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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP



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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

Press Conference, Parliament House
Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Whale protection, research, conservation and whaling in Australia

Conall O'Connell – International Whaling Commission:

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Conall O'Connell and I'm the current Commissioner to the IWC for Australia. We're here today to commemorate twenty-five years of whale protection in Australia and I'd like to introduce Dr David Kemp the Minister for Environment and Heritage to take the proceedings forward.

David Kemp - Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage:

Conall, thank you very much. And I'm delighted to see so many here today both from government and from the non-government sector, because right across the community I think there are many, many hundreds and thousands of people in Australia who take great pride in what is being celebrated today. And who can take some personal pleasure in the contribution that they've made over the years to whale protection in Australia.

Can I welcome Senator Robert Hill in particular my predecessor in this portfolio, who was the first minister from an Australian government to attend the IWC meeting and I've certainly felt it very important to continue that.

I want to welcome also my parliamentary colleagues, senators, members of the House of Representatives, distinguished representatives of the public service departments and particularly people like Conall who have carried the fight at the official level in the International Whaling Commission, and especially those representatives of non-government organisations who are here today who played a very important role both in the establishment of the policy and in carrying this policy through both nationally and in the international arena.

We're here today to commemorate twenty-five years of whale protection in Australia. Almost exactly twenty-five years ago, on the fourth of April 1979, the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser delivered a ministerial statement on whaling. He pledged his governments – and, I use his words – total commitment to protect the whale. Because, he wanted to secure for future generations of Australians the opportunity of seeing these wonderful mammals in their natural habitat rather than seeing them merely as exhibits of an extinct species in a museum.

Malcolm Fraser's ministerial statement on whaling marked – if I can use the phrase – a sea change in our attitudes to whales and the very way we view our relationship with the environment. Until 1979, commercial whaling had been a key feature of Australia's economy and society. However by the second half of last century almost every species of whale had been hunted to the brink of extinction. And with growing, public concern at the inherent cruelty of killing whales, the need for a change in policy was clear.

Today we celebrate that change in policy from a proud, whaling nation to a nation dedicated to the protection of whales. From that time on, whaling would be banned in Australian waters and Australia would promote a ban on commercial whaling throughout the world.

Twenty-five years ago, Malcolm Fraser remarked that the government's deliberations were – and, I use his words again – immeasurably assisted by the hard work and dedication of conservation organisations.

Today that is still the case. Given the scientific expertise and considerable resources available to conservation organisations they continue to be key partners of the government and they're consulted regularly in the development of our policies.

I'm delighted that with us today we have some of the key non-government organisations and I won't mention them all but I'll particularly mention Project Jonah, who contributed to the original decision and was mentioned by the Prime Minister in the parliament at that time.

Also, we'll be concluding our formalities today with the presentation to the Australian Government of a “Gift to the Earth” award, the highest possible recognition awarded by the World Wide Fund for Nature to recognise Australia's commitment to whale protection.

I'd now like to just sketch in a little bit of the historical background, because today is an occasion when we can remind ourselves of where we've come from –

There was a time when Australia was a proud, whaling nation. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries whale oil and so called, whalebone were highly prized. Cities considered whale products indispensable for lighting, industrial lubrication, clothing and cosmetics.

Whalers employed and conscripted a multicultural workforce and grew rich from hunting the abundant whales they found in Australian waters. Whaling did help to build modern Australia and we need to recognise that. However, whaling rapidly over exploited its resource and there is a message to all of us in the fate of the whaling industry.

By 1935, no one hunted the favoured Southern Wright Whales. Why? Because there was so few left that they were hard to find. Twenty-six thousand had been taken from Australian waters alone of a total Southern Hemisphere population estimated at sixty thousand.

When the Southern Wrights were gone, whalers went after the Blue Whale. At thirty metres in length, the Blue Whale is the largest animal ever to inhabit the earth. Today only one or two per cent of the Blue Whales of the Southern Hemisphere remain.

The patterned continued for species after species. Over forty thousand migrating Humpback Whales were taken from Australian and New Zealand waters before that species was protected in the 1960s. In the single year of 1961-62, at least sixty-six thousand whales were killed worldwide. On top of this, pirate operations were rife, despite attempts by the international whaling commission to manage the hunts.

By the 1970s, most Australian operations had closed. In the first place they'd run out of whales to hunt, but it's also true that consumers had found alternatives and turned away from whale products and there was growing public disquiet at the methods used to kill whales.

Australia's last whaling station was based in Albany, Western Australia. And in that year it took approximately six hundred Sperm Whales until it too closed its doors in 1979.

As a result of the national inquiry into whales and whaling under Sir Sydney Frost, the government repealed the Whaling Act 1960, passed the Whale Protection Act 1980 and transferred whales policy from the minister for industry to the minister for science and the environment. The important of whale products and goods containing them were banned from the first of January 1981.

