Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Interview with David Koch, Sunrise

21 February 2013

DAVID KOCH: Well, anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd says boats have been damaged in a clash with Japanese whalers in Australian Antarctic waters. A Japanese ship allegedly rammed the boats from the conservation group's fleet after a two-day standoff. They claim it then slammed into its own fuel tanker.

Former Green's leader and director of the anti-whaling group, Bob Brown, has called for the Australian Government to intervene. Well, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke joins us now.

Tony, first of all there have been reports Japan has suspended its whale hunt as a result of the incident. Have you been able to confirm whether that's the case?

TONY BURKE: No, we've heard the reports the same as you. We haven't been able to confirm them yet but obviously a temporary suspension still isn't good enough. Japan needs to stop this once and for all.

DAVID KOCH: Okay. What are you going to do about these collisions on the high seas in our waters? Is it time to again send down our navy, just to sort things out?

TONY BURKE: In terms of sending in the Navy, you've got to make sure you don't have a response here that blows up a whole lot of other things. The reason - even though they're our territorial waters, we don't assert that and that's part of the whole Antarctic Treaty System, which prevents mining in Antarctica. You don't want to blow up that system.

At the same time, what's happening down there at the moment is completely unacceptable and there's a whole range of potential breaches that the Maritime Safety Authority is now working through, because it is in our search and rescue zone.

The risk of an oil spill and making sure that they don't have heavy oils on board, the reports that we're getting about explosive devices being thrown from one vessel to another, there's a series of breaches here and it's within the Antarctic zone. So not only are we finding a situation where alleged loopholes are being used with this so-called scientific whaling, where they're claiming it's science to harpoon a whale, chop it up and eat it, but secondly, once they go below sixty degrees they're in the Antarctic area there. They're in an area that's meant to be a nature reserve...

DAVID KOCH: Wow.

TONY BURKE: ...preserved only for true science.

DAVID KOCH: Hey, you're talking tough on this. No diplomacy in those words. What are you going to do about it? Yes, I know you don't want to blow it out of proportion and start a big international incident but it's basically he said, she said at the moment. Are you going to send - can you send down a Custom's boat? What are you going to do?

TONY BURKE: Maritime Safety Authority's getting the information at the moment to be able to deal - because they ultimately end up having to do the search and rescue if anything absolutely dreadful in terms of human life were to occur. But what we are watching and what we've been seeing Japan do in that Southern Ocean year on year now, is just disgusting. No other way of describing it.

Now, as a government we don't settle it in the car park, we settle in the court and the court case in initial…

DAVID KOCH: Yeah, but that's what they hope and they just delay it. It takes years. It's been happening for years, because we being the nice guys saying we'll take you to court but they just keep delaying and delaying and delaying it and it keeps going on.

TONY BURKE: I've got to say with that court case we are now getting very close. It has been too long. We are now getting very close on that. But I'm not going to take an action that blows up the Antarctic Treaty System either. You know, I'm not going to try to do the right thing on this and in turn create a weakness on preventing mining and other activities in the Antarctic.

So while some people would like us to assert the territorial authority, we're not going to do that. What we will do though is take the action that we've taken already with the International Court of Justice to make sure that this gimmick that they've got claiming that's its scientific whaling, when everybody knows that's a con, that they don't get away with that. But there's a series of new breaches that the Maritime Safety Authority needs to work through now.

DAVID KOCH: Okay. Good to see you talking tough, Tony. Thanks for your time.

TONY BURKE: Good to talk to you.

ENDS