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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 4981

Mr GEORGANAS (2:58 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. What action is the government taking to end whaling in the Southern Ocean and around the world?

Mr GARRETT (Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts) —I thank the member for Hindmarsh for his question. I know he has a strong interest in the Rudd government’s actions in opposing so-called commercial whaling—scientific whaling—in the Southern Ocean and globally. The member asks me what actions the government is taking and I am pleased to report to the House on a number of actions that this government has taken in opposing commercial whaling and continuing to seek a permanent end to whaling worldwide, particularly in the Southern Ocean.

Since coming to office the government has embarked on a comprehensive diplomatic engagement on this issue, including the appointment of a Special Envoy on Whale Conservation. Additionally, we have advanced a strong reform agenda focusing particularly on conservation and science at the International Whaling Commission, which is the body that regulates these issues, a proposal that was widely supported and discussed and will continue to be the subject of deliberation in the IWC process. The Rudd government has also launched the largest research partnership of its kind in the world, the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, a $32 million non-lethal whale research partnership open to all nations of the International Whaling Commission, so that we can prove once and for all that we can have whale research without needing to kill a single whale. In the run-up to the IWC we have also brought forward our own reform agenda which sets out our compromise proposals, including a phase-out of Southern Ocean whaling within five years and specifically no targeting of endangered or threatened species.

Of course people listening will know that the government has taken the additional step, on 28 May, of announcing that Australia will initiate legal action in the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Japanese scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean, and that application is now lodged in the court. This is not a decision that is taken lightly. The government have been patient and committed in our efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to this issue. We have remained in intensive discussions in the IWC and bilaterally with Japan, and we will continue to work hard in the lead-up to and at the IWC meeting in June to pursue our objectives. We judge that the chance for an outcome at that meeting which meets Australia’s fundamental conservation objectives is slim, but Australia will continue to engage constructively in the diplomatic effort.

Importantly, we have enjoyed support for our proposals broadly from other IWC members who share Australia’s concerns and goals, but the fact is that recent statements by whaling countries in the commission have provided little hope that our commitment to conservation of the world’s whales will be reflected in any potential IWC compromise agreement. Having been unable to make the necessary progress we said we wanted to see, we now move to the next stage: legal action. I noticed some remarks from non-government organisations once that announcement was made. The International Fund for Animal Welfare said:

The Australian government is the leading voice in whale conservation and today’s announcement demonstrates that they are willing to put their words into action by taking this unprecedented step.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said on 28 May:

It is about time a government stood up for the whales and we commend the Rudd Government for showing backbone.

The fact is that this government has done more in just over two years on whale conservation than the coalition did under government in 12 years. It is a fact that the whale conservation efforts of the coalition, when they were in government, were miserable, were full of cliches and, critically, despite much table thumping, saw a doubling in the number of whales targeted in the Southern Ocean. That is the critical point here: in the entire period of time the coalition had carriage of this issue, the success of their activities can be judged by the fact that the number of whales targeted in the Southern Ocean doubled. That is because they have been confused over a number of matters in relation to taking re-election. Mr Hunt demanded that the government take international legal action, in August last year:

We think Australia should put together a coalition of nations to proceed legally against Japan under the International Law of the Sea.

In January the Leader of the Opposition said that legal action was not coalition policy. He said:

Coalition policy is not to take Japan to the International Court.

Then last Friday he had a bob each way with a hybrid model: ‘We do support appropriate action, but we are not sure if we support this specific action.’ The opposition leader should make it clear specifically whether he does support, or not, the government’s action to initiate legal action in the International Court of Justice. In the meantime, the government remain absolutely opposed to commercial whaling, including so-called scientific whaling, and we will continue our efforts and our actions to ensure that these majestic creatures are not killed in the name of science.