Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
Trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn

GE GABRIEL, Ms Grace, Asia Regional Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare

KEEBLE, Ms Rebecca Regional Director, Oceania, International Fund for Animal Welfare

SHARRAD, Miss Josey, Campaign Consultant, International Fund for Animal Welfare

Committee met at 09:04

Evidence from Ms Ge Gabriel was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR ( Mr Craig Kelly ): Good morning everyone. I declare open this public hearing for the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement inquiry into the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. The inquiry's terms of reference are available from the secretariat. The committee's proceedings today will follow the program as circulated. These are public proceedings being broadcast live via the web. I remind witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. I also remind witnesses that if evidence reflects adversely on a person or organisation, the committee is generally required to make it known to that person or organisation that an adverse reflection has been made and provide them with an opportunity to respond.

It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by parliament as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee. The committee prefers evidence to be given in public, but, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in confidence—being described as 'in camera'. If you're a witness today and intend to request to give evidence in camera, please bring this to the attention of the secretariat as soon as possible. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground on which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, also be made at any other time.

With the formalities over, I welcome everyone here today. I firstly welcome representatives of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, including Ms Grace Ge Gabriel, who is joining us from the United States. I understand she is on the line. I thank you all for talking to us today. The committee has received your submission as submission No. 65. Do you wish to make any amendments to your submission?

Ms Ge Gabriel : No.

CHAIR: Ms Ge Gabriel, as you are giving evidence from overseas, I must advise you that parliamentary privilege only applies within Australia.

Ms Ge Gabriel : I understand. Thank you.

CHAIR: You can hear us clearly, Ms Ge Gabriel?

Ms Ge Gabriel : Yes, I can.

CHAIR: The line is a little bit scratchy coming in, but we'll see how we go. Let's kick it off. I invite you to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions.

Ms Keeble : Yes, I would. Good morning members of the committee and secretariat. On behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare—IFAW—our 7.8 million international supporters and more than 358,000 Australian supporters, I want to extend our sincere thanks for initiating this inquiry and for allowing us the opportunity to provide you with further information at today's hearing.

The illegal trade in wildlife has been identified by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a serious transnational crime estimated to be worth more than US$20 billion. The world's elephant and rhinoceros populations are at a tipping point. At present some populations are depleting at such a rate that a single life can mean the difference between losing or saving an entire species. Ivory is one of the most trafficked wildlife commodities worldwide, and despite international efforts to regulate the trade, trafficking of elephant ivory and rhino horn continues to occur. But global momentum is shifting. In the past few years there's been a groundswell of support being shown to calls from a group of 29 African elephant range states who seek global cooperation to help end the poaching crisis. In the last 12 months alone we've seen China, and more recently the United Kingdom, join a growing list of countries that are taking decisive steps to close their legal domestic ivory markets.

Australia, despite our distance, also has a role to play. Any legal market for ivory and rhino horn provides an avenue for the supply-and-demand chain to continue and, with it, opens the door for the laundering of illegal products. Here in Australia IFAW has been investigating the domestic trade in ivory and rhinoceros horn since 2013. We have canvassed all three sectors of the industry and have identified that ivory and rhinoceros horn are being freely traded through bricks-and-mortar auction houses, online marketplaces and antique stores across Australia. Our investigations have revealed a lack of knowledge and understanding of the regulations by traders in exotic wildlife products. In some instances our investigations have uncovered a wilful disregard of what regulations are in place, encouraging purchasers of ivory to sneak ivory through customs.

Of greatest concern is that our consultations with both state and federal governments have revealed a lack of understanding as to who possesses the regulatory responsibility to deal with domestic trade of exotic wildlife products. 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. Situations like these provide ideal cover for the illegal trafficking of ivory and rhinoceros horn to occur.

