Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Press conference, Whaling

Press conference
4 October 2011
E&OE only

TONY BURKE: Over the last few hours we've received advice from the post in Tokyo that the Japanese Government have now confirmed that they will be resuming whaling in the Southern Ocean in our coming summer.

When we talk to Japan, we talk to a friend, we talk to a very good friend. But we talk to a friend where we have a serious difference of opinion on this one. We say to Japan they do not need to do this. There is no justification for continued whaling, they should not be sending their fleet to the Southern Ocean.

Australia unequivocally condemns commercial whaling. We don't accept that this is scientific, it should not go ahead. Australia, as you know, has been involved in action before the International Court of Justice, we continue that action, we had always hoped that a diplomatic solution would provide the answer to this. Japan's continued practice of this 'so-called' scientific whaling continues, Australia continues to simply call for Japan - you don't need to wait for the legal action to run its course they can stop this any day and they should.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: Japan, last summer, finished their whaling season earlier than they said they would. They then announced they would conduct a review as to whether or not there would be continued whaling. They haven't waited for the outcome of that review, as I'm advised, they've simply gone ahead and decided that whaling will continue and it will continue this summer. It shouldn't. The rest of the world has moved for some time now in the exact opposite direction and Japan should take heed of the many calls that are made around the world. Strongly in particular from it's friend Australia to say simply stop whaling now.

QUESTION: So what will Australia do in response?

TONY BURKE: We are making sure, in diplomatic terms, and the terms I'm putting right now that the strongest possible view is put publicly. It remains the case that we have done what no other nation has done and that's launch formal international action against Japan. We do not believe that what they are proposing to do is lawful. That's why we have taken it to the appropriate court, that is the International Court of Justice, we also continue to provide ministerial level representation, this year it was me, at the International Whaling Commission to put our case forcefully to all the nations involved in the whaling commission but in particular the Japanese Government. There is no justification for this to continue. If they are serious about scientific research, you don't need to harpoon a whale to conduct scientific research.

QUESTION: Where are we up to on that court case?

TONY BURKE: The court action has had it's initial submissions put forward but there is a process for hearings. Legal action always takes longer than you want it to and it still does have some time to run and that is why the fastest way for this to end is for Japan to reach the conclusion that the rest has been at for some time now.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: I don't think that would be consistent with taking legal action before the International Court of Justice.

QUESTION: Is there a danger that some of the green groups could send another warship, send their own ships down there again. We could see some of the problems that we have in the past?

TONY BURKE: We certainly don't want to see anyone compromise safety at sea, we don't condone when people compromise safety at sea. That doesn't change the fact that we want Japan to stop. The decision they have announced in the last few hours is the wrong decision and one that they should not go ahead with.

QUESTION: That legal action could take a number of years, is it really the best way of going about this?

TONY BURKE: We need to recognise that we are dealing with a friend and we have tried every diplomatic action. In fact while we were continuing the diplomatic action I remember similar questions coming to us about why we didn't get on and launch the legal action. Well diplomacy was not able to deliver the result. Legal action is what we have now taken, every part of our strategy in that legal action is about one thing and that's trying to win the case, that's what we are doing. In the meantime this can all end early by Japan making the same decision that the world has recognised as the right decision and that's to stop commercial whaling.

QUESTION: Will the Government consider sending another monitoring vessel to the Southern Ocean this year to take pictures and gather legal evidence?

TONY BURKE: The pictures that we've previously taken on the vessel you described were for the purposes of preparing a legal case. We did that, we prepared the legal case and have taken that case to court. So in terms of the evidence that we believe we need, we have it and we are using it.

QUESTION: So you don't need any more?

TONY BURKE: We believe we have, in our legal advice - and I have met with Professor James Crawford from Cambridge who has been providing us with much of our legal advice for preparing our case. He's of the view that we have the legal evidence that we need.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: My message is that everybody should preserve safety at sea, everyone should preserve safety at sea. We don't want one wrong action compounded by violence and I just urge everybody in situations that could emerge in the Southern Ocean in the coming months simply to work on one simple basis - safety at sea has to remain paramount the whole way through. I say to the Japanese Government that they can stop this early.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: Absolutely not. That was an action taken to assist a friend in a time of massive humanitarian need. It was the right thing to do and it's quite separate to the objections that we have in terms of whaling.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

TONY BURKE: My understanding is there is still substantial stores of whale meat that they are unable to sell. I'm unaware of any link to the issues you've raised.