The Australian Department of the Environment and Energy failed to investigate allegations endangered and rare birds were being sold in Europe at a huge profit and instead continued issuing permits to allow more birds to be exported to a secretive German charity, an independent review has found.
The investigation by KPMG was triggered after the Guardian Australia revealed that hundreds of birds, including endangered species, were exported to the Berlin-based Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots (ACTP) on the grounds that they would be used for a zoo exhibition.
The Guardian Australia revealed in 2018 that ACTP had no facility that was freely open to the public, and advertisements and private messages showed birds being advertised for sale for tens of thousands of euros.
KPMG’s report, which the Australian government yesterday released selectively to News Corp before making it publicly available, found that the department had issued six permits to allow the export of animals to Germany and that there was prima facie evidence to suggest the birds had been offered for sale.
The review said that the department received allegations the “true purpose of the exports was commercial” shortly after the first permits were issued.
Despite this, the department failed to adequately investigate the allegations, making only general inquiries with the German authority responsible for managing wildlife trade, the report said.
Officials continued issuing permits, despite the response from German authorities being “general in nature.”
“After the allegations were made in relation to ACTP, further inquiries should have been made prior to the issuing of export permit 3, 4, 5, and 6,” the report said.
The investigation found those inquiries were not made because of deficiencies in the department’s systems, policies and procedures, rather than individual wrongdoing.
KPMG said that it had not investigated whether any party was involved in criminal conduct, as this was outside the scope of its review.
For its investigation, KPMG reviewed 945 department documents and interviewed 27 individuals, including Australian lawmaker Warren Entsch, who was one of the first people to raise the alarm with the department.
The Guardian Australia also provided information for KPMG’s inquiry.
The review said that KPMG had received “what appears prima facie to be evidence of birds being offered for sale,” but it said this evidence had not been provided to the department previously.
The report made eight recommendations, all of which would be adopted, Australian Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said.
Entsch welcomed the KPMG review, describing it as “long overdue.”
“The good thing about it is at last they’re talking about putting some level of traceability on the movement of birds, [but I am] disappointed that no individual has been held culpable for this,” Entsch said.
“They were warned from right after the first shipment. I sat them in my office pleading with them to make checks and get some expert advice,” he said. “I’m disappointed that they haven’t held any individual responsible. I’m also disappointed that the Guardian [Australia] weren’t acknowledged for the extraordinary effort put in to exposing this case.”
Ley said that she had ordered the report to ensure adequate protections were in place to thwart “dodgy dealers and exporters” seeking to profit from trade in native species, both in Australia and overseas.
“It is important that we are setting the highest possible benchmarks in the regulation of wildlife trade,” she said. “My department will be cracking down in all areas covered by the report to ensure we have the strongest systems in place.”
She said that the growing involvement of organized crime and sophisticated international operations in the trade of wildlife, along with the soaring value of Australian wildlife on black markets, underlined the need for the “strongest possible deterrent.”
“Already in the last 12 months we have secured a number of convictions and prison sentences for wildlife trade offenses,” she said. “The message for those who break the rules is that if you are caught you will go to jail, and the steps to emerge from this work will ensure that you will be caught.”
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