In the mid-1990s, fulfilling a key election commitment in coming into office in 1996, the Howard government commissioned another inquiry to revisit the topic of whales and whaling. The National Task Force on Whaling, chaired by Christopher Puplick, recommended that the government should strengthen its commitment to whale protection.

In particular, the government was advised to remain in the International Whaling Commission and in that commission to pursue a permanent international ban on commercial whaling as a long-term goal.

In 2000, the Howard government established the Australian Whale Sanctuary, part of an exclusive economic zone of some sixteen million square kilometres. A sanctuary that protects all satiations - that is whales, dolphins and porpoises.

Because we've so much left to learn about whales, whale research is today a priority of the Natural Heritage Trust. Since 1996, the Trust has provided some two point seven million dollars towards the conservation of whales. This funding contributes to the work of the small and dedicated band of scientists around Australia. They lead the world, not only in filling the gaps in our knowledge, but also in demonstrating that we can learn everything we need to know about whales without resorting to killing them.

I'm pleased to be able to announce that this year's NHT commitment will total three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. These policies of protecting whales are now having their desired impact in fostering the recovery of whale populations and of establishing a new industry of whale watching instead of whale killing.

In today's terms, the final season of whaling in Australia produced direct revenue of roughly nine point six million dollars, but the company made substantial losses. Today Australian whale watch operators are very profitable. They produce estimated direct revenues of forty-two point five million dollars, with an additional flow-on effect to our economy of between a hundred and forty-nine million dollars and three hundred and twenty-five million.

In Queensland, Natural Heritage Trust money's being used to monitor the Humpback Whales that migrate northwards along our coastline every winter.

It's sobering to reflect that around the time of Australia's decision to end whaling, this population was almost extinct. There were five hundred or fewer animals left. Thankfully the last survey showed that the population is recovering to well over four thousand.

At the head of the bite in South Australia the Natural Heritage Trust is supporting a long running study on the ecology and behaviour of Southern Wright Whales. This population was also critically endangered in the 1970s, yet with complete protection, the Australia population has begun to bounce back. We estimate now to around fourteen hundred animals.

In addition the Howard government will contribute record levels of funding for government scientists in the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart, over five hundred thousand dollars to boost the scientific research against lethal scientific whaling.

Today I'm pleased also to announce that the Howard government will be putting together a national approach to prevent whale beaching and entanglement. We'll develop with the states uniform responses to the tragic entanglement of whales and better coordinate scientific information from beached whales. Through this approach we hope to better understand and reduce the impact of this problem.

Over the last twenty-five years there's been a genuine cultural shift in how other sectors view whales. For example, the Department of Defence today funds research to study Blue Whales off Perth in Western Australia. Industry is also a key partner.

This week the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is launching a CD package to improve the reliability of field identification of whales and dolphins and assist in measures to enhance their conservation.

I want to finish my remarks by saying something about the international situation that we currently face. Since the change in policy, Australia has been a driving force behind strong whale conservation efforts in the International Whaling Commission. We're one hundred per cent behind retaining the moratorium on commercial whaling, which has stood since 1985/1986.

At the IWC, Australia has consistently supported the establishment of whale sanctuaries to protect whales in areas where they were once hunted to the brink of extinction and to allow researchers the opportunity to study these extraordinary animals free from disturbance by hunters.

I've regarded it as important that Australia should be represented at these meetings at ministerial level. Australia and New Zealand have jointly proposed a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary at the past four annual meetings of the IWC. This sanctuary would protect all eleven species of great whales found in the region, including all the species whose populations were significantly depleted through commercial whaling in the Southern Hemisphere.

It's been very encouraging on each occasion that we've received a majority of the vote, however, we haven't yet achieved the three-quarters voting majority that's required to establish the sanctuary. This year we will once more put the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary forward at the IWC.

Sanctuaries will be a key issue at this meeting, as the pro-whaling is lobbying hard, as it always does, for the dissolution of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Australia will take a lead role in defending the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, which reinforces our arguments for a sanctuary in the South Pacific.

At the IWC, we are outspoken opponents of all attempts to undermine the moratorium, not least through the disingenuous practice of, so-called, scientific whaling, which in reality is just thinly disguised commercial whaling.

The Australian government supports and promotes non-lethal research. We oppose the sort of research that delivers whale meat to food markets. At last year's IWC meeting, there was a further sign that more countries' attitudes are slowly shifting towards a conservation focus in managing whale stocks.

A significant win for the anti-whaling countries was the adoption of the Berlin Initiative, which establishes a conservation committee that will report to the IWC and that recognises that the IWC has evolved from a closed old-boys whaling club to an organisation committed to the conservation of whales.

So there is much to be optimistic about. About what the futures holds for whale conservation. I have no doubt that the tide of world opinion is moving to a position where whales will no longer be hunted and pushed towards the brink of extinction. History has shown that small interest groups, in this case the whaling industry, can slow change, but in the long run the voice of the growing community who opposed whaling will get louder and louder.

