Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Intervention on safety at sea

E&OE Speech transcript
International Whaling Commission, Jersey UK
12 July 2011

TONY BURKE: Thank you very much Mr Chair.

While Australia has intervened previously, this is my first opportunity as Australia's Minister for the Environment to intervene and I wish to congratulate you on the role that you've taken on and the work that you've been doing with the Commission.

Mr Chair, Australia's position on safety at sea is actually shared by the Japanese Government. Nothing less than full compliance with domestic and international laws is acceptable. Safety at sea is important enough to make sure that laws are enforced and also important enough to make sure that appropriate international fora are used.

The International Maritime Organization is the appropriate forum for safety at sea. It had a resolution on the 17th of May of last year, specifically dealing with assuring safety during demonstrations, protests or confrontations on the high seas. It is extremely important to ensure safety at sea. The Australian Federal Police continues to deal with the investigations which have been put to us and deal with them through the appropriate law enforcement agency which we have.

But what is also being asked in the presentation by Japan are two further things.

First, every description of the whaling vessels involved was a reference to research vessels, to Antarctic research activities, to legitimate research activities. Those particular views are views that Australia cannot hold.

Secondly, the presentation from Japan also raised the issue of asking Australia to do more than what are our legal obligations under the International Law of the Sea. We cannot be in a situation where we are providing a higher level of support for a whaling vessel than we would provide to any other vessel within the waters, or within our responsibilities under the International Law of the Sea. That is effectively what is being asked.

So as long as the issue is focused on genuinely ensuring safety at sea, Australia is there and we are there to help provide our international obligations and indeed, Mr Chair, to also make sure that we provide an equal level of protection for all vessels. But to the extent that we are being asked to provide specific protection above and beyond, simply because a vessel is involved in whaling is something which goes beyond the reasonable expectations of safety at sea. And indeed the appropriate forum is not here but is the International Maritime Organization.