Ellison did not identify the 39-year-old man, who was caught at Sydney airport Tuesday and faces up to 10 years in jail and a fine of 110,000 dollars (83,000 US) if convicted of attempting to smuggle regulated wildlife.
But The Australian newspaper said the man was a senior official in the office of South Korean Prime Minister Goh Kun who arrived in the country Sunday and told customs agents he bought the birds at a pet shop for his personal collection.
Ellison said 10 finches and nine parrots were found alive in small cardboard boxes in the man's carry-on luggage as he tried to board a flight to Seoul.
Customs officers searched the luggage after receiving a telephone tip-off, he said.
"Officers at the airport were then able to move quickly to thwart a cruel attempt to smuggle unique and protected fauna out of Australia," he said.
The man's checked baggage contained bird cages, nets and literature on native Australian birds, he said.
The South Korean appeared in a Sydney court on Wednesday and was released on bail and told to return to court on Tuesday.
The 19 birds were taken to Sydney's Targona Zoo.