IFAW commend the Australian government for their continued implementation of stricter domestic measures for the import and export of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn; however, we stress that these measures only address the international trade of such items and are only as good as their implementation and enforcement. Once ivory and rhinoceros horn enter Australia, through whatever means, there are little regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that illegal ivory and rhino horn are not being traded domestically. Current laws and regulations that are in place in Australia are not enough to ensure that we are not inadvertently contributing to the illegal trade. Australia now has the opportunity to show support for the bigger picture, to close our legal domestic market and to ensure that there is a future for elephants and rhinoceros. Thank you.

CHAIR: Miss Sharrad, do you have any opening comments before we go to questions?

Miss Sharrad : No.

CHAIR: Ms Ge Gabriel, do you have any opening comments?

Ms Ge Gabriel : I would like to highlight that a decade ago when China's newly-legalised ivory market whetted the appetite of tens of millions of the nouveau riche, who rushed to the 'white gold' to demonstrate wealth and define status, China's skyrocketing demand for ivory fuelled the poaching of hundreds of thousands of elephants. At the time IFAW did a survey and found that 70 per cent of the Chinese did not know that ivory comes from dead elephants, because in Chinese 'ivory' is literally translated as elephant teeth. We started a campaign to sensitise Chinese to the relationship between ivory trade and elephant poaching. That campaign was very successful. In four years it reduced the propensity among the group most likely to purchase ivory from 54 per cent to 26 per cent. We realise that public awareness can erase ignorance, but to combat greed we need policy support to reduce market supply.

Banning wildlife trade from marketplaces shifts the burden of proof from law enforcers to the criminals and increases the risk of wildlife crime. Closing markets reduces the profits for wildlife crime and the incentives for poaching. In December 2011 China banned the auction of rhino horn, tiger balm and elephant ivory. That ban alone resulted in a 90 per cent drop in ivory items sold in the auction markets in 2012. Since China's announcement of the ivory trade ban, ivory prices have declined across Asia.

I have seen in auctions within China people complaining that they bought ivory at the high price point and now they're stuck. This is great progress meaning that people no longer see ivory and rhino horn as inflationproof investment value.

But reducing consumer demand has not happened in the geographically reduced box. If there is enforcement enhanced in one country, consumer demand spills over the border, across oceans and continents. Since the ivory and rhino horn trades are wealth driven and they are corruption currencies, people with money and power will continue to exploit the legal loopholes in markets elsewhere. Markets elsewhere in the world have already indeed become magnets for illegal trade. These criminal transactions are entirely done in a foreign language. Even payments are made on foreign platforms in foreign currencies. These illegal transactions add tremendous enforcement challenges to Australian government and enforcement agencies.

We at IFAW urge Australia to close its domestic markets in ivory and remove any opportunities for crimes against elephants and rhinos. Ivory trade anywhere threatens elephants everywhere. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: I might start with a few questions. Firstly, how many countries does the International Fund for Animal Welfare operate in?

Ms Keeble : We have offices in 15 countries and we operate in over 40.

CHAIR: Do you have any offices in China?

Ms Keeble : Yes, we definitely have them.

CHAIR: Can you explain to me how you're set up in China?

Ms Keeble : Grace would be the best person to speak to that.

Ms Ge Gabriel : IFAW has operated in China since the mid-1990s. We work the same as the organisations. We carry out programs and campaigns to rescue individual animals, protect populations and protect their habitat. We work with government and local civil society groups and academia to improve animal welfare and conservation. In fact, IFAW has worked on the ivory and rhino horn trade since the late 1990s.

CHAIR: In China do you have members and supporters? How is your organisation structured in China?

Ms Ge Gabriel : In China we are an office of IFAW US.

CHAIR: And would you say you have in China support from the Chinese authorities?

Ms Ge Gabriel : Yes, we do. We can't do anything in China with the support of the Chinese government. I'll give you one example of our elephant ivory campaign. In 2014 we actually implemented a USAID campaign called ARREST—Asia's Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking—and in that campaign we mobilised society and a lot of the influencers to influence communities and urge individuals not to consume ivory, urge ivory carvers not to carve with ivory and urge the Chinese government to close ivory markets. That campaign in fact generated US$42 million from corporations in China. That campaign penetrated 80 per cent of China in one year. Our office in China is very active in terms of campaigning and our image.

