Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Intervention and safety at sea

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Associated Press
12 July 2011

JOURNALIST: Thank you for your time. Things got a bit heated on the floor today, explain what happened this morning between Japan and Australia.

BURKE: Certainly, everyone agrees that there are deep concerns about safety at sea and there have been situations where human life has been put in danger. Everybody shares those concerns. There's a different forum that deals with that, the International Maritime Organisation.

There were some requests made at the meeting today by Japan that Australia could not abide by. To the extent that they were asking that we all abide by the safety at sea principles and the international law of the sea, we do. There is no argument there at all.

But to the extent that Japan was wanting to ask Australia to provide their whaling vessels with a higher level of protection than we would provide to any other vessels within our search and rescue zone, we simply can't agree to that. The international law of the sea provides a framework, that's what we abide by. But any request that there be special levels of protection for whaling vessels, that is something that Australia could not agree to.

JOURNALIST: I also heard a bit of skepticism from you today with the Japanese describing all those vessels as scientific vessels.

BURKE: On a number of occasions they were referring to research vessels. The so-called scientific whaling lacks any scientific argument behind it. What's going on there is commercial whaling, Australia is opposed to commercial waling and that is why we've taken them to the International Court of Justice.

We have a good relationship with Japan, it's a difference between friends but nonetheless it is a strong difference of opinion. We do not believe that this is scientific research in any way. We view it as commercial whaling, we view it as being contrary to the moratorium.

JOURNALIST: Finally, on the flip side we saw the Japanese video today of the Sea Shepard guys. Some of it looked pretty dangerous. Obviously, the Japanese video was edited carefully but some of those Sea Shepard tactics look pretty dodgy. What is Australia's message to the direct action folks?

BURKE: Anybody who is involved in putting human life at risk, we say don't. It's as simple as that. The law of the sea is there to protect people when they're in the oceans. While we can support peaceful forms of protest whenever a protest risks human life we can't back that, we don't back that. We don't want to pretend that you've got one side behaving impeccably and the other side not. You've got to be realistic. But not withstanding that, it remains the case that safety at sea needs to be respected and whenever somebody breaks those rules then we want to make sure that the international law of the sea is appropriately enforced and Australia does enforce the law of the sea.

JOURNALIST: Thank you for your time.