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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 24672

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (9:33 AM) —Having had 24 hours, we are now in a slightly better position. Amendments (80) and (81), which extend existing offences to cover the breach of a condition which results in the release or escape of a live plant, seem to us to be okay. In the bill at the moment, it applies only to the escape of a live animal and there is no logical reason why it should not also cover plants. Amendment (82) provides that, if a person breaches permit conditions, the permit is automatically cancelled. The person cannot get another permit for 10 years. That seems to me to be unduly onerous. It may be that in some circumstances the person should not, but to put it in such absolute terms is unwise. In a practical sense, the consequence would be that governments would be likely to prosecute for minor offences. I would be pleased to hear Senator Bartlett's response to that but, on the face of it, I would be opposed to that particular amendment.

I turn to amendments (84) to (87). Our bill contains an offence of the possession of an illegally imported specimen. The Democrats are seeking to remove the defence of reasonable excuse and the requirement that a person is reckless as to the fact that a specimen is a CITES specimen, or the mental element. I am yet to be convinced that it is a fair thing to remove the defence of reasonable excuse. I would not say that, in relation to wildlife offences, my record is one of being too lenient. I have increased a large number of penalties, you will recall, in relation to medicines used by some cultures utilising the parts of animals. We have reversed the onus of proof and have made a number of changes that some people might have even argued went too far.

To that background I nevertheless think that what the Democrats are suggesting in relation to these provisions is a touch unreasonable. On that basis, I am yet to be convinced on those changes as well. In relation to amendment (88), the government's bill contains an offence for cruel treatment in the course of importation or exportation, but it only applies to regulated exports or imports—that is, those requiring a permit under the act. The Democrats amendment seeks to create a similar offence of strict liability, and to broaden the provisions to apply to all exports and imports, not just those regulated by the act. For example, the Democrats amendment would apply to the import of all live animals, but the bill does not otherwise regulate the import of all live animals.

For example, if you are importing a racehorse, you do not need a permit under this piece of legislation. I might think there should be a provision somewhere in the law that says that, if you treat the racehorse cruelly in its import, you might be committing some form of offence—but it does not seem appropriate under this piece of legislation, which is designed for a different set of circumstances. The Democrats are seeking to add a new concept to the legislation through the medium of these amendments, which, if treated as a single issue, might have some merit. But it seems to be inappropriately placed within this piece of legislation. Democrat amendment (92) extends the existing offence relating to false and misleading information to wildlife provisions, and that one seems to be reasonable.

The CHAIRMAN —Minister, are you wishing to vote different ways on some of these amendments? I am after your contribution because I am now a bit confused as to how I should put the question.

Senator HILL —Yes. It might be that Senator Bartlett wants to have another go at persuading me I am mistaken in some way, but otherwise I would prefer them to be voted on separately. I would prefer (80) and (81) as a single vote, (82) as a single vote, (84) to (87) as a single vote, (88) as a single vote and (92) as a single vote.