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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

15 October 2002

Pro-Whaling Numbers Increase in the IWC

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today expressed his deep regret at the decision of the special meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the United Kingdom overnight to readmit Iceland to membership of the IWC.

Iceland withdrew from the IWC in 1992. It had been subject to the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986. Iceland has now rejoined the IWC while entering a reservation excluding itself from the moratorium on commercial whaling. Under the authority of this reservation Iceland is also threatening to start commercial whaling again as early as 2006.

"Iceland has been allowed back in, even though they do not intend to abide by the Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling," Dr Kemp said.

"Iceland will also now be able to vote in the Commission as part of the pro-whaling bloc, which will make the conservation-minded nations' task all the more difficult.

"Australia would have welcomed Iceland back into the IWC, if Iceland was seeking to participate on an equal basis to other Commission members. However, we have consistently argued that the decisions at the last two sessions of the IWC effectively excluding Iceland should stand.

"I will be looking very closely as details emerge of this development as to the appropriate actions Australia can take in response to Iceland's admittance. I reaffirm that the Howard Government will continue its strong stance to maintain the moratorium on commercial whaling and in developing a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary despite this development.

"This development threatens to render the IWC Convention meaningless, by allowing individual members to set their own rules. The precedent it sets could have negative consequences for the orderly development of international law more generally."

The special meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Cambridge, UK, was convened to address some outstanding issues left in the wake of the acrimonious IWC meeting held in May 2002 in Shimonoseki, Japan. Iceland's bid for membership was a last-minute addition to the agenda.

The meeting approved the joint quota of bowhead whales needed for the subsistence of the indigenous peoples of Alaska and eastern Russia, which had been left unresolved in Shimonoseki. The meeting also rejected a motion for the IWC to allow coastal whalers to take a commercial quota of minke whales off Japan.

"These decisions showed that IWC members were capable of resolving sensitive issues. We can only hope that the Iceland debacle will also be resolved. Australia for one will be looking very closely at the legal basis of the admission of Iceland," Dr Kemp said.

"We will redouble our efforts to preserve the integrity of the IWC."

Media contact:
Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400

Commonwealth of Australia