply-and-demand chain to continue and, with
it, opens the door for laundering of illegal products'.
The expansion of online markets further fuels the illegal trade, enabled by
'confusing wildlife trade laws, lack of enforcement and basic governance
structures and fast developing economic markets'.
The SAVE African Rhino Foundation commented that the more the legal
trade is restricted, the easier it is to determine whether trade is legal or
illegal, and argued:
Wherever there is a legal market, it makes it harder to
understand whether the movement of ivory or rhino horn is an illegal act.
Essentially, the more holes that are shut up for that trade to occur anywhere
in the world the easier it is to say it's illegal and that it's happening
through that port or through that country or through that area. Wherever
there's legal trade, it acts as a smokescreen to the illegal trade.
This risk was raised by Her Excellency Menna Rawlings, who explained
that the UK domestic ban addresses the UK government's view:
...that any legal ivory market may contribute to the illegal
trade. This is because any legal ivory market lends acceptability to the sale
of ivory and provides opportunities for criminals to launder illegal, freshly
poached ivory through a legal market, often passing it off as much older than
it is to get around restrictions due to age.
These comments are consistent with the United Nations Office on Drugs
and Crime (UNODC) recommendations in the 2016 World Wildlife Crime Report
which found that the international illegal wildlife trade would decline if each
country, under its domestic law, prohibited the 'possession of wildlife that
was illegally harvested in, or illegally traded from, anywhere in the world'
...current international controls regulating trade do not
extend into national markets, so domestic environmental laws should be expanded
to provide protection to wildlife from other parts of the world.
Several witnesses provided examples of how the legal and illegal trade
exist in parallel to each other. Internationally, IFAW's representative from
China, Ms Grace Ge Gabriel, spoke of a 2011 case where an owner of a licenced
ivory carving factory had illegally imported seven tonnes of raw ivory into
China from East Africa. The illegally sourced ivory was mixed with CITES
sanctioned stocks, which complicated law enforcement agencies ability to
identify the illegally sourced ivory.
Another example involved an Australian citizen and antique dealer, Mr Graham Chen,
who in 2017 was found guilty in a US court for smuggling illegal ivory and
rhino horn from the US into China.
Mr Chen reportedly smuggled goods worth AU$911 120; US authorities worked with
the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Attorney-General's Department to
apprehend and extradite Mr Chen.
The UNODC referred to Operation Cash in the US.
Since 2011, this large-scale, ongoing and multi-law enforcement agency
investigation has targeted the elephant ivory and rhino horn trade connected to
international poaching and smuggling syndicates. As of October 2017, Operation
Cash has charged more than 50 suspects, 38 of whom have been convicted. The
operation has recovered over US$7.8 million in fines and restitution, and
the seizure of smuggled ivory and rhino horns worth an estimated US$75 million.
According to the UNODC, the US experience has shown that 'law
enforcement authorities didn’t understand the full extent of the US implication
in rhino horn and ivory trafficking until they began conducting the covert
The UNODC argued, '[g]iven the parallels between the [the US and Australia]', that
similar risks and serious consideration of those risks is needed in Australia.
Similar examples have occurred in Australia. For example, the 2011–12
investigation by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) named Project Aerostar.
The purpose of Project Aerostar was to research 'the methodology and potential
nexus between international trafficking syndicates of endangered species and
serious organised crime groups'.
According to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), that
investigation revealed the activities of the syndicate and methods to
circumvent international regulatory controls; it also 'exposed some
second-hand, high-value antiques markets as being vulnerable to money
Environmental investigator and former member of Project Aerostar, Mr Bond
shared a number of key findings that highlighted how the legal market
facilitates the illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn. Mr Bond explained that an
individual targeted as part of Project Aerostar was found to have provenance
documentation, including pre-CITES certificates, that were falsified to export
ivory and rhino horn items from Australia to China.
Further, the individual was found to 'ingratiate himself to experts within the
antique trade', and had groomed younger people working in the antiques industry
as a means to assist with the production of falsified documentation.
