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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
Trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn

ALBRECHT, JOHN CHARLES ROBERT, Chief Executive Officer and Proprietor, Leonard Joel

BARSBY, Mr David, Director, Barsby Auctions Pty Ltd


CHAIR: Welcome. Thank you for appearing before us today. The committee has received your submissions as submissions No. 51 and 44. Do you wish to make any amendments to your submissions?

Mr Barsby : No.

CHAIR: Would you like to make brief opening statements? We will then go to questions. We'll start with you, Mr Barsby.

Mr Barsby : Barsby Auctions is a medium-size auction house located on the Lower North Shore of Sydney. Nearly all the antique ivory we sell comes from deceased estates or from retirees. These items have been inherited or purchased from reputable auction houses or antique dealers. The buyers of antique ivory are only interested in antique ivory. They are not interested in new elephant ivory or its products. The destruction of elephants is abhorrent, and we do not support it in any way. We do not sell unworked ivory and we do not sell rhino horn in any form. Ivory does not sell for its own sake; unworked, ugly and poorly worked items do not have a market. Collectors value the age, artistry and beauty of these items. I therefore do not see any market in Australia for recently poached ivory.

Every item we sell is examined by one of our experts, and provenance is researched. In 2016 a report in The Sydney Morning Herald stated that the elephant ivory trade in Australian auction houses was $635,000, therefore less than $1 million in a year. I don't think this is a significant amount that would interest organised crime. We have never been offered newly poached elephant ivory and do not believe there is any market for it here. The current laws would appear to be working well. We have worked with the department of wildlife for, I think, five years and have found them very helpful. We always refer to them any questions.

Carved ivory was produced and purchased legitimately. It represents human history, skill, ingenuity and artistry. How will its destruction benefit the current living elephants? If I believed that not selling this product would further the world's elephants, then we would stop immediately. A ban has been suggested. There is no proof that this ban would have any effect. The sale of antique ivory is an easy target for fixing a difficult problem. We deal in rarity. Rarity creates demand and therefore higher prices. The destruction of antique ivory will only increase rarity. If the price is increased, then so may poaching and criminal activities. Financial assistance for Asian and African countries would be more appropriate regarding poaching. What happens to the ivory that cannot be sold? Can we give it away? Does it just get destroyed? Is compensation paid to people who bought ivory for significant amounts of money and can no longer sell it? What happens with deceased estates? When we go to deceased estates and there's ivory, do we throw it in the bin?

Perhaps, as an alternative, dealers in CITES products should be licensed. Auction houses are currently not regulated in any way. Perhaps that should also be considered. We discussed fur coats earlier. I think it would be better if public opinion brought the end, as it did with coats, with legislation. Thank you.

John Albrecht : Thank you for this opportunity. I'm advised I have three minutes. I wish to be economical with my words and clear with my purpose. My company, Leonard Joel, was the largest auction trader in ivory in the country. We also dealt occasionally in rhino horn. Since 1 January 2017, we no longer trade at all in rhino horn and in almost no ivory. In the same period, business has grown and my staffing has too. There's been no commercial or human resource impact—none. While I'm not proud of the trading history of Leonard Joel in these materials before this time, it positions me well, I believe, to state my purpose today and that is to argue that the only solution to disrupt rhinoceros and elephant poaching and prevent extinction is to ban the trade in these materials. All efforts to date—CITES conventions and adoptions internationally, industry self-regulation, government efforts, NGO efforts and the efforts of private citizens and activist groups—as noble and profoundly important as they all are, have not ensured yet the survival of these species. Why? Because, while markets remain for these materials, whether the animals horns were the product of slaughtering hundreds of years ago or yesterday, and monetary value can still be derived from them, in my opinion the allure to poach, to slaughter, to sell and make money will continue.

The idea that old or pre-1970 ivory and horn somehow do not contribute to this value chain and slaughter origin, as I choose to call it, is an artificial construct—one that I suffered from also. It's designed to ease the conscience of the trader and grease the wheels of commerce in these materials. The hollow prestige that auction houses, which Leonard Joel once played a part in, antique dealers and collectors who choose to ignore this connection bring to the trade in these materials is undeniable and only serves to confuse the discourse on banning trade. This was my epiphany, and 1 January 2017 was the moment I chose to no longer live and trade with that lie.

