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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

6 February 2003

Australia Protests Iceland's Readmission to International Whaling Commission


The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today announced Australia has taken action to protest the readmission of Iceland, which has threatened to recommence commercial whaling by 2006, to the International Whaling Commission (IWC),

"After quitting the IWC in 1992, Iceland was readmitted in controversial circumstances at a special meeting of the Commission in October 2002. This controversy was sparked by a clause in Iceland's bid for readmission, which exempts it from the moratorium on commercial whaling. Under this self-proclaimed exemption, Iceland has threatened to start commercial whaling as early as 2006," Dr Kemp said.

Dr Kemp said he was also concerned by media reports that Iceland's Prime Minister, David Oddsson, said during a visit to Japan that Iceland may resume "scientific" whaling under research provisions of the Convention that created the IWC.

"Late last year, Iceland announced it envisaged a return to commercial whaling as soon as 2006. Now, it appears Iceland may start whaling even earlier – under the guise of scientific research," he said.

"I hope these reports are inaccurate. We already have a situation in which, in the name of ‘research', approximately 700 whales are killed each year for sale at market. This harvest adds nothing to our knowledge of whales that cannot be drawn from historical records and non-lethal research."

Overnight in Washington, Australia lodged an official document with the U.S. Department of State – the depository government for the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling dealing with Iceland's refusal to abide by the moratorium.

This document states: 'The Government of Australia considers that the reservation [to the ban on commercial whaling] is prohibited as it is incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention.'

"As a result of Australia's action, any whaling by Iceland would breach the Convention which stands between Australia and Iceland. In IWC parlance, it would be from Australia's perspective an "infraction" against the rules of the Convention. We would therefore be well placed to call that country to account before the IWC.

"We are hopeful that other governments that belong to the IWC will follow suit and register protests. If they do, it will send a strong message to any countries intending to resume whaling without the support of the international community.

"Australia expects members of the IWC to participate on an equal basis to other Commission members. More than a dozen other countries have joined the IWC over the past three years. None of these have attempted to exempt themselves from the moratorium or any other provisions of the Convention.

"Iceland should be as bound by the whaling ban as other members. Anything less threatens to render the Convention meaningless and, as I stated in October 2002 when Iceland made its bid for readmission, set a precedent that could have negative consequences for the orderly development of international law and could possibly undermine the authority of other international conventions."

Before withdrawing from the IWC in 1992, Iceland was subject to the moratorium on commercial whaling. Icelandic whalers continued their commercial trade in whale products for three years after the moratorium came into effect (1986-89) under "scientific whaling".

"Australia has consistently called for the cessation of this so-called scientific version of what is, in reality, commercial whaling. Any decision to expand existing whaling or to establish new industries strikes me as absurd, given the moratorium," Dr Kemp said.

"Such developments underline the significance of the next IWC meeting, to be held in Berlin in June 2003. At this meeting, Australia will continue the drive for the permanent cessation of commercial whaling, including lethal research, and for the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary."

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

Commonwealth of Australia