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Joint Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell
Australian Minister for Justice and Customs
Senator the Hon Christopher Ellison

30 September 2005

10,000 illegally imported fossils handed back to China

The largest-ever haul of illegally exported fossils from China was formally handed back from the Australian Government to the Chinese Government in Perth today.

Around 10,000 dinosaur and other fossils, dating back millions of years, were seized last year after being illegally exported from China.

Following a request from the Chinese Government in 2003, the fossils were recovered in a number of seizures involving the Department of the Environment and Heritage, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs Service. The items were seized under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

The Minister for Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said the scale of the seizure was extraordinary, consisting of some 10,000 fossil pieces and including dinosaur eggs, ancient turtles, a sabertooth cat, early elephants and rhinoceros as well as rare fossils of fish and reptiles.

“Some of the fossils are up to 230 million years old with a total value of between $4 and $5 million. Their recovery and return to the Chinese people will help ensure they are protected for future generations to experience,” Senator Campbell said.

The Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, said the Australian Government was one of the first countries to assist the People’s Republic of China in stopping the flow of illegally exported fossils from China.

“The Australian Government has great respect for the significance of these items as part of China’s scientific and cultural history, and is committed to ensuring the world’s important heritage is protected into the future,” Senator Ellison said.

Senator Ellison said some of the fossils had been bought by Australian residents who were unaware that they were purchasing illegal exports. He warned that such items could only be legally exported with a permit from the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources.

The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 regulates the export of cultural heritage objects from Australia, and includes provisions that allow the Australian Government to respond to official requests from foreign governments to return cultural heritage objects that have been illegally exported.

“The recovery of China’s fossils and their return today is an excellent example of our two countries working together to conserve and protect some of the world’s most important scientific and cultural heritage,” Senator Campbell said.

Betacam footage of the fossils is available from Senator Campbell’s office

Media Contacts:
Renae Stoikos (Minister Campbell) (02) 6277 7640 or 0418 568 434
Brad Burke (Minister Ellison) 02 6277 7260 or 0417 749 711

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