The argument for continued trade in these materials is one of entitlement, not need, not requirement, and it's not about business viability. Not a single antique dealer or auctioneer depends even remotely on the trade of these materials for their commercial survival or ongoing business. Ivory trade at the individual business level is insignificant, and Leonard Joel was the biggest trader in the country. Collectively, our industry is maintaining markets that are significant enough to warrant attention and, while they continue to operate, they contribute to the endangerment of these species. I'm advised that roughly 15,000 rhinos remain. Their likely survival as a species is already grim and elephants are not far from a tipping point. So what can our industry, auctioneers and antique dealers alike do? We could start with my working public policy. My position and my publicly available company policy is not complex, it is not extreme and it does not seek the destruction of these materials, nor their seizure; it merely seeks to remove them from circulation, and advocates for their retention by the holder or donation to a public museum, if the item is deemed significant enough.

I make one final point to those who argue that restricting trade represents some sort of cultural infringement of rights. I say there are entities known as museums. Jane Raffan mentioned this also. They are all over the world and they more than adequately represent ivory and rhino material across cultures and periods. In my view, we no longer need to express ourselves commercially in these materials and, until we recognise that and the total ban in trade that is required to achieve that, our commercial conscience cannot be clear from the part we play. I was the biggest auction trader in ivory in Australia and I am now advocating for a total ban in the trade of these materials—not destruction, not seizure; just a ban. Thank you.

CHAIR: You're saying you want to go further than the UK legislation? The UK legislation enables articles over 100 years old. The wording here is 'outstanding, highly artistic, cultural, historical value'. You're saying they should be knocked out at well?

John Albrecht : I can only speak to the policy that we've decided to implement, which is essentially, at this stage, not dealing in anything that postdates 1920, and from 1 January 2019 not dealing in anything that doesn't fit a de minimis principle. Essentially, ours is not as date-driven as theirs; ours is about removing all voluminous ivory or rhino from our marketplace.

CHAIR: Just to be clear: at the moment anything that was, say, pre-1920, irrespective of the cultural or artistic value, you would still sell, but you will change that policy going forward?

John Albrecht : At this stage, we only deal in items that predate 1921. We no longer deal in any rhino horn whatsoever, regardless of age. We no longer deal in any whole ivory, regardless of age. At the moment, the best example is that we will deal in an antique piece of carved ivory that predates 1921, but from 1 January 2019 we'll deal in no whole ivory, regardless of age.

CHAIR: So your company's policy would go beyond the UK legislation?

John Albrecht : More committed—yes.

CHAIR: A point that's been made is that, if a collector had purchased a piece—and we heard evidence of a piece worth something like $100,000—and we adopted the UK legislation, and it wasn't aged over 100 years—it might be 50, 60 or 70 years old—then that person would be no longer able to sell that item. Are you suggesting that those people should be compensated in some way or is it just a case of: 'Bad luck. You shouldn't have bought it'?

Mr Barsby : If we were to ban petrol cars tomorrow with no compensation given and everyone being told, 'You've got to buy an electric car. Tough luck,' you'd get an outcry. Elephant ivory is, as we discussed, a very small percentage of people. However, I have clients who did spend a $100,000 at Leonard Joel only two or three years ago who are now devastated that they cannot resell that item through Joel. I'm talking about a terminally ill person who now needs the money.

CHAIR: Effectively, legislation, like in the UK, would take away the property rights of people who had purchased these things.

Mr Barsby : These are important items. Under the UK legislation, you'd probably be able to apply for statutory compensation.

CHAIR: But isn't that a very—

Mr Barsby : But, yes, there are thousands of items that people are going to lose money on. They legally acquired them; they legally own them, and they're going to have to sit them at home.

Mr WOOD: But that's what people do in the world of antiques, isn't it?

Mr Barsby : Yes, it is. But they also buy them on the basis that they can resell them at a later date.

Mr WOOD: Some people.