CHAIR: Thank you. In your submission you talk about the different uses of ivory products, and one of those is what are called traditional medicines or traditional remedies. From any of your work do you have any idea what proportion goes into decorative arts and what proportion goes into traditional Chinese medicines?

Ms Keeble : From the investigations that we've undertaken in the last five years here in Australia, we don't have that information. We've certainly canvassed over the years of this work the use of wildlife in traditional medicines. Again, Grace would be able to answer that in terms of the detail and campaigns that we've run.

CHAIR: Grace, can you fill us in on any of that, particularly relating to China? Do you have any idea what the rough percentage would be? I imagine the ivory is ground into a powder form and put into medicines as opposed to being carved into a decorative art.

Ms Ge Gabriel : Actually, ivory is almost exclusively used for carving. The ivory trade—especially African elephant ivory—is almost exclusively driven by wealth. The demand is driven by wealth. Since 2010, IFAW in China have been monitoring the wildlife trade not only for elephants, tigers, bears and rhinos. We noticed since 2010 a significant shift: the driver of the demand for wildlife parts and products has shifted from health driven to wealth driven.

I'll give you one example. In 2011, over 11,000 pieces of ivory were sold in China's auction market, generating a sales volume of US$94 million, which was a 170 per cent increase from a year before. And so was rhino horn.

CHAIR: Where do those numbers you quoted come from?

Ms Ge Gabriel : They came from China's auction association.

CHAIR: Okay. Do you find that most of the products are sold through auction houses? What about traditional retail outlets or what we'd describe as traditional retail outlets? Why is the auction house predominant?

Ms Ge Gabriel : I'll use rhino horn as an example. In 1993, the Chinese government banned the use of rhino horn and tiger bone for traditional Chinese medicines. Since then, rhino horn and tiger bone have been banned from traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopoeia and have been removed from any school curricula. The rhino horn and tiger bone trade for traditional Chinese medicines was on the decline, but in 2011—this is another number that I want to quote from the Chinese auction association on the rhino horn carving sales—there were 2,750 pieces of rhino horn carvings sold on China's auction market, which was a 90 per cent increase from the year before. The sales volume was US$179 million, and that was a 111 per cent increase from the year before. Average price for a piece of rhino horn sold in auction in 2011 was US$117,000. So this wealth-driven trade has a much, much larger sales volume and impact on the species.

CHAIR: Grace, that number seems an extraordinary price. Just so I'm clear, you're saying the average price of a piece of carved rhino horn of any description was US$117,000?

Ms Ge Gabriel : Yes.

Senator SINGH: Thank you to IFAW for appearing today to this important inquiry to find out how Australia is contributing to the demise of elephants and rhinoceros in the world. I note that in your information you say that between 20,000 and 50,000 elephants are being killed to supply the illegal trade around the world, so this is really important. I know that IFAW has done a lot of investigations and surveys and the like. I'd like to start by asking you, Ms Keeble, about the results of a Galaxy poll that IFAW conducted last year within Australia. What was that about and what did the results of that show?

Ms Keeble : We undertook the Galaxy poll. Essentially, we were asking questions about the general public's knowledge of where ivory comes from and whether they would buy the products if they saw them for sale. Our results were that the overwhelming majority of Australians—in the vicinity of 86 per cent—are not interested in buying antique ivory or rhinoceros horn; 77 per cent believed it was already illegal to trade in ivory products within Australia; and 76 per cent of Australians would support the federal government banning the trade altogether.

Senator SINGH: So 77 per cent of Australians think it's already illegal to buy and sell ivory, but the reality is it's not illegal, is it?

