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Joint Standing Committee on Treaties - 24/06/2013 - Treaties tabled on 12 March and 14 May 2013

CALLISTER, Ms Deb, Assistant Secretary, Queensland and South Australia Assessment Branch, Environment Assessments and Compliance Division, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

RICHARDSON, Mr Geoff, Assistant Secretary, Marine Biodiversity and Biosecurity Branch, Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Committee met at 09:17

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator McKenzie ): I now declare open this public hearing. The committee will take evidence on the proposed amendments adopted at Bangkok on 14 March 2013 to Appendices I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Bangkok, March 2013. I now welcome representatives of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House and the Senate. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. Do you wish to make any introductory remarks before we proceed?

Ms Callister : Yes. I thought it would be useful if I made a brief statement outlining a bit of background of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and on the conference of the parties, just to provide a bit of context for the members. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES, as I will refer to it to use its shortened name, aims to regulate international trade in wildlife to ensure that species do not become endangered as a result of that trade. There are 178 member countries to CITES, and it operates through listing species on a number of appendices and they provide different levels of regulation. Appendix I is the strictest level of regulation and it generally prohibits all international trade, except for some non-commercial proposes such as conservation, breeding and so on. Appendix II lists species that could become endangered if their trade is not regulated and it requires documentation to be issued in order for international trade to occur in these species. There is also a third appendix, Appendix III, where the species are regulated at the initiation of an individual country. It requires, again, the issuing of documentation. Australia implements the CITES convention through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and it is administered by my Department, SEWPaC.

The 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, or CoP16 as it is known in shorthand, was held in Bangkok from 3 to 14 March and at these CITES conferences we agree a series of amendments—just to Appendix I and Appendix II to the convention. These amendments then automatically enter into effect at a specified time after the convention, which means, for Australia, these amendments came into effect on 12 June 2013. The only exception to this was an agreement to listings of a number of marine species and they were agreed to have a delayed entry into effect of 18 months, which means that they become effective on 14 September 2014. The department prepares a National Interest Analysis for the amendments agreed at CoP16 and, because they were required to come into force before the usual tabling period of 20 sitting days, the environment minister writes to the chair of this committee advising them of this and noting that the National Interest Analysis would be required to be tabled without that standard 20-day period.

Amongst the proposals discussed at this conference there were a number of proposals put forward by Australia, including nine species listing proposals. Eight of these were to de-list species and the other one was to increase the level of protection for the Freshwater Sawfish, which was successfully moved from Appendix II to Appendix I of CITES. I think that probably provides you sufficient background, Deputy Chair, and I would welcome any questions.

Senator SINGH: I just wanted to ask you a bit about CoP16 and the reviewing of the 70 listing proposals, of which 55 were adopted. Can we just talk a little bit about the 15 that have been left off or otherwise disappeared. You have talked specifically about one species in your opening statement, but it would be good for the committee to know the actual change that has occurred through this CoP16 with the 15.

Ms Callister : Were they the 15 proposals that were not successful?

Senator SINGH: Yes.

Ms Callister : So what happens at the conference is proposals can be unsuccessful through two different processes. Sometimes when there does not appear to be any support for the proposals, the proposing country may withdraw them. In some instances a number of the proposals that were not successful were moving through what is known as the significant periodic review process and they were put forward as essentially tidying up proposals. They were species that had been on the appendices for some time—were not in international trade—but when these proposals were put forward to the convention the range states, so that is the country in which they were found, they did not feel comfortable about it, they expressed some concern and so those proposals were withdrawn. There are also a number of proposals that were not actually supported by a two-thirds majority of the parties. The way that CITES operates is, wherever possible, you get consensus. So a country puts forward a proposal, there is some debate on the floor and, if it is supported, it will go through on consensus. But on occasion where you have parties that do not support it, it can move to a vote and it requires a two-thirds majority of parties to support it for it to go through. There were some proposals that were not supported, including one of the most, I suppose, controversial and high-profile ones to list the Polar Bear on the strictest appendix, Appendix I, and that one was not successful in getting it to—

Senator SINGH: What country was putting that??

Ms Callister : It was being put forward by the United States of America. Interestingly, it was not supported by Canada, which is one of the major range states for polar bears. It was an interesting dynamic having Canada and the US on opposites sides of the fence, if you were. That was put to a vote and it received a simple majority but not the two thirds majority, so it was not passed.

Senator SINGH: Where did Australia line up on that?

Ms Callister : We supported the uplisting to appendix 1.

Senator SINGH: . Is there some kind of list we can have of the 70 proposals? Just so that we have some understanding of what was included and what was not and how.

