She believes an alligator bag “would raise eyebrows” among Australians.
“I would never lecture anyone on what they should wear or what they should eat, however there are, I think, some lines, which as society we are starting to decide it’s best not to cross. The example of the alligator skin handbag is one of them,” she said.
“If you’re comfortable with it and the law doesn’t tell you you can’t do it, obviously I’m not going to tell you you can’t do it. But if you do stop and think it may well be that it doesn’t fit your set of values.”
Imports of exotic animal goods are on the rise in Australia. Environment Department figures show there was a 12 per cent increase in the number of permits issued in 2018-19 compared with the year before.
At least 85 per cent of the permits related to reptile species. A third of the 2150 permits given were for American alligators.
“Almost all permits for reptile species were associated with fashion items such as handbags, shoes, watch straps and belts,” the department said in its annual report.
In the same year, more than a third of the items seized under environmental customs controls were lizard, crocodile or snake.
While consumers could be more sure about leather and skins that came from animals grown in Australia, where farmers face stringent animal welfare standards, Ms Ley warned importing goods from overseas meant you couldn’t be certain about how the animal had been treated.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Australia said the outrageous price tags on high fashion bags and shoes weren’t as outrageous as the farming practices.
“There’s tens of thousands of dollars paid for a living, breathing, feeling animal – just like a dog or a cat – to lay in tiny little enclosures in putrid water, in dark sheds, they never get sunshine, they never get fresh air, they never get clean water and then they’re hacked apart,” spokeswoman Emily Rice said.
“They’ve got this luxury label on them but there’s nothing glamorous about it at all.”
She also warned the poor conditions the animals were kept and slaughtered in led to a high disease risk.
“The floors are slick with blood and water and animals are laying on top of each other bleeding out – that’s how pandemics begin,” she said.
In April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was critical of the conditions in wet markets selling wildlife, like the one in Chinese province Wuhan where the coronavirus is believed to have originated from.
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Katina Curtis is a political reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.