Ms Keeble : That's right. Internationally there are strong controls through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. Parties to CITES list species based on the level of threat that the trade poses. Elephants and rhinoceros are listed as one of the highest levels, appendix I. Australia actually takes stricter domestic measures than afforded by the convention. There are populations of African elephants that are listed on appendix II, and Australia's stricter domestic measures mean that all elephants are treated as appendix I, so they are afforded the highest level of international protection. That's wonderful, but once the products are here there's no regulation on the trade at all.

Senator SINGH: So the import and export is illegal through the convention that Australia has signed up to.

Ms Keeble : Yes, with some caveats for education, science and non-commercial trade.

Senator SINGH: So there are some exemptions. But once rhinoceros horn or ivory in various shapes or forms enters or is smuggled into Australia, when it's traded within Australia it is not regulated.

Ms Keeble : There's no regulation of that. What our investigations have uncovered is that, despite requiring certain levels of provenance information when it comes to obtaining CITES certificates for export, most of the items that were traded don't have any of that information provided. In the case of rhinoceros horn, they're supposed to have certificates to radiocarbon date the items pre 1950. We have actually seen in the last 12 months some cases of rhino horn being listed with the radiocarbon date certificate, but in the main the amount of provenance information that's listed with the item is very limited.

Senator SINGH: So what are the main ivory and rhino horn markets in Australia?

Ms Keeble : Our investigations over the past five years have canvassed online trade and the bricks-and-mortar auction house industry and, more recently, Josey undertook investigations into the antiques dealers. We feel like we've covered off the three main sectors that would be dealing in these items. To say one is more prevalent than the other is a bit disingenuous to each of them. They all have different markets and different consumers, they're all dealing in different levels of the trade, but they each have considerable issues when it comes to what they list, how they list and how they're undertaking these sales.

Senator SINGH: Do you know roughly what this trade would be worth in Australia?

Ms Keeble : It's very hard to quantify. We consider our investigations to be a snapshot in time. They were undertaken at various points throughout that five year period. In some instances, you can have items selling for tens of thousands of dollars but you can also have a large volume of smaller trinkets selling for a few hundred dollars. It's quite difficult to quantify. I know that there are cases of companies within the auction industry being able to quantify it based on their sales. Leonard Joel is one of them. They looked at what they were trading on a weekly and yearly basis and then, following their implementation of a policy of internal ban, how that impacted their business.

Senator SINGH: I think we're going to hear from Leonard Joel later today, but it's my understanding that Leonard Joel is the only auction house in Australia that has implemented its own internal ban. Is that correct?

Ms Keeble : They were until recently.

Senator SINGH: Miss Sharrad, you referred to an investigation that you've conducted within IFAW. What was the aim of that investigation?

Miss Sharrad : The main aim of that investigation was to look at the amount of ivory items readily available for sale in antique shops across Australia. In 2017, two investigators undertook investigations in Sydney and Melbourne. In April and May 2018, to obtain a fuller national picture, I undertook an investigation into antique shops in Perth, Hobart, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane and also the AAADA fair in Melbourne.

Senator SINGH: What did you find? What percentage of an antique shop's business is made up of sales in ivory?

Miss Sharrad : It's quite hard to estimate that overall, but I found ivory items readily for sale in all the cities that I visited. Out of the 121 shops I visited, 72 sold ivory. That could just be from one odd item. Some shops had larger collections, but I didn't come across a shop that solely sold ivory.

Senator SINGH: Did you find out what the level of knowledge was for those dealers in relation to their requirement to provide provenance documentation to do with the carbon dating of that item?

Miss Sharrad : I didn't find any rhino horn for sale, obviously. Basically, the second aim of my investigation was to find out the level of knowledge amongst sellers. I posed as a British tourist wanting to buy an ivory item to take back for my mother. I never proactively mentioned ivory by name. I sometimes said that my mum had lost a necklace that happened to be white and carved and I let the sellers do the talking. I didn't want to have any leading questions really, but I tried to ask set questions related to how old the item was and if I needed any proof to take it back to the UK with me. I found I was given really varying and conflicting levels of advice, ranging from some sellers who said there was a global ban and I couldn't take the item out of the country at all to people not being aware of there being any rules around ivory, saying: 'That's absolutely fine. Just take it back with you.' Worryingly, I was given quite a lot of incorrect but also illegal advice, both knowingly and unknowingly as well. Some people actually just told me the rules and regulations and then went on to say, 'It's easy to hide in your luggage,' or, 'Wear the item,' or, 'Just say it's bone or xylonite.' A lot of people offered to write that on receipts for me as well.