Mr Bond stated that prior to Project Aerostar, the Department of
Environment had identified antiques dealers and traders who were providing
statutory declarations to confirm provenance and age of items without the
expertise or knowledge to do so. These dealers took on face value the histories
of these items, with many being sold for $200 000 or $300 000 apiece, with the
antique dealers taking a commission of up to 40 per cent. Mr Bond concluded
that '[t]here was not a great deal of due diligence around that process at that
A consequence of Project Aerostar and the Department of Environment's
investigations was a review of legislation, which led to a tightening of laws
related to the importation of ivory and rhino horn in 2015. It also led to a stronger
engagement with antiques traders and dealers across Australia to develop an
awareness that law enforcement personnel were targeting premises in Sydney and
However, Mr Bond submitted that no one was prosecuted as a result of
With respect to online marketplaces, the IFAW investigation into the
illegal sale of wildlife online resulted in the Department of Environment
...two search warrants at properties of a Sydney-based online
trading company, where they found and seized a large number of carved ivory ornaments
and jewellery with an estimated value of $80 000.
The legal elephant ivory and rhino horn trade in Australia is primarily
conducted through three industries: the antiques
industry, auction industry, and online marketplaces. Consequently, the
committee heard these industries are at a high-risk of enabling the illegal
trade of ivory and rhino horn.
Investigations conducted by IFAW have revealed vulnerabilities for these
industries. For example, the committee heard evidence about IFAW's most recent investigation
into the antiques industry, which demonstrated the inadequacy of mechanisms in
place to minimise the risk of ivory and rhino horn being illegally traded by antiques
dealers. It also highlighted a lack of understanding about the current trade control
framework (CITES); in some cases, incorrect advice or advice contrary to
current law had been provided to customers concerning existing trade controls. As
discussed earlier, Project Aerostar revealed how the antiques industry had been
used by criminal groups to launder illegal wildlife, including ivory and rhino
Some industry participants have made considerable efforts to reduce
their handling of ivory and rhino horn, and have taken an ethical stance on
this matter. For example, Leonard Joel was the first auction house to implement
a self-imposed ban on the sale of ivory and rhino horn in 2017, and in 2018, the
Auctioneers and Valuers Association of Australia (AVAA) board formally agreed
to support a domestic trade ban.
sale of CITES-listed species on their platforms. In 2018, online marketplaces
such as Alibaba, eBay and Facebook joined with international environmental
groups to form a Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online by 80 per
cent in 2020.
The following sections considers each of these industries, their
vulnerabilities, efforts to address the illegal trade, and views concerning a
domestic ban on the trade in ivory and rhino horn in Australia.
The antiques industry was identified as a high-risk industry for
facilitating the illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn. This risk was highlighted
in IFAW's most recent investigation
into the ivory and rhino horn trade in antique stores across Australia. This
investigation included stores located in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Hobart,
Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane. Investigators also attended the Australian
Antique & Art Dealers Association (AAADA) fair in Melbourne.
The investigation revealed that ivory items were readily available in all
antique stores visited by IFAW; 72 of the 121 shops sold ivory items, which
ranged from a single piece to large collections. IFAW did not identify any
rhino horn items.
In addition to the availability of ivory in antiques stores, IFAW sought
to investigate the knowledge sellers had regarding the CITES framework. This
was done by the investigator, Miss Josey Sharrad, who posed as a British tourist
wanting to buy an ivory item to take to the UK. Miss Sharrad informed the
committee that she asked questions that related to the age of an item and
whether proof of an item's provenance was needed to take the item back to the
Miss Sharrad reported that she received 'varying and conflicting levels
of advice' with some sellers informing her of CITES regulations, and others not
aware of there being laws concerning the international ivory trade. Some
sellers either unknowingly or knowingly provided Miss Sharrad with advice
contrary to current law; others informed her of the CITES framework but then suggested
ways to circumvent customs controls. This advice included recommendations to
wear or carry the item on her person, hide the item in her luggage or declare
it as bone or xyclonite, and offering to write a receipt supporting this false
claim. One shop was found to have falsely labelled the ivory items as bone.
The investigation found that only one antique seller of the 121 sellers
investigated provided detailed and correct advice; that is, ivory items must
have provenance documentation, including a pre-CITES certificate issued by the
DoEE, to be exported from Australia.
Whilst IFAW's investigation highlighted significant shortcomings with
the industry's regard to the current legal framework, the peak industry body, the
AAADA, submitted that 'the antiques trade is well regulated, with the import of
any ivory works of art requiring a certificate that the ivory components date
from before the adoption of the CITES Treaty'.
The President of the AAADA, Dawn Davis, advised the committee that its members
only deal with items that are dated pre-1947, and not much past the 1920s and
The committee put to the AAADA allegations made that antique dealers
were providing incorrect and advice contrary to current law to potential
buyers. In response, the AAADA asserted its members abide by its code of
which members agree to adhere to when they join the AAADA.