Ms Callister : Certainly we can provide you the list. Generally what gets provided is the list of the successful ones, but we can include the unsuccessful ones as well to give you some additional context. Happy to provide that.

Senator SINGH: Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: In relation to the objection to sawfish when we, Australia, were against its listing, what has changed in terms of our consultation or with industry around why we are not now against it?

Ms Callister : I am happy to start off with that and then I will hand to Mr Richardson who can augment it if I leave anything out. The history of the freshwater sawfish is that a number of CoPs ago, I think it was CoP14, there was a proposal to list the whole genus of pristus on appendix 1 of CITES. At the time Australia felt that there was still the capacity for a limited trade in species, simply for exhibition purposes, and that the population could sustain that very small level of trade. So we argued for our population to remain on appendix 2, subject to those caveats around export being only for exhibition purposes. Since then a range of information has come to light and some more studies have been done on the populations in situ in Northern Australia and that has indicated that our belief that it could maintain a small level of trade was incorrect and that there were particular pressures on the population. Also, some information about some genetics indicated that even small levels of trade could be detrimental. So Australia introduced what we call a non-detriment finding, which indicated that there could not be any trade in this from Australia and Australia stopped allowing the trade of it. Consequently, we felt that, in order to match our domestic position, we should not allow any of that trade, that we would move to have it listed on appendix 1. There was very detailed consultation with the states and with the traders, both in the development of the non-detriment finding and in the lead up to the conference of the parties. I think all the state governments, that were the range states, were supportive of the listing. I believe that the single trader of the species felt that it did not warrant listing on appendix 1, but our view was that the scientific evidence, which we had done in consultation with CSIRO, was compelling. When we moved this proposal at the CITES conference it received widespread support, including from other range states outside Australia, such as Indonesia, and it was supported by consensus. Did you want to add anything to that?

Mr Richardson : Just, I guess, to make clear that in coming to the non-detriment finding—essentially allowing only a zero take, which was done a few years ago—there was work done by CSIRO and by another researcher at that time that indicated that zero was appropriate. The same research, essentially, was relied upon for putting forward the position of a zero take and therefore putting it on appendix 1 of this most recent CoP.

CHAIR: I think there has been a lot of representation by recreational fishers about the porbeagle shark. I would just like some comments around how the listing of the shark on appendix 2 will impact recreational fishers.

Mr FORREST: Could I just add to that: in your response could you please provide the committee of the level of consultation that you have engaged in with recreational and professional fishers. In the past, on agreements and conventions like this, the committee has been inundated. That has not started yet, so I want to know the level of detail of the consultation that has occurred.

Ms Callister : Certainly. Mr Richardson will address the second part of the question, about consultation, but in answer to your question about to what extent this impacts on recreational fishing of porbeagle, the CITES convention only regulates international trade, so it does not actually impact at all on how the species is taken by the recreational industry in Australia. The listing of the porbeagle under CITES will not impact on the level of recreational take. It would only have an impact if somebody who took that species then sought to export it overseas. In that case they would be required to get a permit from our department and indicate that the species had been taken sustainably and had been taken legally, and then we could issue them with a permit and they could export it. Otherwise it will not be impacting on recreational fishers. I will ask Mr Richardson to talk a little more about the quite detailed level of consultation that we had in the lead-up to the CITES meeting, primarily, I think, with the commercial fishing industry, because this is a treaty that regulates commercial trade.

Mr Richardson : I am just checking with my colleague, because I actually have not gone into much detail about the recreational consultation—but apparently we did do a bit, so that is nice to know—for the reasons that Ms Callister just mentioned, that it only regulates international trade and therefore is likely to have a very minimal impact on recreational take. Having said that, in the lead-up to this and in formulating our position against these nominations we did write out to a number of recreational fishing bodies. I can take on notice if you need how many. The few that responded basically said that they did not believe that this would impact on their constituents in any way.

As far as commercial fishers go, we did quite a lot of consultation, both with fishers themselves and with state management bodies around the country, and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority for Commonwealth fishers. There was quite a lot of response where we needed to clarify what the listing actually meant, so it is important that it is understood that, as Ms Callister mentioned earlier, being appendix 2 listed does not mean zero export; it means that export must be done with a permit from an approved source, where the approved source is one where a non-detriment finding has been made that the arrangements in place for the level of take of those species is sustainable from Australian waters. The delay of 18 months before these arrangements come into effect—they will not come into effect until September 2014—gives SEWPaC, the management authorities and the industry itself the time it takes in which to put in place the arrangements to support a non-detriment finding where that is appropriate. Part of that is the need for additional information around individual species, the take of those species and identifying them down to species level.

