Nicole Hasham, The Sydney Morning Herald
A Labor government would ban the trade of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in Australia to help eradicate an overseas poaching crisis that is driving the animals to extinction.
Labor leader Bill Shorten says the issue may not be an election decider “but it does speak for what kind of country we want to be”.
There are no laws preventing ivory and horn being bought or sold once the products are illegally brought into Australia, which is helping drive the poaching crisis. If elected, Labor would work with the states and territories to prohibit the trade.
Demand for ivory and horn has decimated populations of elephants and rhinos in Africa and Asia. The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates that up to 50,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks, and in 2017 about 1000 rhinoceros were killed for their horns in South Africa alone.
Experts say the slaughter is threatening the species’ existence. Animals that survive the attacks suffer horrific trauma, and orphaned young are often killed by predators.
Bipartisan findings from a parliamentary inquiry last year said the commercial trade should be banned, bringing Australia in line with Britain, the United States, China, Hong Kong, France and Taiwan.
Mr Shorten said the move was part of Australia’s responsibility as a good global citizen.
“Without a domestic ban, we will continue to expose Australia as a market for poachers and threaten the survival of these iconic species. We are continuing to fuel the poaching crisis as a consumer market,” he said.
“I want us to be a country that makes sure these majestic animals are still around for our kids and our grandkids.
“It’s the kind of prime minister I will be – I want to make sure we leave this place better than when we found it.”
The trade is largely driven by demand for traditional Asian medicines, hunting trophies and trinkets.
In co-operation with the states and territories, Labor would develop consistent legislation to be adopted across Australia to ban ivory and rhino horn sales.
It has pledged to grant targeted exemptions for use in museums and cultural institutions, antique musical instruments, portrait miniatures more than a century old and other antiques with a small ivory and rhino horn content.
Labor would also develop penalties for those who flout the new laws.
A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Melissa Price said her department was preparing a response to the parliamentary inquiry for the government’s consideration. Ms Price has “requested her state and territory counterparts review existing regulations and options for implementing a ban”, she said.
The parliamentary inquiry examined online traders, auction houses and antique dealers in Australia, and identified a lucrative illegal domestic market for ivory and rhinoceros horn.
Submissions alleged a sophisticated market involving forged documents, false declarations and antique dealers who instruct buyers to hide illicit objects in their luggage or declare it as plastic. Other objects are blatantly traded on Gumtree and other online marketplaces.
An international convention known as CITES restricts the trade of ivory and rhino horn. However, specimens taken from the wild prior to 1975 can be issued with certificates and legally traded.
In some cases, offenders modify the appearance of horns, tusks and trinkets to make them appear aged.
Labor says Australian sellers are presently not legally required to provide evidence at the point of sale demonstrating the lawfulness, provenance or age of items containing elephant ivory or rhinoceros horn, meaning newer items can easily be passed off as antique.