Dawn Davis added that AAADA has a:
...membership of about 100 antique dealers. We are the peak
industry body. We do not represent every antique dealer in Australia, and there
are lots of second-hand dealers, antique dealers, that are outside our
jurisdiction. But we're saying that, as an organisation, we maintain that our
members do adhere to our strict policy and, on that basis, that is how we put
in our submission—based on our membership, saying that we believe that our
members are able to discern between modern and antique ivory. As such, we have this
system in place whereby they have to provide certification and a proper receipt
and valuation with every item that they sell, not only antique ivory items but
every item that they sell.
With regard to antique dealers providing buyers with advice on how to
avoid customs detection, the AAADA reassured the committee that it believes its
members comply with the code of practice and would refute otherwise. The AAADA
emphasised it would expel a member if AAADA found them not to comply with the
code of practice.
However, AAADA acknowledged concerns that some antiques dealers 'have a very
but efforts to reform the industry has led to a 'change in the reputation of
Subsequently, the AAADA recommended that the committee consider the
licensing arrangements for second-hand dealers and pointed out that dealers are
not required to obtain a license in all jurisdictions. The AAADA argued if this
was to change, it could lead to better regulation of the sector.
The prospect of a domestic ban in Australia was also discussed with the
AAADA. In its submission, the AAADA stated that it supported a domestic trade
ban on non-worked post-CITES elephant ivory, but did not support a total ban or
the restriction of 'fair trade in pre-CITES worked ivory'.
Dawn Davis opined that 'banning all trade in ivory and rhino horn would be
highly counterproductive', and warned that it would force the trade
underground, and not 'necessarily stop the illegal trade in modern ivory'.
She called for a distinction:
...between the market for ivory as a substance...and the market
for works of art, whose significance lies in their status as works of art and
not what they are made of.
The AAADA also argued that:
Much if not most of the works of art were created from the
ivory of elephants who died of natural causes. This is the same with all items
crafted from natural animal materials.
This position was challenged by both the committee and the AVAA. The
committee questioned AAADA's guarantee that its members do not sell items made
from poached ivory and only from elephants that have died from natural causes
(mortality ivory), especially when there is no way to make such a
determination. In response, Dawn Davis said there is no way to prove 'that it
wasn't from natural causes' and 'therein lies the issue'.
The AVAA also disagreed with the AAADA's view that most works of ivory
sold by its members were mortality ivory, and that these 'items have a
legitimate right of trade'.
The AVAA commented that AAADA's statement was both problematic and
disingenuous, because although there is 'no way to tell if the ivory used in a
bona fide antique carving came from a found tusk or from a slain elephant',
historical evidence demonstrates global demand for ivory led to the extinction
of the Syrian elephant and increased poaching of elephants in Africa.
The committee asked about the financial implications of a domestic trade
ban on the antiques industry. When asked whether there was an AAADA member that
depends on the sale of ivory for their survival, Dawn Davis responded that
there were none.
Ms Therese Howard from Bloomsbury Antiques shared this sentiment. She declared
that only one per cent of her business was invested in ivory and when asked
whether a domestic ban would affect her business' bottom line, Ms Howard
responded with '[a]bsolutely not'.
Jane Raffan of the AVAA refuted claims that a commercial ban would 'be
disastrous for the industry'.
She referred to a 2017 investigation into the antiques and auction trade in the
UK that revealed that ivory lots sold at auction houses only comprised of 0.7
per cent of annual sales.
The committee received no evidence that a domestic trade ban would have significant
adverse financial implications on the antiques industry. However, this concern
has been expressed in other forums, especially in the context of the UK ivory
ban. In July 2018, the Chairman of the British Antique Dealers' Association
(BADA) reported that it and the Association of Art & Antiques Dealers (LAPADA)
had raised $125 000 pounds to conduct a judicial review of the legality of
the UK ivory ban.
In 2016, IFAW released a report titled Under the hammer: Are auction
houses in Australia and New Zealand contributing to the demise of elephants and
rhinos? (Under the hammer report). This report investigated cases of ivory
and rhino horn being sold at Australian and New Zealand auction houses. The
IFAW identified '2772 ivory items for sale at 175 auctions in 21 auction
houses' with 78 per cent of these items being sold.
At the time, only seven of the 21 auction houses had written policies on their
websites, and only two referred to the trade in endangered species. Of further
concern, the IFAW found that only eight per cent of ivory items were
accompanied by provenance documentation, such as information on the item's
origin, its history and authenticity.
