Joint media release: Department snaps up scaly fashion statement

4 September 2020

The Hon. Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment
The Hon. Jason Wood MP, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs

A West Australian woman has learnt an expensive lesson after her $26,000 alligator handbag was seized by Australian Border Force entering the country.

The bag, purchased from a Saint Laurent boutique in France, was confirmed to be alligator skin by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

While products derived from alligator are allowed into Australia they are strictly regulated and monitored through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to protect species that may be adversely affected by trade.

On this occasion the Department took no further action in relation to the breach of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) after confiscating the item, however, the woman was out of pocket $26,313 for the handbag.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the find was a costly reminder for importers to ensure they have the correct CITES permits when importing products like this into the country.

“We all need to be aware of what we’re purchasing online as restricting the trade of animal products is crucial to the long-term survival of endangered species,” Minister Ley said.

“The Morrison Government closely monitors what comes in and out of Australia to stop and deter the illegal wildlife trade.”

Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood said that Australians who buy these products overseas must make an application for the relevant CITES permits from both the exporting country and the importing country.

“The Australian Border Force works closely with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to detect cases of illegally imported exotic wildlife products at the border, including fashion accessories, tourist trinkets, furs, taxidermy animals and ivory,” Assistant Minister Wood said.

“We would like to remind importers to ensure they have the correct permits in place before attempting to import these items.

“Those who attempt to contravene our border controls to bring in these items without the appropriate permits, should know we are alert to their activities.”

The importer of the handbag had arranged a CITES export permit from France, however she did not make an application for an import permit from the Australian CITES Management Authority.

On arrival in Australia in January this year, the handbag was seized at a Perth air cargo depot by ABF officers on the grounds that it was suspected to have been used or otherwise involved in the illegal wildlife trade—an offence against the EPBC Act.

The importing of regulated fauna or flora species without the necessary permits is a serious offence under the EPBC Act and can carry harsh penalties.

The maximum penalty for wildlife trade offences under the Act is 10 years imprisonment and $222,000 for individuals ($1,110,000 for corporations).

You can find more on CITES importation permits here.