I also came across one particular shop—I can name it in camera later—blatantly mislabelling items as bone. Because I've seen quite a lot of ivory items through my investigation, I immediately thought, especially from the price point, that they were ivory. So I asked and the seller checked with the owner and then later confirmed that those items were actually ivory. That was an example of blatant mislabelling. So if I had bought the item thinking it was bone and taken it back to the UK that would have been illegal. That was quite concerning.

Senator SINGH: Acknowledging the lack of knowledge and the lack of any documentation or real documentation, what should you have encountered, I suppose?

Miss Sharrad : Basically, anyone selling ivory should really have for each specimen a federal Department of the Environment and Energy wildlife statutory declaration. Not one seller actually mentioned that or the need for that by name. A few sellers mentioned CITES by name. Actually there was only one seller out of the 121 people I saw who actually gave me the detailed correct advice—that I would need a CITES certificate this end and then a CITES certificate to take that back to the UK. So I should have really been given proof of provenance of the ivory items and the correct export advice—basically that I would need to obtain that certificate and obtain a certificate at the other end in the UK. But, instead, the majority of the time I was given incorrect advice. If I had genuinely been looking to buy an ivory item for my mother, I would have been completely bamboozled by the varying conflicting advice.

Senator SINGH: Acknowledging the varying conflicting advice, were you ever given the correct advice by any of the—

Miss Sharrad : One seller gave me the correct advice—a seller in Canberra. He was actually an estimator.

Senator SINGH: Out of how many? How many are we talking?

Miss Sharrad : I visited 121 shops.

Senator SINGH: One out of 128 shops gave you the correct advice?

Miss Sharrad : Yes.

Senator SINGH: Okay. IFAW's submission recommends a national approach to regulating the domestic trade in ivory and rhinoceros horn as an effective way to deal with some of these issues and this trade. Are you suggesting a ban?

Ms Keeble : Yes, we are.

Senator SINGH: I guess the next question, which has been put by some, is: would that drive the trade underground?

Ms Keeble : To answer the first question, yes, we believe there should be a ban, with limited exemptions. We understand that there are certain circumstances where the non-commercial trade or limited commercial trade may continue. IFAW certainly supports the recent decision by the United Kingdom to implement their policy. We would see an Australian ban following similar exemptions for museum items that are what we call de minimis or less than 10 per cent ivory.

In terms of a ban driving it to the black market, we often come up against the argument—and it is usually put forward by those who have the most to lose from the trad—that it has to be made legal because otherwise we're just going to send it all underground and no-one can monitor it. The fact is that it is underground now. The black market in these items exists. Interpol has done and continues to do work, and IFAW has been involved with Interpol on these studies looking at the black market. The current situation is 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. The federal government says it is a state responsibility and the state governments say they don't deal with exotic species, particularly not the dead stuff. So it just opens these doors to the rules being flouted.

Some of the evidence that came out of Josey's investigation showed not only an understanding that internationally there was regulation preventing the trade but options on how to get it out of the country—and in some cases how they brought into the country.

Senator SINGH: Let's go to the import/export part of this. Clearly it is coming into the country and being smuggled out of the country, and some dealers are providing information on how to do that. I did read in some of the evidence that one way it is coming into the country is that it is being dyed to look like a different coloured product. There are obviously ways by which it is being brought in. Do you think there is an issue here with Australian Border Force, with the Australian Federal Police, in relation to their work in stopping it or identifying it at the border, or is this all to hard? Now that China—which I imagine was a fairly large market for this—has announced a ban does that make probable the possibility of more imports into Australia?