The consultation that we did prior to the CoP was designed to gather which fisheries are affected. That is not always obvious, because a lot of the shark is landed as shark or as shark fin. There are arrangements in place in most fisheries that do not allow you to just fin at sea and then bring the fins in—so you need to bring them in with the bodies, that makes it easier to identify—but that does not mean all fishermen are recording what the species name is. So the consultation basically flushed out those issues around species identification and, I guess, clarified concerns that this appendix 2 listing would mean that they could not export, which is not the case.

ACTING CHAIR: Just on that recording and drilling down to the species level, have you done any work on potential costs to industry not just in dollar terms but in implementing the new processes on board and off-boat, that they will have to implement to ensure we are complying with the treaty?

Mr Richardson : That was part of the consultations that we had, both with the state managers and with industry. It is fair to say there were some concerns around the additional cost.

ACTING CHAIR: Sorry, Mr Richardson. At this point, could you outline what those additional costs were.

Mr Richardson : I am saying that there were concerns about the additional costs. I think the additional costs and the actual level of that cost are still to be determined. Our lead-up to the consultations that we did and the regulatory impact statement that we had to prepare all went to the level of the cost. It is important to note that two of these species are already listed on Appendix III and have been for at least—

Ms Callister : At least 12 months.

Mr Richardson : Yes. Therefore they already require species level identification and, essentially, permission to export. That includes some of the more highly taken species. The industry members that we spoke to that have a strong interest in this—the ones that are taking the fish the most—indicated the costs were manageable, that they were essentially having to complete an extra line in their logbook, for example, or an extra line in their returns when they land a fish. So if it was all shark, it might scalloped hammerhead or whatever. So that is the additional cost that we are talking about. For us, it was not a sufficient reason not to support the listing, given the CITES evidence around the state of their species globally.

Ms Callister : Just to add to that as well, there will also be a small cost associated with getting a permit. But at the moment that permit fee is $75 and covers a six-month permitting period. It allows for multiple exports under that single permit.

Senator SMITH: The written evidence demonstrates that there was obviously a point of difference between the governments of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia in regards to this. How do you reconcile the scientific research with the attitudes of state and territory governments who, I am assuming, are also basing their position on scientific research or evidence?

Ms Callister : One of the things we do when we are preparing our position for these international conventions is bear in mind that, firstly, CITES is a science based convention and we are looking at not just the state of the Australian population of these particular stocks but the global context. So while we consult and we obviously are interested in and need to take into account the views of our state governments, we then have to weigh that up against the scientific evidence of the global population informing the view that we take to the conventions. We are not just voting on what the population is in Australia; we are voting on what the population is in the international context and whether it meets the requirements that CITES has for listing on its particular appendices. So in this particular instance we had to weigh those up and in the end we came to the view that it would be appropriate for Australia to support these listings at the meeting noting the views of the states. Really that is on the balance because of the state of these populations at the international level. Do you want to add anything to that?

Mr Richardson : Yes, just briefly. I think it is fair to say that we have not been particular strong in our communication education of state fishery managers around what CITES listings mean. I think there is some confusion at a state fishery manager level about the implications of the different listings. We recently held a meeting with Western Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory fishery managers to talk about a range of things, but actually we specifically included a discussion around CITES and what it means. So I think there is a much better and deeper understanding of the arrangements. As Ms Callister said, whilst they might say that the science would say that these stocks are not in great difficulty in Australian waters as far as the science goes, that is not the critical thing for a listing under CITES. It is about the global populations and the reason why each country needs to do the work repairing on detriment findings for the tape within our domestic arrangements. As I said earlier, because something is CITES Appendix II listed does not mean that zero export can happen. It actually is export that needs to be done in conjunction with a non-detriment finding about the level of take within Australian waters.

Senator SMITH: Since the consultation period or process, have there been concerns raised by exporters that they were not consulted, that they did not know about the consultation process?

Mr Richardson : I am not aware of any complaints of that nature, no.

Senator SMITH: None in Western Australia on the south coast?

Mr Richardson : Not as far as we are aware.

Senator SMITH: What role in the decision-making process do the fisheries management plans and processes of state and territory governments have—or do they not have a bearing at all on the final decision that we might take?

Mr Richardson : The final decision on listing or the final decision on a—

Senator SMITH: On listing.

Mr Richardson : On the listing I do not believe it has much. That is about the science and I guess, the status of the species in question. It has a very strong bearing on the preparation of non-detriment findings. So if there were zero controls on the take of these species then that would be of concern, but that is just not the case for any of these species that are taken in commercial fisheries. The commercial fisheries are managed by very different arrangements across the states and territories and by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, so it is essentially consultation with the fishery managers about the efficacy of those management controls that forms the basis for the non-detriment findings.

