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Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee: Environment and Energy Portfolio: Department of the Environment and Energy

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 21 Jun 2017

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Senator RHIANNON: The ANOA undertook an audit of the department of the environment's management and compliance arrangements governing the wildlife trade. I have a few questions first off there. Is there available annual reporting on the implementation of recommendations that is public?

Mr Murphy: We do reporting internally in the department to our department's audit committee on our progress in implementing our response to the audit recommendations. But there is no separate public report made.

Senator RHIANNON: I understood that the ANAO report found that the department was not able to report internally and externally on how it is achieving its regulatory objectives. Has the recommendation around that—have things improved?

Mr Murphy: I think there have been improvements. One of the recommendations was explicitly around regulatory performance and in particular the department's annual report. We used to concentrate a lot on the regulatory decisions that we made, but the report was not descriptive of the types of wildlife that the decisions covered. In the 2016 annual report there were improvements made to describe the sort of wildlife that has been subject to the assessment and approval for trade. We are also working on ways of being able to report on our compliance performance from a risk basis. We are also doing some analytical work with our website so we can see how the public interact with the website and whether we can improve the information such that, for example, travellers are able to benefit in an improved way.

Senator RHIANNON: In terms of quantitative change for the public to know and be able to gain information on the decisions that have been made and how the work has been going, I understand that that was picked up in recommendation 4 to report the extent to which the objectives for wildlife trade regulation have been achieved. Has recommendation 4 been implemented?

Mr Murphy: Yes. Some of the answer I have just given goes exactly to recommendation 4.

Senator RHIANNON: When you were saying reporting, you were referring then to reporting publicly in that earlier answer?

Mr Murphy: To the department's annual report—and also we are redesigning our website. We have had a look at the information for travellers on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection website. We have a working group with that agency. Part of the remit is to try to make the information consistent between the websites. To do that we have redesigned the wildlife trade aspects of our department's website. That is about to be rolled out. My other comments were about the department's annual report. What we have tried to do there is to describe the species of wildlife for which we have done assessments and approvals during that year.

Senator RHIANNON: Did your work cover—you probably have this on your website, so I apologise because I have not looked at all of it. Are you covering wildlife trade in terms of both wildlife from Australia and wildlife from overseas?

Mr Murphy: Yes. We implement the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, which covers import and export trade. Also, the EPBC Act regulates the exportable native specimens. So the types of assessments we do and the approvals are all publicly available on the website.

Senator RHIANNON: How many prosecutions is the department pursuing at the present time?

Mr Murphy: Our investigations section is in outcome 1.5. I am aware of investigations into wildlife, but I would have to take on notice and get the investigations section to advise you about how many investigations are underway.

Senator RHIANNON: if you could take that on notice please. With regard to any animal cruelty that is involved with those investigations, would that be dealt with separately or is it something you pick up as well?

Mr Murphy: there are provisions for the humane treatment of animals, but usually it relates to the movement of them. For example, in the zoo trade we look at how the animal will be transported and also how the receiving zoo would care for the animals. Most of the offences that are investigated are more to do with the illegal trade in animals. We have an offence about illegally importing or exporting animals.

Senator RHIANNON: So if there was cruelty involved in that, that would be handled elsewhere—or would you just handle it in terms of the illegal trade? What is the approach?

Mr Murphy: It would depend very much on the case. Most of the investigations that I have seen in the department are about illegal trade rather than cruelty per se.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to go back to the issue of platypuses and platypus diplomacy. When we discussed—

Mr Knudson: Senator, Mr Cahill is here and can probably answer that question that we had to take on notice earlier on.

Mr Cahill: You may be aware that on 3 March an individual was arrested by the Australian Federal Police and charged with 40 offences for alleged involvement in an illegal international wildlife smuggling network. So we do put a concerted effort in this space. This included 37 counts contrary to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and three offences contrary to the Biosecurity Act. We have an ongoing investigation into a series of networks smuggling wildlife both into and out of Australia. This is a joint agency operation with the Australian Federal Police, who coordinate this investigation with us, and we are supported by a range of other Commonwealth agencies, including the Australian Border Force. We are very conscious that illegal trade in Australia's wildlife is unacceptable and very conscious of what that can mean to the welfare of Australia's unique wildlife. At the moment that investigation is ongoing, so it is probably inappropriate for me to comment any further.

Senator RHIANNON: The question was about how many prosecutions the department has pursued in the past year. You have mentioned one. Are there others?

Mr Cahill: This is the primary one. I am not aware of any actual prosecutions in the last two years. But I will take it on notice and go back through our records.

Senator RHIANNON: When we last spoke about the platypus it was stated that it was proposed to move two platypus from Taronga Zoo to San Diego Zoo. Have they gone?

Mr Murphy: No, there have been no platypus—

Senator RHIANNON: They have not gone yet?

Mr Murphy: No.

Senator RHIANNON: When they go, will they come back at some stage after they have been on display or involved in breeding programs or whatever is going to happen?

Mr Murphy: That has not been determined yet. There are a number of steps that have to take place before the department will even consider issuing a permit for their export. In particular, we have these things called conditions for overseas transfer. We do not have any for platypus because they have not been exported from Australia for many decades. We are working with the Taronga Zoo on the development of those conditions of overseas transfer. That would look at the conditions that would apply to the platypus while they are being transported and also how they would be cared for in the recipient zoo, San Diego Zoo.

Senator RHIANNON: Would it also involve novated leases similar to how pandas are handled when they are sent overseas?

Mr Murphy: The pandas are the only wildlife I know of that have that sort of arrangement. Most of the zoo trade is more done on a reciprocal basis—more of a bartering arrangement. I know that San Diego and Taronga have a close relationship. I have not heard any proposal for that sort of novated arrangement for platypus.

Senator RHIANNON: So any money that was raised from people coming to see the platypuses would be used by San Diego Zoo however they chose to use it? That is not coming into your area of work with regard to this?

Mr Murphy: The San Diego zoo have made a commitment to the Threatened Species Commissioner to invest in a project for platypus conservation as part of the Threatened Species Commissioner's prospectus.

Senator RHIANNON: Perhaps you can take this question on notice. You mentioned the conditions that you are helping Taronga Zoo with with regard to how the platypus will be sent overseas. Can you take on notice what those conditions are, even if it is just the areas in which you are giving them advice on and helping them work it out? Could you provide more information?

Mr Murphy: They are going to prepare a draft of those conditions. They are doing the research and they will submit those conditions to us as a draft, and we will assess them at that time. I do not have any more information than that.

Senator RHIANNON: So that is all you have at the moment? I thought you said that you were advising them on the areas that they had to cover.

Mr Murphy: I said we are working with them. We have had discussions with the zoo, and the zoo have indicated to us that they are going to draft conditions for overseas transfer and submit them to us consideration.

Senator RHIANNON: I am asking because it has not had a good history in the past.

Senator MOORE: Could we get some information on the history of the platypus process? I could not find much on the website, and it is of particular interest to some of the people I work with. As Senator Rhiannon referred to, it has not had a good history—the export of platypuses for various purposes. Is there any information on the history of that?

Mr Murphy: As far as we know, platypus have not been exported for many decades, so there are no records of platypus being exported under our current regulatory regime. There is an indication on the internet of an export to a New York zoo, I think, but that, as I said, was many decades ago.

Senator MOORE: The history about the New York one is the one that you are referring to, Senator Rhiannon?

Senator RHIANNON: No, there is one about—

CHAIR: This is now turning into a bit of a discussion, so I think we will leave it there. Mr Murphy is, I think, taking some of that on notice to clarify that last point.

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