Ms Keeble : I will start with the first part. Grace is probably the best to talk about the proximity of the Chinese ban and what that will mean for Australia. In terms of Border Force and our enforcement agencies, while wildlife crime is a major factor—and it is often linked with organised crime when it comes to trading guns and drugs—we seem to have a situation where enforcement officials have limited capacity, limited resources, and so are targeting the bigger picture scenarios. I would suspect that when it comes to airport security, for example, they are not looking for an ivory bracelet hidden in someone's make-up bag; they may not even know what they are looking for. That's a question for the enforcement officials, I would think. In recent years we have seen transhipments of ivory being stopped at our borders. Over in Perth, in 2015, there was a shipment of ivory from Malawi that was destined for Malaysia. Our law enforcement officials stop that. Who's to say where that would have ended up? Again, that is a question for enforcement.

One thing we have seen through our work is that not every parcel coming into the country is checked. You have situations of online trade now. The way that the world is, we have an explosion in the way we buy and sell goods internationally online. So I guess the screening process of how we check items that are coming into the country, and where they are coming from and how they are labelled, is something that needs to be looked at.

Senator SINGH: I think you referred to eBay in your submission.

Ms Keeble : eBay is one of the online companies that we have monitored heavily for many years. More recently, we have started working very closely with eBay and other online international marketplaces. Facebook is another one. There is Alibaba. They have all joined with IFAW, WWF and TRAFFIC, as well as Interpol and other organisations, to work to reduce the amount of illegal wildlife crime available online by 80 per cent by 2020.

Senator SINGH: We received a submission from eBay. They are not appearing in front of the committee, I understand. Their submission very clearly highlights their ban. But in your submission I think you said that there were still items found on the eBay site. Was that before you worked with eBay on the ban, or is this again a case of things still filtering through online?

Ms Keeble : eBay has been pretty good since we did our 2013 investigation. And we did another one five years prior to that. We are constantly monitoring these. There are certainly others that are much more prevalent with the way they list ivory. We have supporters who will see these items and, as it is becoming more prevalent, they will either contact the company themselves, use social media to contact the company and ask that the items be withdrawn or let the department or organisations like IFAW know about it.

Senator SINGH: It sounds like the non-government sector and individual citizens are doing more of the regulating that the regulators.

Mr WOOD: This is a law enforcement committee, so the key evidence is when it comes to law enforcement issues. The CITES ban is only for product after 1975. When it comes to poaching and criminality, for items coming in under 1975 is there evidence of those items arriving and the source? How bad is the poaching issue in regard to this issue? I'm trying to come to the criminality of it.

Ms Keeble : In terms of the on-ground poaching side of things, I know that you are speaking with my colleague from South Africa next week. He will certainly be able to give you an up-to-date analysis of what is happening at the coalface in Africa. We are constantly seeing globally illegal ivory and rhino horn products being seized at borders and prosecutions taking place. Our Click to Delete report, which looked at the online trade—and the information in all of these reports is provided to the relevant authorities following our investigations—back in 2013 uncovered a seller in Sydney who had $80,000 worth of illegal ivory items.

Mr WOOD: When you say 'legal', it was after 1975?

Ms Keeble : We provided the information to the department. You would have to ask them about that, because it has actually gone further than they will provide us information about.

Mr WOOD: Have you heard evidence of people forging these certificates to say the item was from, say, 1966? Miss Sharrad, was anyone offering you illegal certificates, fraud certificates?

Miss Sharrad : Not illegal certificates as such. People were saying they would say on the receipt that it is bone or that it is 10 years older than it is—that kind of advice. But I can't say I was given a forged certificate as such.

Mr WOOD: My background is law enforcement. For a court to come up with a prosecution, whether it is bone or ivory, is fairly difficult. I have spoken to the department. They have seized a number of items at the airport. But, again, it is too difficult for the law enforcement officer to say whether it is something from 1966 or 1980. I would say what they are doing is giving the person the options of disposing of the item or going down the path of prosecution, so people decide to get rid of the item.