Mr Barsby : Yes, some people.

CHAIR: Mr Albrecht?

John Albrecht : I'll probably just talk practically speaking. I'm not saying they don't exist, but, from my experience over 25 to 30 years, I haven't yet met a collector with a collection that was formulated primarily of ivory or even significantly of ivory. It tends to be incidental to the collection or a small component of it. That's my experience. From that point of view, I've personally or professionally never experienced someone who had a significant collection of ivory that their life, their business or their family depended on. It's always, essentially, an incidental element of a collection.

What we've been already advocating and advising clients is either to retain it or to donate it to a public museum if they deem it of cultural significance. We actually had one case last year with a very prominent public collection. There was a piece of ivory that didn't meet our criteria, so we couldn't sell it, but it was culturally significant—not to Australia—and we recommended they discuss donating it to a public museum. They're exploring that, happily, with the museum.

CHAIR: Isn't it true that someone who'd purchased a piece for $100,000 or $50,000 or whatever several years ago would look at their assets and liabilities columns and have that piece in the assets column at a similar value to what they paid., but all of a sudden government legislation is going to put a line through that and make that piece valued at zero?

John Albrecht : I couldn't deny that comment, but all I'll say to you, again, is that I've never met a collector in this country in a quarter of a century whose life, business or family depends on their ivory collection.

CHAIR: Do you have any idea what the value of ivory pieces could be in Australia?

John Albrecht : No—

CHAIR: If the government said, 'You can no longer sell these, and we've all of a sudden devalued your property to zero,' what is the actual number?

Mr WOOD: I might be able to help with that question. What were your sales each year?

John Albrecht : IFAW actually provided the figures in their report. But I remember when we were considering the adoption of our policy—and this is an approximation—we worked out that ivory sales at Leonard Joel, including the occasional rhino sale, might be in the vicinity of one-quarter of a million dollars to $300,000 in a year, roughly.

CHAIR: And that would only be a small percentage of the pieces owned by Australians.

John Albrecht : As a guesstimate, you could extrapolate, because we were the biggest traders in it. Public museums excluded, I'd suggest it would probably be the cheapest buyback the government could ever execute.

CHAIR: What do you think?

John Albrecht : Five or ten million dollars, I guess. I really don't know.

CHAIR: Mr Barsby, you talked about the value increasing with the age of the piece. Can you explain that? It seems a little bit counterintuitive. Until all the ivory has been poached to create new works of art, those new works of art would have much less value than the older pieces.

Mr Barsby : That is my point. I can only imagine that in other countries they don't care, but the collectors who come to our auctions—and we are just a mid-range North Shore establishment—are serious collectors for a particular type of ivory. They want fine carving, and they want older pieces. They wouldn't be interested in new items. That's not why they collect; they collect for the sake of history and for beauty. I would like someone to tell me what happens to all those tusks that ivory comes from. Do they just disappear into China somewhere and get carved into artefacts that are saleable? Because we don't see them here.

CHAIR: How do you go about determining the age of a piece? Is it experience related?

Mr Barsby : It is.

CHAIR: Do you use carbon dating? If someone bought in a piece from their grandmother's locker how would you go about—

Mr Barsby : Carbon dating costs $750, with government permission, and takes about three months, so it's generally only used for rhino horn, which we have only sold once.

CHAIR: Because of the high price?

Mr Barsby : As the Senator Singh said, in the old days, 10 years ago, you would get $100,000 to $200,000 for a big rhino horn, however, I believe public opinion has actually affected that. I don't think rhino horns have been on sale in Sydney for the last three years.

Senator SINGH: The one I referred to was in WA, and it was only in April.

Mr Barsby : As I said, I keep an eye on the local market, but we've only—

CHAIR: If I bring a piece in to you how do you go about putting an age on it?

Mr Barsby : We, basically, go by experience and discussion with the owner as to when they got it. But I've been dealing in ivory since I was 11, which is nearly 48 years. I was trading before CITES came in, and I believe I can date within 20 years. If we use the 1949 rule that's giving us 20 years leeway. It's the style, the quality of the carving, the colour and the cracking—numerous things—but basically experience. We have jewellery people who can look at jewellery in the same way.