The report highlighted that ivory and rhino horn were 'readily available
for sale in auction houses' and '[d]emand for these products and final sale
prices remain high'.
IFAW surmised that despite international and national laws governing the trade
in ivory and rhino horn, 'auction houses provided an astounding lack of
information regarding the provenance, authenticity and legality of these
a concern validated by the auction house, Leonard Joel.
According to Leonard Joel's Chief Executive Officer, John Albrecht, the
auction and antiques industries should, in theory, ensure items meet the
regulatory framework and are not illegally imported. However, in reality, the
industry rarely ensures the legality of items.
Leonard Joel added that compliance occurs in the 'very rare occasion
when they believe the piece might attract enough public attention to warrant
selling the item lawfully'.
A consequence of IFAW's Under the Hammer report was Leonard Joel
implementing a Voluntary Cessation Policy in 2017; the first auction house in
Australia to do so. At the time, Leonard Joel was the largest trader of ivory products
in the country.
The policy meant Leonard Joel no longer auctioned rhino horn (both worked and
unworked) irrelevant of an item's age, and all unworked elephant ivory. Then
over a two year period, Leonard Joel phased out all items that were wholly, primarily
and predominately made of ivory,
and no longer sold items with a post-date of 1921. As of 1 January 2018,
Leonard Joel only traded in ivory items that met its de minimis principle
(discussed previously in chapter 3).
Leonard Joel's decision to no longer trade in elephant ivory and rhino
horn items was based on the principle that international efforts to address the
slaughter of elephants and rhinos will continue to be undermined as long as
monetary value is derived from the sale of ivory and rhino horn items.
John Albrecht advised the committee that since the 2017 ban, there had
been no negative commercial or human resource impact on Leonard Joel, and its
business and staff numbers have since increased.
Leonard Joel reported a mixed response to its voluntary policy. John Albrecht
spoke of two auctioneers adopting a similar position, anger from some
collectors, and disdain from other auction houses. However, Leonard Joel has
received overwhelming public support for its policy.
Further momentum towards an ivory and rhino horn ban across the auction
industry occurred in March 2017, with the board of the AVAA,
in consultation with IFAW, considered its position on the Australian trade in
ivory and rhino horn. Initially, the AVAA board was unable to reach consensus,
however, with the release of the UK's Ivory Bill in May 2017, and the
commencement of the committee's inquiry into this matter, the board released a
position statement in support of both the UK's proposed legislation for ivory,
and a complete ban on the trade in rhino material.
Although not an outright ban, the position statement has meant AVAA encourages
its members 'to adopt those principles and ethics in their own practices'.
Whilst Leonard Joel and the AVAA supported the implementation of a
domestic trade ban, Barsby Auctions argued against a ban, stating that '[t]here
is no proof that [a] ban would have any effect' and that the 'sale of antique
ivory is an easy target for fixing a difficult problem'.
Mr David Barsby, the Director of Barsby Auctions, argued that the ivory trade
was not worth a significant amount, and therefore of no interest to organised
crime. Further, he expressed the view that there is no market for newly poached
ivory in Australia; instead, demand is for antique ivory.
Mr Barsby said the current laws were working well, but called for a
licensing system for dealers of CITES products because '[a]uction houses are
currently not regulated in any way'.
Mr Barsby also held the view that public opinion should be permitted to bring
an end to the ivory trade, rather than a legislative ban.
One concern expressed by Mr Barsby was that the destruction of ivory
items would increase their rarity, and subsequently lead to higher prices and
an increased risk of poaching and criminal activity.
Another concern was the financial implication for collectors under a domestic
ban, preventing people from selling their legally acquired ivory items.
John Albrecht challenged the latter concern, arguing that he had not come
across a collector whose 'business and family depends on their ivory
collection', and that ivory tended to be 'incidental to the collection or a
small component of it'; John Albrecht was unaware of a client whose 'commercial
wellbeing depended on the sale of their ivory'.
Despite Mr Barsby's concerns, he advised the committee that his auction
house sold approximately $100 000 worth of ivory in a year, which was not a
significant amount. Further, Mr Barsby agreed with John Albrecht that if Barsby
Auctions did not trade in ivory, 'financially it wouldn't affect' his business.
In 2013, IFAW released a report entitled Click to Delete: Australian
websites selling endangered wildlife (Click to Delete report) which
investigated online marketplaces and the illegal trade in wildlife in
Australia. The report found a 266 per cent increase in the number of endangered
wildlife items traded on Australian websites between 2008 and 2013.