Earlier you mentioned the black market. Could you explain to the committee how you see the black market working? I think you also mentioned that you work with Interpol. Is that correct?

Ms Keeble : IFAW has an MOU with Interpol. We do a lot of work internationally on the wildlife trade and wildlife crime. We recently hosted a workshop at Interpol. We do a lot of training. We work with law enforcement officials and customs officials. We have ivory identification kits that we provide to customs officials and border force particularly in African countries but also in Europe. We can get fingerprints off the ivory tusks that are found in trade to try to add to the evidence for a prosecution. On the ground in Africa we work with local communities and enforcement officials on programs that we call tenBoma. The concept there is building a network to bring down a criminal network. We look at all the facets of where a poacher will be hanging out—where they eat, where they drink, where they shop, who they are working with and talking to—and we essentially try and head them off before they get to the point where they are going to kill an animal.

Ms Ge Gabriel : I would like to provide a few cases to demonstrate how, before China banned the ivory trade, the legal market and the illegal market existed in parallel and that created problems for law enforcement and also gave opportunities to launder ivory. At the time, China required that ivory traders all have a licence to carve ivory. There was an ivory carver named Jing Chen, who owned an official ivory carving factory. Under the cover of that licence, in 2011 he smuggled seven tonnes of ivory from East Africa alone. Once that ivory is smuggled into China, he could carve it in his carving factory. Once ivory has come into the carving factory, law enforcement cannot tell whether that ivory came from the CITES sanctioned trade or from elephants freshly poached. Also, there was recently a connection between a Chinese smuggler and Australia. Convicted ivory smuggler Graham Chan led an elaborate conspiracy to smuggle ivory and rhino horn from Australia to China and from the US to Hong Kong and then up to mainland China. He was arrested in China, in Australia and in the US. These legal loopholes have not only put the burden of proof on law enforcement; they also remove any stigma in consumers' minds about elephants and the ivory trade. Many consumers thought: if it is available on the market, it must be legal to trade. This is another important factor not only for enforcement but also for reducing consumer demand.

Mr WOOD: You just mentioned someone's name before. Don't repeat it, but was that person actually prosecuted and convicted? You mentioned there was a link to Australia. Was he convicted or not?

Ms Ge Gabriel : He was convicted in the US.

Mr WOOD: Maybe we'll get that name afterwards, just for the assistance of the inquiry. Maybe, Rebecca, you can pass that on to the secretariat. Grace, you mentioned that in 2011, in China, the going right for items was $117,000 at auction houses. What is the going price now at an auction house for rhino horn or ivory? I think you mentioned that it has dramatically fallen.

Ms Ge Gabriel : In 2011 basically that was the peak of all the prices. In December 2011 the IFAW China office saw that there was going to be an auction at a hotel two blocks from our office, selling off 400 bottles of tiger bone wine, and also ivory and rhino horn. We went to the preview and we confirmed that these were the endangered species that this auction house was going to sell off, so we informed the law enforcement, so China actually stopped that auction. After that, China issued a ban on auction of rhino horn, tiger bone and elephant ivory. That ban in 2012 reduced the ivory items in auction sales by 90 per cent. That was also the time elephant poaching showed a decline, starting in 2012. At the CITES Standing Committee just last year, the data coming out was that elephant poaching has been down five years in a row. I am sure there are other factors that affect the drop in poaching, but the fact is that the significant drop in ivory and rhino horn auctions played a part in reducing the ivory trade in China.

Mr WOOD: What's the current price?

Ms Ge Gabriel : Also, since China's announcement of the ivory trade ban, the ivory price has dropped across Asia. This is again among the people who are collecting and buying, people who literally saw the ivory and rhino horn price as having inflation-proof investment value. They now see that this is not the case.

Mr WOOD: What's the going price at an auction house at the moment or is it simply completely banned so it's not in auction houses anymore?