CHAIR: Have you seen any trends in price over the years?

Mr Barsby : As I said, the market has dropped out of rhino horn, and that's from education.

CHAIR: That's just the pure horn itself?

Mr Barsby : Pure horn. I have never sold carved horn. I've never come across it. It's quite rare. We wouldn't sell it because I have no way of knowing—it's the sort of thing that gets sold in Hong Kong for millions of dollars.

Senator SINGH: Not anymore—soon to be.

Mr Barsby : Not recently. I think there was a recent sale where—

Senator SINGH: They're initiating a ban.

Mr Barsby : Yes.

CHAIR: That's also an issue. What's the risk of putting these bans in place when demand is still there? I find from very wealthy individuals that this market will be driven underground.

Mr Barsby : That's my concern. But we deal in very small—the average item in ivory that we sell would be 100 bucks. That's why—

CHAIR: What physical size would that be?

Mr Barsby : We're talking about a little thing like that. Rhino horn is sold by weight; it's got a price per kilo.

CHAIR: So when you say there's a price per kilo, it's not like looking up the price of soybeans on the market, is it?

Mr Barsby : It sort of is. If you looked at that rhino horn in WA you'd probably be able to go, well that was 3.5 kilos and, generally, because it was—I say 'was' because 10 years ago you would have people come in and say, 'I bought this for my sister's health. I paid $22,000 for this thing because she's got high blood pressure.' But I do believe education, certainly in this country, has bought that trade to an end. I think if you went back 10 years ago large rhino horns were still selling for $120,000.

CHAIR: When you say there's this market price, where has that gone over the last decade?

Mr Barsby : As I said, we've only once tried to sell rhino horn, and that was about five years ago. We got it carbon dated, and we got permission from Wildlife. Ten years ago it would have been worth $100,000, but I think we may have sold it for 40—

Senator SINGH: Mr Barsby, do you acknowledge, though, that as long as auction houses and antique dealers are selling ivory, whether it's ivory that is a small amount worth $100 or rhino horn worth $100,000, that as long as that is continuing there is a value on rhino horn and ivory in Australia, and that value within Australia is a signal to the global market that this is a continuing unregulated market that continues to have value.

Mr Barsby : I think as long as it's contained in museums, stately homes, royal palaces—all those things continue to have a status symbol, whether it's a dollar value or not. Therefore, that status is going to be there. However—

Senator SINGH: I'm talking about the dollar value.

Mr Barsby : I believe we still sell it, and I don't believe people in China have any interest in whether we sell it for $100 or $200. They have their own reasons for buying that product. I really don't see that what happens here—

John Albrecht : Could I make a couple of comments to augment David's comments about price decline in markets. Any proposed legislation is going to reflect the zeitgeist of the times anyway, and the fact that what I'm seeing is that no-one under 50 years of age—I'm not trying to be ageist here, because I'm almost 50—even really contemplates going near ivory for collection in this country. This is what I'm seeing. In terms of price decline, it's not the only material that is experiencing price decline. A Victorian balloon-back chair that once upon a time brought $500 now brings $30. There are profound changes in taste that are occurring based on living environments and ethics and how we all want to live and respect the environment. It's no different with ivory. My comment is that I'm seeing a price decline in ivory. I don't think anyone would deny the price decline in ivory as the appetite for it simply dries up in most western countries. For that reason, I think a decision to legislate on the ban of ivory just goes to that comment that I don't see any private financial catastrophes playing out. I just don't see them.

Senator SINGH: Do you think the decision to legislate would be reflecting public opinion and sentiment, then?

John Albrecht : I think so, completely. I don't hide from the fact that we've enjoyed lots of public support for our position both locally and internationally, and from all age groups, and people who said that they now felt more comfortable about dealing with us than they did before because of our decision on this. There is no doubt that the public opinion on this is for a disruption in the value of ivory and rhino horn. Let's take China as the biggest consumer in the globe. The decision has shut down its manufacturing markets entirely. If they can do without it or deem themselves to be able to do without it, every other country can. I just wanted to make that comment about price decline. I just don't see the catastrophe for any private collectors. Their holdings are incidental to their collections. On a much bigger scale, when you won't be able to buy normal petrol anymore and drive those cars around, you might have to either change the engines or just garage them and they might be less tradeable—I don't know. I just want to make that point. In a quarter of a century I have never had a client whose commercial wellbeing depended on the sale of their ivory.