One of the primary drivers of the rise in endangered wildlife trade was the
number of elephant ivory items listed for sale, the number one wildlife item
traded via online marketplaces in 2013.
At that time, eBay Australia was responsible for the largest number of
ivory items for sale, with two-thirds of the 145 ivory items listed found on eBay.
Two rhino horns were for sale during IFAW's investigation: one via Quicksales
and the other on the online auction site eBid.
IFAW calculated that the total value of all illegal wildlife traded on the investigated
online marketplaces was $637 387, with $175 568 of that total coming from
Since the release of the Click to Delete report, IFAW has seen
improvements in the way online marketplaces manage this problem, motivated by a
...that distinguishing legal from illegal trade online was
virtually impossible, and it didn't make a good business model for them. The
amount of resources that they would have to invest to distinguish what was
legal from what was illegal just wasn't viable...So the companies went above and
beyond the law by introducing holistic bans—initially ivory bans and now bans
in endangered and threatened wildlife on CITES Appendix I.
For example, eBay has strictly prohibited the sale of ivory on its website,
and submitted that 'it makes explicitly clear that sellers and buyers review
our guidelines and follow applicable laws before listing items'.
eBay added that:
Unfortunately, legal trade in ivory has for too long made it
difficult to combat the illegal trade. Distinguishing legal from illegal ivory
is extremely complex and time consuming, making enforcement of a particle ban
impractical. We therefore support banning all trade in ivory.
To highlight the extent of the problem, eBay informed the committee that
in 2017 it had 'blocked or removed over 45 000 listings' that violated its
policy on endangered or threatened species.
eBay's efforts, together with those of civil society groups, have meant that 80
per cent of wildlife items identified on eBay were not sold.
Facebook confirmed that it too has policies in place that prohibits the
'poaching or selling of endangered species and their parts', including both
ivory and rhino horn.
The committee heard that if a user identifies content that breaches Facebook's
community standards, then it can be reported to Facebook's community operations
team who will review and remove content within 24 hours if it is found to have
breached those standards.
Facebook was not able to provide the committee with evidence about the
number of listing it had removed from its platforms.
When challenged on the effectiveness of its policy and the measures in place to
identify and remove content such as ivory, Facebook commented that it was:
...working to try to make sure we can effectively enforce our
policies, including through the partnerships that we have. I wouldn't want to
represent that it's a perfect system, as I think you have ably demonstrated,
but it's something where we will continue to try improve to make sure we're able
to actively enforce our policies. Another challenge we face is that bad actors
are very determined and will often iterate their strategies. So we also need to
adapt. This where working with community partners and having users report
content brought to us can help us continue to stay up to speed.
In March 2018, online marketplaces such as eBay, Facebook and Alibaba,
along with the IFAW, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), TRAFFIC and Interpol formed the
Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online (the Global Coalition). The
purpose of this coalition is to develop an 'industry-wide approach to reduce
wildlife trafficking online by 80 [per cent] by 2020'.
Facebook advised the committee that since joining the Global Coalition it
has developed training materials and doubled its security and content review
teams from 10 000 to 20 000 in the past 12 months. Further investment has also
been made into Facebook's use of smart technology, which uses machine learning
and artificial intelligence to identify 'and stop bad actors of all kinds on
the platform', including organised wildlife trafficking.
Civil society and individuals also play an important part in the
monitoring of online sales. The committee heard that IFAW regularly monitors
online marketplaces, along with a large number of supporters who identify
wildlife items, who contact the online marketplaces and request that the item
be taken down, or inform the DoEE and IFAW.
According to IFAW, these collaborations between civil society groups and online
marketplace companies show that it is essential:
...when you're implementing these bans or when you're working
with companies to go above and beyond the ban, that we take a cross-sector
collaborative approach to addressing this issue. It's so large that enforcers
alone won't be able to tackle the problem without the support and engagement of
However, despite best efforts, IFAW recommended that:
...there should be a complete ban on the sale of ivory pieces
online. Purchases should be made in person at auctions and antique dealers’
premises. Personal inspection, rather than basing decisions on online
descriptions, will assist purchasers in identifying whether ivory is legal and,
perhaps more importantly, will make it more difficult for sellers to launder
illegal ivory. If online trade is to continue, there should be specific
measures for online trade: for example, sellers should provide access to copies
of documentation and website operators must publicise relevant legislation and
remove postings that fail to comply.
