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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

11 February 2003

First Charges Laid for World Heritage Offences

Two Japanese citizens caught at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport after removing rare Stag Beetles from Lord Howe Island are the first people to be charged for offences that threaten the values of Australia's World Heritage properties.

The two men face up to seven years in prison and/or up to $46,200 in fines if found guilty under section 15A(2) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act which protects values of a World Heritage Property. They appeared in the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney today and the case was adjourned until next Tuesday (18 February).

The Japanese citizens were intercepted by Australian Customs on Sunday, 29 December 2002, when they were found to have a large quantity of both live and dead Stag Beetles, a number of Longhorn Beetles, a Butterfly and some flies in possession.

Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said the two men have been charged by the Director of Public Prosecutions under the World Heritage and wildlife trade sections of the EPBC Act.

"Under the Act, a person is guilty of an offence if they engage in activity that is likely to have a significant impact on the world heritage values of a declared World Heritage property . The person is also guilty of an offence under the wildlife trade provisions of the EPBC Act if they export a regulated native specimen," Dr Kemp said.

"The world heritage provisions of the Act were introduced over two years ago to properly protect Australia's world heritage properties. Individuals found guilty of offences against the 'world heritage values' of a place on the world heritage list face hefty penalties of up to seven years imprisonment and fines of up to $46,200. This is in addition to charges laid under the wildlife trade provisions of the Act with penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $110,000."

Dr Kemp said this is the first time in Australia charges have been laid for offences against World Heritage values.

"The colourful Stag Beetles are only found on Lord Howe Island which was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1982 for its 'unique, rare and superlative natural phenomena' and for its ability to provide habitats for rare and endangered species of plants and animals," Dr Kemp said.

"The beetles live in rotting timber that had to be broken open to collect them, substantially damaging the ecosystem. The beetles play an integral role in the ecosystem, breaking down dead timber and returning it as nutrients to the soil. Because a large proportion of the beetles' habitat was destroyed, it has the potential to detrimentally impact the entire species of Stag Beetles."

The live specimens seized have been returned to the wild on Lord Howe Island.

"Illegal collecting is totally unnecessary considering it is possible to legally export a variety of Australian beetles and other insects as long as they have been bred or collected in a way approved by the Commonwealth Government's Environment Australia. The Stag Beetles, however, are not available for legal export because they are rare and only found on Lord Howe Island.

"Stag Beetles are valuable in Japan where they are sold to collectors or as pets for an estimated price of up to $500. The USA, Germany and France are also keen importers of Australian insects."

Dr Kemp said 20 Australian operations have approval for captive breeding of 180 species of insects and spiders, including Birdwing butterflies, jewel beetles, cockroaches and tarantulas, and three operations have approval to collect over 200 different species of insects from the wild.

"These operations have been approved because they are breeding and harvesting insects in an environmentally sustainable way that doesn't damage the Australian environment," he said.

"International demand for Australian wildlife is high with many profitable industries thriving. At the same time, the Government is ensuring species are appropriately protected so that animals do not suffer and native populations in the wild are conserved and protected."

The wildlife trade provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act are administered by Environment Australia and enforced at the border by the Australian Customs Service.

Media Contact:
Dr Peter Poggioli (02) 6277 7640

Commonwealth of Australia