Senator SINGH: Can I ask about illegal ivory and rhino horn and this issue of fraudulent documentation. It seems that there is no monitoring going on by government into fraudulent documentation. It's a matter of being brought to the government's attention to check that it has properly certified CITES documentation. Whose responsibility do you see it being to detect fraudulent documentation?

John Albrecht : My view is that it should be a collective effort between government, industry players like auctioneers and antique dealers, and also citizens. My concern is that it's not just fraudulent documentation. I'll speak from the experience of Leonard Joel before we became committed to this issue. There was a complete lack of documentation. The reality is that most ivory is being traded in this country with zero documentation, unless the piece is identified as one that might attract public interest or might be of interest internationally, so there's a commercial benefit in getting a CITES certification for that piece. Leonard Joel is one of those auction houses. I wouldn't say it was a deliberate avoidance of the CITES regulations that are supposed to be implemented here, but it was just a complete disregard for them. My position is that most auction houses and antique dealers, whether wilfully or not, disregard the documentary requirements.

Senator SINGH: We heard from IFAW's investigation that they did recently that there was only one—I can't remember whether it was an auction house or antique dealer—but there was only one business that actually gave the right advice to prospective buyer. From your knowledge, either of you, do you think it is a disregard, or is there a lack of knowledge of what the legal requirement is for them in Australia?

John Albrecht : I think there is a significant element of disregard. I think management of the CITES process, although we're managing it successfully now, as we're a big-volume trading auction house, with no problems. I think that ultimately it's a hip-pocket concern: 'We might lose a sale if we have to go through the CITES process, so let's just pretend we don't really have to do it anyway.' In my opinion that's the ethos out there.

Senator SINGH: That disregard and lack of compliance with CITES, is that because they know there is no government official who is going to knock on the door and have a check of what's going on in their auction house? So they're going to be able to get away with it.

John Albrecht : Speaking from my experience, I don't think it was so much that we thought we wouldn't be checked, but that there has been so little public discourse on this subject and the commerce of it that it wasn't really top of mind. There is effort involved in producing and populating this documentation. That is another issue: they just can't be bothered.

Senator SINGH: Trafficking of wildlife is a criminal offence. I think it's 10 years in prison. I was going to ask about the difference between auction houses and retailers having their own requirements for accepting or not accepting items on consignment and the like. Can you provide any different kinds of examples of what kind of requirements you would ask for?

John Albrecht : In terms of our process?

Senator SINGH: Either of you.

Mr Barsby : With us it is policy that everyone must sign a statutory declaration. Primarily, before we get to that, we have to be assured ourselves that it is of an age—they come from deceased estates. The people who bought it don't always still exist. It is our policy that they must sign that documentation. But as John said, I suspect that very few people and very few auction houses do that. However, we have been audited by wildlife, and I believe a few other auction houses in Sydney have been checked for documentation in 2016.

Senator SINGH: Who was that by?

Mr Barsby : The department of wildlife.

Senator SINGH: The state department?

Mr Barsby : The federal department.

Senator SINGH: The department of the environment. Leonard Joel, having made this incredibly ethical and bold move, and having been once the largest seller, as you stated, Mr Albrecht, how do you see that position that you have taken as a business playing out in the rest of the industry?

John Albrecht : My experience to date has been a mix of curiosity—I've had undertakings from one, maybe two auctioneers to come on board with our policy, to no avail—anger from certain collectors; disdain from other auction houses that didn't believe we were serious about our position—which confounds me, because we're on the public record completely—but overwhelming support from our client base and the public generally. I said this to IFAW, who got me to my position on this and really enlightened me. I did feel that this was a good decision and a decision that would benefit our business, too. I've never hidden from that. That has been the experience. I can't yet say that someone has written Leonard Joel into their will because of our decision, although someone emailed me from England and promised me that. It'll be fun when that happens. But the public support has been immense, and I think it's certainly opened up a dialogue with client groups that we didn't have. I have no doubt that it's a position that resonates with what we called the new collector, who are younger collectors. So it's been a really interesting journey and almost completely satisfying.