Transfer to the darknet and black
A related matter discussed during the inquiry was the risk that a ban
would transfer the ivory and rhino horn market to the darknet. The committee
raised this matter with a number of stakeholders who all largely dismissed this
concern. Nature Needs More acknowledged that if a ban were implemented, there
would be a percentage of people that would use underground resources to access
these items. However:
There are always those individuals in the market. But there
are an awful lot of customers who feel, because of the openness of trade,
because of the ease of trade, because of what they're told from the people
they're buying it from, that it's completely legitimate to do that. I think
those are the individuals who will not access the dark web or go to underground
resources to get hunter ivory. Many of them are simply buying it because it's
so easy to buy. Yes, there will be a small percentage of individuals who can
access the dark web and go underground, but that's a relatively small
percentage, when you speak to customers who just think it's perfectly legal
given what they're seeing in the Australian retail and auction sector.
The Born Free Foundation highlighted that 'there is already a criminal
activity' and stressed 'that domestic markets stimulate demand. They propagate
demand. They sustain it quite actively. That's what needs to be addressed'.
The Centre for Environmental Law emphasised that legitimate online marketplaces
are facilitating much more wildlife trafficking than the darknet; however, the
Centre also spoke of reports of darknet:
...users giving advice as to how to fool Border Force, what to
put on a label, quantities, the type of packaging and how to make it look less
suspicious. Anecdotally I've heard of similar instructions being given with
respect to wildlife in relation to mail as well.
More broadly, the committee was advised by IFAW that it regularly
comes up against the argument that a domestic ban would drive the trade to the
black market. It rebuts this view, on the grounds that the trade is already
underground, and a 'black market in these items exist' and is helped by the
current situation 'that there are so many of these sellers and so much of this
trade going on all across the country and no-one is regulating it'.
Societal and cultural change
A point raised by many stakeholders, including those from the auction
and antiques industries, is the impact and influence of societal and cultural
change on demand for ivory and rhino horn items. Most importantly, customers' views
about the ethics of the trade is shaping the behaviour of both consumers and
retailers, as has previously been demonstrated in the fashion industry
and its use of fur, or the trade in Indigenous artwork.
Ivory crush events, including the 2016 Melbourne Crush, are symbolic of
the change in public opinion concerning the sale of ivory and rhino horn items.
At these events, individuals voluntarily destroy ivory items to raise public
awareness of the impact of their trade on elephant populations.
A global survey commissioned as part of the global crush events revealed 77 per
cent of Australians already think it is illegal to sell ivory in Australia, and
when told the trade remains legal in Australia, 86 per cent expressed the
view that it should be banned.
An IFAW Galaxy poll showed that '76 per cent of Australians surveyed support
the federal government banning the trade altogether'.
The high degree of public support for an end to the domestic ivory trade
has influenced those that trade in ivory and rhino horn items. Jane Raffan
spoke of traders experiencing 'push-back from the citizenry' and subsequently
realising that the trade in ivory and rhino horn material 'isn't as high or
important to them as goodwill from the public, which is going to ensure a much
greater flow of material to them'.
Leonard Joel experienced 'overwhelming support from [its] client base and the
public generally' in response to its self-imposed ivory and rhino horn policy,
a policy that 'resonates with what we called the new collector, who are younger
Further, Leonard Joel's policy is reinforced by 'profound changes in taste that
are occurring based on living environments and ethics and how we all want to
live and respect the environment'.
When asked if a time will come when ivory and rhino horn items are no
longer seen in auction and antique stores, Jane Raffan responded:
The reason there are so many of these things sitting in
antique stores is that half the time no-one wants to buy them. They sit there
and they sit there. You go in and you see rows of silver-plated knives with
ivory handles. There's the public revulsion, you can't put them in a dishwasher
et cetera. Times change. People's thinking about the world changes. People
don't like putting heavy brown furniture in their house anymore. There's a
natural process going on with regard to this material and people's divorce from
it; it's just not going on fast enough.
One important ethical consideration, highlighted by Jane Raffan, is the
principle of intergenerational equity. She stated that the responsibility of
the present generation is to ensure 'the health, diversity and productivity of
the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefits of future
Although societal and cultural change has reduced demand for ivory and
rhino horn items in Australia, complacency and reliance upon this cultural
shift should not be relied upon, primarily because of globalisation and the
fluidity of human movement across the globe. The Centre for Environmental Law
spoke of how commercial ties between countries facilitate the illegal trade of
wildlife. In the case of Australia, its 'significant commercial ties with
China' and its multicultural society with a 'number of diaspora communities'
demonstrate the risk of ongoing demand for ivory and rhino horn within
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