Ms Ge Gabriel : It's completely banned. It's not there, not being auctioned anymore. Last year, at the Hong Kong international antique show—that was before Hong Kong banned ivory and rhino horn—one of our IFAW champions made that antique show ivory and rhino horn free.

CHAIR: We're getting close to the end of our allotted time. I have a couple of quick questions. You mentioned a shipment that was intercepted here in Australia. Have you come across any evidence of any of the carving or processing of the ivory horn being undertaken in Australia?

Ms Keeble : No, not in our investigations. No, we haven't.

CHAIR: Grace, would you believe that most of the processing and carving is done in China?

Ms Ge Gabriel : It is done in China, but we are seeing some of the carving shifted to Africa as well.

CHAIR: Therefore the smuggling into Australia would be of the finished artwork, or the finished piece?

Ms Keeble : That would be my understanding, yes.

Ms Ge Gabriel : I just want to mention something. Just last week, I was in Vietnam at the GEF Assembly. There was a store right across from the hotel. I went in there and saw ivory freely available. I talked to the shopper. She was Vietnamese but she spoke Chinese. She said that many Chinese consumers come to Vietnam and by it. The whole transaction can be done in Chinese. The payment method is through Alipay or WeChat. So the whole market transaction is behind a wall of any law enforcement in the country.

CHAIR: Grace, is there any particular reason—or maybe the assumption of this question is wrong—or is there something in particular in the Chinese culture for this fascination with ivory that places such a high value on it?

Ms Ge Gabriel : Can you repeat that? Sorry.

CHAIR: Is there something in the Chinese culture for this fascination with ivory? Is carved ivory predominately a market for the Chinese community as opposed to other countries?

Ms Ge Gabriel : Yes. Ivory carving has long been a status symbol. Only the rich and the privileged few could have it, but that's not the case today with tens of millions of people getting rich. Anybody can acquire ivory now. Having ivory or wearing is to show off; it is to demonstrate wealth and define status. Even though China banned the ivory trade, changing the behaviour of consumers is going to take a long time. So we need countries around the world to join the fight to help change that behaviour.

CHAIR: Is that similar in, say, the Japanese or Vietnamese cultures, or is it more a Chinese trait?

Ms Ge Gabriel : It is mostly the Chinese mentality; however, Japan still has an illegal trade. We have seen a significant amount of transactions—even from information we get from China's law enforcement—showing people buying it in Japan and then shipping it to China. That again indicates that there is still an illegal market catering to that demand, and it's mostly from China.

CHAIR: We are over time so I'll quickly hand over to Senator Singh. She has one further question.

Senator SINGH: Does IFAW or the NGO sector in this wildlife trafficking space have some kind of formal way that you communicate with law enforcement and/or the department?

Ms Keeble : As a result of investigations or—

Senator SINGH: Just on meeting Australia meeting its CITES requirements and just on the issue itself.

Ms Keeble : Since we started doing this work, we've been in discussions with the department about what their requirements are and what their requirements of traders in Australia are, whether it's the auction industry or the antiques dealers. If we find, as we have with our investigations, evidence of criminal activity or fraud, we provide that information. One of the stores that Josie spoke to was actually a government certifier who gave her incorrect advice. That is quite important and concerning. We certainly provide that information.

Senator SINGH: I kind of meant: is there some kind of roundtable or some kind of mechanism where civil society is engaged with government officials on meeting our international obligations? Is it what we have enacted under the EPBC Act, or is it an ad hoc relationship?

Ms Keeble : There is a process. We have NGO roundtables with the department, usually in the lead-up to a CITES conference of the parties.

Senator SINGH: Which is every—

Ms Keeble : Every two years. So we will work to engage. Usually it's trying to get Australia to take a stand and list something or looking at options for Australia to support other listings or other work of the convention. But it is quite ad hoc. There's no set time.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Ge Gabriel, Ms Keeble and Miss Sharrad, for your evidence. We greatly appreciate your time today and your assistance to the committee.