Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Subjects: International Whaling Commission – whaling in the Southern Ocean – Sea Shepherd

E&OE Transcript
Interview with Anna Coren, CNN World Report
14 July 2011

ANNA COREN: Well it certainly is a highly emotional environmental debate. I had a chance to speak with the Australian Environment Minister, Tony Burke, a short time ago. Well, he joined me by phone from London and I began by asking him about Australia’s proposal for non-lethal scientific research.

TONY BURKE: Certainly there’s more and more talk about the non-lethal work and it’s something that no one can argue against. No one can argue against research that’s about finding out more about these magnificent creatures.

We’ve launched a new study while we were there into the blue whale. People forget, you know, there was never a dinosaur as big as the blue whale.

It’s the largest creature ever on the planet and these days, for something that big, they’re incredibly difficult to find. We don’t know how many there are. So we’ve launched a new partnership with that. The United States engaged in that, as well. A few other countries are getting involved.

So there is a way forward on research that allows us to find out so much more about whales and doesn’t involve killing them on the way through.

ANNA COREN: Now Sea Shepherd’s actions forced Japan to abandon its whaling season early this year. This is obviously something in principle that Australia supports, but Sea Shepherd has also been described as pirates and terrorists. Where does Australia stand on that?

TONY BURKE: We don’t support violent action on the oceans. We don’t want people to have their lives in danger. The international law of the sea needs to be invoked. We have some investigations that the Australian Federal Police have been engaging in, as well, on this.

So when Japan - notwithstanding that we don’t think Japan should be in the Southern Ocean whaling - we also don’t support actions that put any of their crew at risk.

Japan ended up going a bit further than just wanting us to enforce the international law of the sea and was asking for us to provide extra measures beyond what we’d provide for any other vessel. Australia’s not going to be in the business of, simply because you’re involved in whaling, you somehow get a higher level of surveillance than anyone else. But notwithstanding that, the actions whenever someone’s involved in violent action, we can’t support that.

ANNA COREN: But Australia has been attacked for supporting Sea Shepherd and providing a ship registration and port facilities. So in some way, is Australia not condoning Sea Shepherd’s actions?

TONY BURKE: Well, I think what’s being asked there is we’re being asked in advance of police investigations having concluded that we take action anyway. Now, we can’t do that and that’s the whole concept of having a police process is a conducted investigation, a criminal threshold’s either been reached or it hasn’t and you go through the due process of law.

To jump in front of all of that and start making decisions about registration and about port facilities in the absence of other evidence is something that would pre-judge the outcomes of the work of the police, something that we wouldn't do for any other vessel and an example of where we’re being asked to go - by Japan - to go further than what the obligations are under the international law of the sea.

ANNA COREN: Now Australia is taking Japan to the International Court of Justice in the Hague to obviously hope that Japan will stop whaling. This is going to be a drawn out process. What do you realistically hope to achieve?

TONY BURKE: We want whaling to stop. We want commercial whaling to stop. That’s the objective here.

There’s a moratorium on commercial whaling at the moment. Japan say that it doesn’t apply to them on the grounds that they describe this as scientific whaling. We don’t believe that science into whales involves harpooning them.

ANNA COREN: That was Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke speaking to me a short time ago. We reached out to the Japanese delegates at the Whaling Conference in Jersey, but they were unable to comment.