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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1304

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (15:30): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Education and Training (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Whish-Wilson today relating to the monitoring of whaling activities in the Southern Ocean.

The summer is coming to an end. Unfortunately we have no information at all on whether it has been another summer of slaughter in the Southern Ocean. Every summer, unfortunately, illegally, the Japanese government sends its harpoon boats to the Southern Ocean to kill whales under the guise of so-called scientific whaling. This is totally unacceptable to most Australians. It has been challenged through international courts by Australian governments and by other governments, especially through the ICJ, the International Court of Justice. Japan only recently had its whaling activities deemed to be illegal by that court yet it continues very disappointingly to flout its nose at the international community and send harpoon boats south.

Minister Greg Hunt sat on Peter Garrett's tail for years when he was environment minister. He would put out media releases every week asking what the Labor government was doing about illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean. Now that he is Minister for the Environment, he has the perfect opportunity to actually stand up on this issue and make it very clear that he has taken his responsibilities as the federal environment minister seriously. After all that stuff he said for all those years—there is blood in the water and a blind eye in Canberra—all the rhetoric, the emotive language he used, he has now got a chance to prove that he is not a phoney and that he meant what he said.

His government and Senator Colbeck, who was here earlier in question time, through his fishing portfolio, made a promise written into their documents to the Australian people going into the 2013 federal election that they would send a Customs vessel to monitor illegal Japanese whaling activity in the Southern Ocean. I have been asking for the last three summers: where is the Customs vessel? What have you observed? That promise has been broken. We are coming to the end of the summer and we are only months away from the federal election. It is a clear broken promise. While they campaigned on this in opposition and told the Labor government they should send the Customs vessel to do what it was bought for—an ice rated vessel that was bought for the Southern Ocean—this government has failed to keep its promise. There has been no Australian presence in the Southern Ocean.

Two years ago Minister Hunt borrowed an aircraft at a significant cost to the Australian Antarctic Division, an A319, went over and took some happy snaps of the Japanese whaling fleet, which no-one never got to see, and reported that all was fine. If that is it, if that is our presence, if that is our deterrence and if that is the extent of our monitoring of the illegal Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean then it does not come anywhere near enough for most Australians who care deeply about this issue.

This is one environmental issue—I can only think of one or two others I know of—that cuts across all political boundaries. It does not matter who you are, you do not want to see these magnificent creatures of the ocean being slaughtered by grenade tipped harpoon boats for so-called scientific whaling, which we know is a total farce. In fact it is a total lie by the Japanese government. They have been caught out by the International Court of Justice. They send these boats down there to collect these whales and whale meat for sale. They sell it on the internet. It is totally unacceptable in this day and age for us to be doing that with what is in Australia a federally protected species whose numbers are slowly coming back, which is something I am happy to report. It is not the time to be getting weak on whaling.

We have heard a lot in the last week around the defence white paper and what has been going on in the South China Sea, especially around the Spratly Islands. Of course Japan is one of the nations in our region involved in tensions around the Spratly Islands. We have heard a lot about the global rules based orders. Japan is not respecting a global rules based order when it comes to whaling. They are quite happy to flout that and do what they feel they want to do, much to the detriment of our environment. If they can do it on whaling, eventually they may do it on bluefin tuna and other resources of the sea. This is a very important issue.

The Australian government, while they say they protest and they have raised this at the highest levels, have failed and they should have sent the Customs vessel down there to monitor the Japanese fleet and let them know that we are there and we are watching our whales.

Question agreed to.