I'm mostly frustrated by what I call the complexity argument. I find that everyone that doesn't like our position tends to fall back on that: it's too hard; there will be no elephants left in 50 years because of global warming anyway; the legislation is different all over the world; what does it matter anyway. I find that sort of thinking defeatist. It doesn't acknowledge that every bit of change is elemental but ultimately significant, just as our little step was. I'm getting off topic. What's been the reaction? From the public, really supportive. Do I think it has benefited our business commercially as well, in terms of positioning and stature? Yes, I do. I felt that would happen. Am I nervous about our position next year? A little bit. That's when we won't be offering any whole pieces of ivory for sale. I'm somewhat nervous, but so far I have watched it only be replaced by new clients, new categories and goodwill, so I feel we are on the right path.

Senator SINGH: Thank you for your leadership. This committee did try to get Leonardo DiCaprio to participate. If he later takes up that offer, we'll perhaps have him visit your auction house.

Mr WOOD: Mr Barsby, you said before that you have traded in rhino horn for a number of years. Is that correct?

Mr Barsby : We've only once—yes.

Mr WOOD: What about ivory? How much ivory?

Mr Barsby : We sell about $100,000 a year in ivory.

Mr WOOD: So it's significant.

Mr Barsby : No, it isn't significant. I agree with Mr Albrecht that if we didn't do it, financially it wouldn't affect us.

Mr WOOD: This is what I then find hard to fathom: I love antiques, I collect antiques, my office is actually—as the chair got to see the other day—full of antique furniture; yet I've seen over the years—and we have seen in High Street, Melbourne there used to be 60 or 70 antique shops and it's down to four or five. You're saying to me that this is not a significant part of your business. And yet we have evidence here today—and this is what greatly concerns me—about what's happening with the rhinos and the elephants overseas with the poachers. Shouldn't your industry, and you as a leader—as Leonard Joel has—say: 'You know what? Even though this has nothing to do with our client base, and nothing to do with antique dealers, we're going to take the moral stance on this.' You've even said that, financially, it's not going to impact you. I'm just trying to work out where you're coming from.

Mr Barsby : Where I'm coming from is, I believe, I want to protect those items that have been made in ivory and are antiques. In the UK, we were talking a million items—I’m sorry, there would be at least a million items in the UK. And to ban them—you cannot give a million items to museums, they couldn't cope. I see—

Mr WOOD: But can I put it to you again, when it comes to items—it's like the example we heard about a balloon chair: I wouldn't get too excited about a balloon chair but I'd get excited about, say, an 1830 bishop's chair from the UK, because it's obviously a high-end figure. Would that be the same with you when it comes to ivory? Are you more worried about the really high-end, quality works of art? Or are you just saying, 'if it's made out of ivory, I want to preserve it'?

Mr Barsby : No; if it's made out of ivory and it has merit, I want to preserve it.

Mr WOOD: What's your category of merit?

Mr Barsby : A beautifully carved, artistic item—it could be religious, it could be artistic. If you ban ivory—

Mr WOOD: But the point is, no-one is saying, 'destroy it'.

Mr Barsby : But what else is going to happen to it? If you let market forces devalue the item, and if public opinion is that we don't want ivory, then prices would fall.

Mr WOOD: Yes. But are prices falling, regardless, at the moment?

Mr Barsby : Not in ivory, as far as I'm concerned.

John Albrecht : Respectfully, I disagree. Say netsuke, the Japanese carved netsuke: they are harder and harder to sell, and they're under continued price decline. I saw that play out at auctions in Sydney and Melbourne last year with us, for pieces that met our criteria. This is a dying, ageing collector group. I'm seeing nothing but price decline in that category—but not just that category; in other traditional collecting categories as well.

