Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Doorstop interview: Whaling

16 February 2013

QUESTION: Minister, are you able to confirm anything that is happening at the moment in the Australian territory off the Antarctic?

BURKE: We've seen the reports, they are as yet unconfirmed, about the particular slaughter of a whale by the Japanese whaling fleet. I know there has been a focus as to whether or not this is in territorial waters. Can I just say, it doesn't matter what part of the ocean it is in, Australia's view is that it is just as illegal. That's why we have taken Japan to the international court of justice. I think it would be a terrible situation if we started to go down the path of arguing that in one part of the ocean we thought whaling was ok and in others it wasn't. It doesn't matter where it occurs, whaling is not necessary, it is cruel and it has nothing to do with science. The Japanese Government really needs to finally recognise that there is nothing scientific about harpooning a whale to cut it up and sell it for food.

QUESTION: I understand from the Sea Shepherd now that they are blocking the ship from offloading the whale on to the factory ship. What's your view of the way they are acting at the moment? They are clearly blocking one ship from doing something with another.

BURKE: I just ask everyone involved to be terribly careful about safety at sea. The behaviour of the Japanese fleet and whats happening to whales which are meant to be protected is appalling enough, I don't want to see a human cost added to it.

QUESTION: Doesn't this all make a farce of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. According to Sea Shepherd that's where they caught the whale, in the sanctuary, in Australian territorial waters.

BURKE: We're opposed to it wherever it occurs, not only there but paricularly in a whale sanctuary. For Japan to choose that as a site is deeply offensive. These are arguments that we have currently got before the International Court of Justice. New Zealand have now taken an interest in those proceedings as well. That's the strongest legal action a nation is able to take and in terms of language we use the strongest language available to us about Japan's action. We condemn the activity Japan is involved with and while it is worse witin a whale sanctuary that doesn't mean it is acceptable anywhere. This is not a scientific project.

QUESTION: Is this all the Government can do? The Opposition this morning was saying there is more you can do, is this all the Government can do?

BURKE: The Opposition's proposal would make the situation so much worse. What they are suggesting is that we have an Australian vessel there whose job is to watch and do nothing. Could you imagine what a boost to  Japanese whaling it would be, if there was an Australian vessel just watching on and nodding. It's much better that we have taken the legal action that we have taken, that we are in the International Court of Justice, that we are getting close and closer to decision day there. We're calling this for what we believe it is and that is unlawful activity.

QUESTION: Would you expect the Japanese Government, if the ruling goes in your favour, would you expect the Japanese Government to observe the ruling?


QUESTION: And have they suggested to you that they will?

BURKE: Japan, as an international citizen, understands the importance of international law and understands the significance of an action within the International Court of Justice. They've run various legal arguments, it's probably not appropriate for me to canvass each of the legal technicalities that they've raised. Let me say this, at its core is whether or not they have access to a loophole that they are engaging in a scientific process. We have Australian researchers conducitng research on whales every day, they don't need to kill them, to harpoon them, to chop them up. They actually conduct proper scientific research, it's a total abuse from beginning to end what Japan has been doing.