Movable Cultural Heritage Act

Regarding Fossil and Meteorite export laws.

Be warned:

The Department of Movable Cultural Heritage is an extremely dysfunctional department with a bureaucratic agenda that does nothing to preserve our heritage,minimal contact is strongly advised.

My experience is as follows:

On Friday the 11th of March I received a visit from approximately 50 federal police, cultural heritage officers including 5 scientists from the Australian and Western Australian Museums.

They visited 5 properties I was associated with including my home.

They began their raids at approx 7 am; as you can imagine after just returning from 6 weeks overseas and being really jet lagged I wasn’t overly impressed.

After the initial shock of seeing 12 officers at my door and then barging their way through the house, I quickly settled down.

My wife was rather dismayed to say the least. Upon doing the rounds and introducing myself to all the officers I was shocked to discover Glenn Swinghammer from the department of Movable cultural heritage in my home office looking at papers. I immediately demanded his removal from my house and my presence. After some discussion with the officer in charge he agreed and asked Glenn to go!

The issue at hand wasn’t drugs it was fossils.

The Department of Movable Cultural Heritage upon requests from the Chinese and Argentine governments have decided to seize all fossils belonging to these countries, even though dealers and collectors have be importing specimens for over 30 years to my knowledge, Curiously China appears to have enacted specific legislation in the last 2 years and Argentina more recently than that.

Requests of specific information from the department and even verification of the specifics of these law was not forthcoming. The department have been extremely secretive about their actions and their directions, Rather than inform people of the problem Kevin Wohlers the head of the department had decided that raids on dealers and smaller shops would be more effective.

The agency would appear to be more interested in publicity for the department than any regard for the people involved. A vast amount of public money has been used in order to finance these raids not considering the waste of resources. A small shop in Canberra was being raided by 5 officers to retrieve a small single egg worth about $200. He told me after that standing at his front door he could point out 3 people dealing drugs. On the other hand they did discover 3 container loads of fossils that were planned for a children’s Museum in Western Australia.

What really concerns me is the manner in which the department handles these issues using secrecy, impunity and the federal police to intimidate people. Having dealt with this department over 13 years I realise the current administration have no interest in the things we collect, they have very little sense of reason and appear to act out of the need to substantiate their existence with the publicity they create.

After inviting the department to visit my premises, trips to Canberra with my staff, to create a working environment I soon realised they were bureaucrats with their own agenda.

Their staff members have lied to me on numerous occasions, one staff member attempted to use the federal police to warn and intimidate me not to publish my complaints against the department.

When I informed Kevin Wohlers that purgery in a federal case against another dealer occurred, he dismissed it. If the case where I was expert witness for the defense in 1992 occurred today, it would be thrown out of court. In the past 13 years this department has been involved in numerous searches of my freight in and out of the country, harassed my self and many of my staff at airports with the use of federal police and customs.

They have destroyed over $60,000 of minerals and fossil specimens in their searches, Kevin Wohler’s response is “It is not our responsibility to deny or acknowledge our activities. No “we’re sorry” or “how can we avoid this in the future?”

Due to legal warnings from Movable Cultural Heritage, and other associated departments, I am, on Friday the 21st, able to provide a comprehensive outline on the activities of the department and its associated enforcement branches.

Legislation in Australia

requires that all Fossils, meteorites and Minerals (above $10,000 in current market values) require letters of clearance from “expert examiners” or export permits. These letters of clearance are easily obtained though permits and can take a while to process. This examination process is done on a no charge basis usually by Museum curators or collection managers.

Objects deemed to be of special significance or not well represented in museum collections can be refused permits. The sales of significant specimens within Australia is not prohibited. Western Australia has specific legislation with regards to collecting and selling of Meteorites, as does South Australia; other states do not appear to have issues.

Queensland legislation is very unclear, as requests by me to the museum to provide documentation have been refused.

Western Australia has currently established a “Special Commodities” Law enforcement squad to oversee and contrail the movement of significant cultural heritage items from that state (e-mail address can be provided on request). I believe that the formation of this special police squad is a forerunner to possible changes in Western Australian legislation. Areas of concern appear to be with Megafuana sites on the Nullarbor Plains as well as Gogo Station for its rare Devonian Fish. More information will be provided as it is made available. South Australia appears to be concerned particularly with regards to Ediacarian Fauna from the Flinders Ranges. The current public belief is that all material in private hands has been stolen. This is not correct. Protection is only given to specimens found within the reserve area which is only a very small part of the total area of outcrop. Though raids in recent years by state authorities on private collections have led to the interpretation of legislation that the crown holds rights on all items collected under the fossicking act.

World Heritage Fossil sites are very sensitive areas culturally. Recent problems in Riverslea in Queensland are a major concern to authorities. I would certainly advise any collectors having material in their possession to make the museums aware of this material as serious penalties can result if somebody is found to possess recently collected material.

Dinosaur Footprints
There is obviously a need for control and legislation to protect and preserve important sites. The stolen Dinosaur footprints from Western Australia obviously highlight this. I believe that it is important to have enforcement and controls in place so long that it is done rationally, without intimidation and harassment, which at the moment is not the case.
My comments regarding my contact and experience with Movable Cultural Heritage department have been deleted for legal reasons. Attempts to publish my comments overseas have been restricted due to the recent High Court ruling regarding Joe Gutnick, “that the state or country where the information has been downloaded is deemed that place where it is published”.

Movable Cultural Heritage legislation can be found at the following site

All information provided on this page is not necessarily current. State legislation can change as does the legal interpretation of this legislation.

All information provided on this page is not necessarily current. State legislation can change as does the legal interpretation of this legislation.

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