Senator SMITH: Right. And is the scientific evidence unanimous at a global level about the threat to the species, or is there some debate amongst the scientific community?

Ms Callister : One of the processes that CITES uses in relation to marine species is that it has established an expert panel running through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That expert panel reviews all marine species listing proposals that are coming forward for CITES. In the case of all the species that were listed at this CITES COP, all their listings were supported by that FAO expert panel. So I think in that sense that that gives a pretty good indication that the international science community was convinced that the scientific evidence stacked up in terms of meeting the CITES listing criteria for these particular species.

Senator SMITH: Does Australia participate on that expert panel?

Ms Callister : No, we do not have a member on that expert panel. There is a member from New Zealand that we consult with very closely, but it has a number of experts from around the globe to ensure that it has good coverage and brings in people from a range of different levels and areas of expertise.

Mr Richardson : Could I just correct one thing there. There is an Australian national on that expert panel. She has been on it for some time but she is not in any capacity from a government organisation. She has been brought in for her expertise on marine species management and science.

Senator SMITH: On notice, could you just provide me with some information about the consultation process and time frames that were utilised specifically around the commercial fishers?

Ms Callister : Certainly.

Senator SMITH: And, at a national level, perhaps if you could provide some detailed information around Western Australia then that would be particularly valuable, particularly across the south coast of Western Australia.

Ms Callister : And can I clarify this is just in relation to these particular listing proposals in the lead-up to the conference?

Senator SMITH: That is right.

Ms Callister : Certainly.

ACTING CHAIR: Yes, Mr Forrest?

Mr FORREST: I am curious about paragraph 42 of the national interest analysis. It says:

However due to the existing generic shark product trade codes, the export quantity of each species is not known.

Can you explain why that paragraph is in there and how it is intended to get around the problems it creates about identifying these species and their source?

Mr Richardson : I will try.

Mr FORREST: I am interested in the last sentence.

Mr Richardson : There is an issue with the data around these species and both the level of take from within Australian managed fisheries and the level of export of these species. I mentioned earlier the fact that fishers tend to land product and call it shark or shark fin. When it is exported, the export codes that are applied to Australian exported product are again quite generic: it might be shark fins or shark mixed or things of that nature. So we will be working with those export agencies to try and clarify this over the next 18 months as well. What we had in the lead-up to the conference of the parties was the information we could gather from state agencies and from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority over the level of take. As I mentioned earlier, there was some vagueness to that. We currently have a research project underway to try and clarify what is known and where the gaps are in information around these species. That will deliver its results by August this year. That will be the basis on which we move forward and talk to the states and fishers themselves about how we implement these arrangements once they become live in September 2014. And, leading up to that, how we prepare our non-detriment finding around the level of take within Australian waters.

Mr FORREST: So an exporter would apply a $30 fee for each consignment, would they? Or would they have a generic permit, or is it per consignment?

Ms Callister : What they can do is apply for a six-month multiple-use permit, which costs $75. They can use that permit for multiple consignments. They do not have to apply every time they want to make an export, but they do have to send us information indicating that they have made that export so we are able to verify that and keep the records. They are required to acquit, if you like, once they have made those exports.

Mr FORREST: If that is a consignment for shark liver oil, say, do they have to specify the species of the shark that it originated from? How does that work?

Ms Callister : If it was a CITES listed species and if it was a product that was regulated under CITES, then they would have to indicate that species. One of the things that CITES does is try to be quite a practical treaty. It tends to try not to regulate things where it is very difficult to determine in trade what species it came from. Over time it tends to evolve and change the listings if they find that they are not practical to implement. But as a general level, CITES is a species-level treaty, so they would be required to indicate the species where it was practicable to do so.


ACTING CHAIR: I had a question about the NIA claiming that in respect of the Percy Island flying fox and its listing on appendix 2 this species is not a valid species.

Ms Callister : Would you like me to explain that for you?


Ms Callister : Yes, it did engender a little bit of discussion at the conference itself, as well.

ACTING CHAIR: I can imagine.

Ms Callister : The issue was that it had been listed as Pteropus brunneus, and had been listed on the appendices, but it appears that at the time that it was taxonomically described it was not actually a valid species—that it came from one specimen which was probably a different type of flying fox, and it had never been seen since and has never been described since. Part of this was about trying to tidy up the appendices, so we were not seeking to regulate something which really was not a valid taxonomic species. A number of the proposals that we put forward were really about trying to tidy up the appendices and ensuring that they are not regulating things that do not really warrant regulation under the convention.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Callister and Mr Richardson. I am sure if there is a burning question from senators or members they will get that to you in writing very shortly, but otherwise thank you very much for your evidence. The committee will now have a brief suspension.

Proceedings suspended from 9:48 to 10:04