CHAIR: I don't mean to jump in but can I ask: it may very well be the case in Australia, but in places like China, do you believe that it's the same?

John Albrecht : I couldn't disagree with you. I would say that the price decline may have started to present itself, slightly, with younger Asian generations that are becoming sensitive to the issue, but that no, you wouldn't see that price decline internationally. Although I have observed international auction houses that, while not stating it in policy, are not dealing in certain ivory and rhino products internationally, because they're seeing that lack of appetite for them from the younger collectors, and also they don't want to deal in them.

CHAIR: So if that's the case, why is there still such an apparently high demand for poachers to slaughter elephants, to take their tusks to continue to supply the trade?

John Albrecht : I guess I'm reluctant to comment on that sort of geopolitical level, and I think IFAW could comment far more robustly than me. But I also don't think I'm off the mark when I suggest that the appetite in Asian countries is turbocharged still. I've read that and seen it in reports, I've listened to it in documentaries, and I think that until all players in a marketplace that create value in these items decide that they're part of the problem, that will only continue.

Senator SINGH: So that makes China's position very powerful.

John Albrecht : Extraordinary, if it plays out the way we hope it all intends to play out.

CHAIR: If that's the case, that China is taking these rather aggressive steps in banning the sale of ivory—

John Albrecht : The manufacture of it.

CHAIR: the manufacture of it—doesn't that almost supersede something that we do here?

John Albrecht : In Australia?


John Albrecht : No, it doesn't, because my concern is what I'm already observing happening in my little Melbourne is that what I've stopped trading in has begun to be traded by other auction houses in my vicinity because there's a lack of regulation. So my view is that the regulation needs to occur in every nation state—

CHAIR: But do you believe that trading in those pieces that are here in Australia now is actually driving more demand for the product?

John Albrecht : I think it contributes to the value chain. This is what I didn't think about until 1 January 2017: all of these pieces of ivory that we trade in contribute to the value in those materials internationally. Yes, Australia plays a small percentage part—

CHAIR: If I play devil's advocate here for a minute: isn't it possible that the case would be that, if you pull that supply out and these pieces can't be traded and you've still got this ongoing demand in places like China, you're actually increasing the price and therefore increasing new pieces being made?

John Albrecht : I don't know if it would increase the price. I guess I just go back to my argument that my view is that every implementation of legislation around this issue is relevant and meaningful and that, if we all take the view that nothing we do will make a difference, then we'll be stuck in a circular argument that won't get us anywhere.

CHAIR: The UK legislation has given some exemptions. It's given exemptions to pieces pre 1918 and of high artistic, cultural and historical value. As you said, the demand in China still exists today. That's there and you said that's something that still has to be worked upon. But that demand is there and we have to acknowledge it. If a piece were able to be classified in that category that enabled it still to be traded, wouldn't that significantly increase its value at an auction?

John Albrecht : If it could still be traded and it were classified as a piece that was culturally and historically significant, those criteria around a piece would certainly make it attractive to collectors of ivory.

CHAIR: Do you agree with that, Mr Barsby?

Mr Barsby : I do.

CHAIR: It will push the value of those pieces up?

Mr Barsby : I believe it will.

CHAIR: So really a lot of the issue comes down to attacking it from the demand side as well?

John Albrecht : I get back to the point: let's say at this stage I haven't seen that appetite decline in Asia, but in non-Asian countries the collectors putting their hands up at auction will be extremely rare breed for ivory and these sorts of materials in another 20 years, if at all. I can talk just to one auction recently where we had one art deco figure that met our criteria, had an ivory face, and there was one gentleman in the room bidding for that—no-one else in the world. So there's an example of declining collector base.

CHAIR: We're almost out of time. Are there any concluding statements? If not, Senator Singh, do you have anything final?

Senator SINGH: Thank you for appearing today, and I acknowledge the work that Leonard Joel has done to date.

CHAIR: Thank you, gentlemen. The committee has agreed that answers to questions taken on notice at today's hearing should be returned by 24 July 2018. I thank all the witnesses for their evidence to the committee today. Thanks to Hansard, Broadcasting and the secretariat. I declare today's hearing adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 14:39