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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
ABC Radio National
Monday, 20 May 2002
It's a case of try, try and try again. Yes, the push for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary is on for the fourth year in a row. In what's become an annual fight within the International Whaling Commission, Australia and New Zealand are hoping to boost the protection of whales at this week's meeting in Japan.
But the IWC is a divided and controversial organisation and Japan was accused of bribing Caribbean nations to vote against a Pacific sanctuary last year, a claim it still denies. Heading Australia's campaign is Dr David Kemp, the Federal Environment Minister joins us now from Tokyo. Minister, good morning.
Good morning Cathy.
What gives you hope a sanctuary will get up this time round?
Well, I'm not saying that I'm hopeful that it will actually get the required number of votes, which is three quarters of the total. I'm hopeful that we will maintain majority support for the sanctuary and I'm also hopeful that Japan will recognise the fact that South Pacific nations are united in their desire to see the South Pacific sanctuary come into existence and that the argument that they should have respect for the views of the South Pacific nations will weigh with more of the countries at the Commission.
You need a three quarter majority vote to win approval, no doubt you've crunched the numbers?
Well, the numbers have been growing until last Friday, so we're still calculating the actual vote and we probably won't know the final outcome until we see the votes cast on the floor. I've been advised that the number of members has risen from thirty-nine earlier in May up to forty-seven now. So, obviously there's been quite a lot of diplomacy behind this meeting to bring new countries in. How they will all vote remains to be seen.
I believe some of them are supporting the South Pacific sanctuary and some of them are opposed to it, so the final balance still has to be seen.
Well, it failed last year because of a block of Caribbean nations and Japan was accused of vote buying and using its aid budget. What's to stop this happening again this year?
Well, those accusations have been made. The Australian position is that we must have absolute transparency in Commission dealings. We are concerned that allegations of coercion and vote buying are detrimental to the functions of the IWC and we'll be pushing very strongly for complete transparency in the dealings of the Commission.
In the end countries have to make up their own minds and the vote will only tell how close we are to the South Pacific sanctuary. But let me also make the point that we're not just pushing for the South Pacific sanctuary, we're also supporting nations in South America for a South Atlantic sanctuary and we're opposing the push by Japan to remove existing sanctuaries from the Commission. So, there's going to be a very keen and rather tough debate at the Commission this year to make sure that we maintain all existing sanctuaries and that we indicate that there is very strong support from large numbers of nations around the world to extend those sanctuaries.
We were delighted to see Papua New Guinea recently declare its exclusive economic zone a sanctuary. French Polynesia did the same last week. Niue has done the same. So, increasing areas of that part of the ocean which would fall within the South Pacific sanctuary are now falling within nationally declared sanctuaries, so we are making progress but it's a slow business.
In the past scientific research supporting a Pacific sanctuary has been questioned, will new research be put to the Commission this week?
Well, we don't believe that there is a need for any further research. The scientific research is quite clear. Whale stocks have been very seriously depleted. The area of the South Pacific sanctuary is a very important feeding and breeding ground for whales. Linked as it is to the southern sanctuary it would give tremendous potential to the revival of whale stocks and that evidence is well before the Commission. I don't believe the Commission itself feels that that evidence needs to be rehearsed again at this meeting.
So, what species of whale would most benefit from a Pacific sanctuary?
Well, the South Pacific sanctuary is a very important area for the great whales. There are very few Blue Whales around, the Fin Whales are important and the whole range of Sperm Whales. A very large number of the very big whales, the whales at the top of the food chain would benefit from a South Pacific sanctuary, as would many of the other smaller whales like the Minke Whales which Japan is still killing as part of its so-called scientific program. And we'll be opposing at this meeting the lethal scientific program that Japan has in place as well.
As you mention, it's not just about the Pacific sanctuary. Brazil is also proposing a sanctuary in the South Atlantic. Will this take a back seat though to the Pacific sanctuary?
There will be a lot of focus on the South Pacific sanctuary, just because the South Pacific nations are increasingly raising their voices against the exploitation by Japan of seas which are actually now declared sanctuaries like the south sanctuary, but they're still doing their scientific ... and I say that in inverted commas, their scientific whaling in the southern sanctuary. That just makes a mockery of the notion of sanctuary. And that's why support for the extension of the sanctuary areas into the South Pacific is going to have to be argued very strongly.
But I hope that Japan will show respect for the views, the very strongly held views, of the nations of the region.
The Japanese Prime Minister visited Australia recently. Did the issue of the whale sanctuary come up in those talks?
Well, at that meeting, the Prime Minister made the point to the Japanese Prime Minister and agreed that I would be meeting with the Environment Minister in Japan, and I'll be also meeting with that Minister this morning. So, we'll get some sense then of whether or not he wants to contest the issue of whaling.
It's certainly a view on which Australia and Japan have agreed to disagree, and so I don't expect there will be any change in Japan's official position at this time. But they know that the South Pacific nations are mobilising, and I just hope that we've got the votes at this Commission to maintain the majority.
Is the moratorium on commercial whaling also up for debate?
Yes. The Japanese of course are trying to roll back that moratorium. They're seeking to extend the right of nations to take whales. There's going to be consideration of a revised management plan. And this is another very crucial matter at this forum.
Australia believes that it is completely premature to revise or put in place another management plan because there's no consensus on what that plan should be. There's no agreement that there should be a zero catch. And if a revised management plan were put in place, it would be very easy for Japan to enter a reservation to the revised plan, and that would leave it free as Norway is at the moment to resume commercial whaling.
Australia is arguing and debating very strongly with a range of countries that have different views about the desirability of a revised management plan. There are countries who support us on the South Pacific sanctuary who believe that it would be possible to put into place a tight revised management plan that would prevent the resumption of commercial whaling, but Australia doesn't believe that's the case, and that there would be loopholes, and so we'll be voting against that as well.
David Kemp, thanks for your time this morning.
Thank you very much, Cathy.
Dr David Kemp, the Federal Environment Minister.