National government's will have to take stock and listen to their people and the people in Japan, in Norway and Iceland will have a very critical role to play in bringing an end, once and for all, to commercial whaling.

I'm very proud today, therefore, of Australia's achievements from a whaling nation to a whale conservation nation and of the way our public, our people and the community have transformed our national situation from one of commercial whaling to one where there is very strong public support for whale preservation and whale watching.

It's very, very encouraging also to see the revival of the whale populations. This revival as I have seen ... we've seen from the figures I've just quoted is not going to come quickly. But, let me just conclude on these words, if people find whale watching today a memorable experience and an inspirational experience as many do, imagine what that experience would be like if whale populations around Australia were to return to their pre-whaling numbers, when some twenty-five thousand Humpbacks annually migrate up the east coast of Australia.

Or, instead of around a thousand Southern Wrights we could see again a southern hemisphere population of around sixty thousand. Or instead of around fourteen hundred Blue Whales, there were some two hundred and forty thousand. What a fantastic site these populations would have been in the past. And what rewards await us if we do all we can to protect and revive the populations of the great whales.

Thank you for coming today.


Thank you Minister.

I'd like to call David Butcher of WWF to provide the Gift to the Earth.

David Butcher - World Wide Fund for Nature:

Thank you. I'm not sure how I can compete with the video that's playing at the same time, but Dr David Kemp, Senator Robert Hill, ladies and gentlemen.

It's actually a great pleasure to be here today on this twenty-fifty anniversary of our country banning whaling. And that is to recognise the commitment of the people and indeed government of Australia and can I say, all of those people – and, there's a number here today – who have been working for so long on whale conservation for their role in creating one of the most, globally significant networks – the whale sanctuaries – on the planet.

The WWF recognises outstanding conservation achievement with what we call a Gift to the Earth. A Gift to the Earth is a WWF initiative that was launched in 1996 to encourage governments, companies, organisations, indeed individuals to make major, conservation commitments.

We celebrate the achievements publicly to recognise this act of environmental leadership and to inspire others to act as well. To date there have been eighty-eight gifts celebrated by more than sixty governments and today WWF recognises Australia as one of eleven governments that are contributing to the global conservation effort.

This is the first time that we have recognised in this way, so many governments for one initiative and that is the creation of a network of national whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific.

The network of sanctuaries covers more than thirty million square kilometres of the South Pacific and it's only become possible because Australia and a number of other countries work together in partnership with its neighbours.

The regional cooperation that has been expressed has been decisive in protecting some of the critical migratory reefs and breeding grounds for eleven of the world's great whale species. And this will be key in restoring depleted pod populations back to the kind of majestic spectacle that the Minister just talked about.

The severely endangered Humpback Whale has now been given the opportunity to recover in the South Pacific. It was in August last year that I had a phone call, it was actually from my wife who works in an office building in Sydney that overlooks Circular Quay. And she rang me up and said, you know, the whole office is just so excited because there are three whales in Circular Quay.

Now, who could have ever imagined that twenty-five years ago when this initiative started? That we would suddenly have Humpback whales – well, not suddenly, after twenty-five years indeed – we would have Humpback whales back in Sydney Harbour and in a position where people going about their normal daily work could actually see them.

It was an inspiring site. Unfortunately I missed it but many, many people indeed saw it and commented on it. And talking about tourism, and the enhancement of tourism, is that kind of spectacle that will improve that industry and may go well beyond the forty-two million-odd dollars that the Minister mentioned.

There is still, however, a major role that Australia can play in brining onboard two of the countries that would make this sanctuary truly comprehensive. Solomon Islands and Kiribati are yet to sign up to this regional agreement and their inclusion in such a partnership would cement its historic initiative.

Through the Gift to the Earth, WWF recognises major conservation achievements and environmental leadership around the world. So WWF congratulates the Australian people for this major conservation outcome and is pleased to present to the Minister this Gift To the Earth award.

It comes in two components. One, which is the certificate, and indeed this very, very fine glass sculpture.


Thank you.


Thank you very much.



Thank you, David, and thank you, Minister. And drawing the proceedings to a close I'd like to invite you to both continue to look at the wonderful display of images on the screen, but also perhaps to take some time to look at the posters at the back, which give a very good illustration of the historical change that we've been through over the last hundred years or so.

And as David mentions, the whales in Sydney Harbour, which caused such a lot of people to stop work and look, it's interesting to note that in pre-war occasion the headline was, Whale In Sydney Harbour, Harpoon Attempt Failed. So we really have come a very long way in that time.

I'd like to again thank the Minister for attending the occasion and invite you all to enjoy some refreshments and look at the images. Thank you.

End of segment

Doorstop Interview

David Kemp - Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage:

… for dealing with whales that are being entangled in fishing lines and nets so that all the states and territories and the national government can have a consistent approach for dealing with this very sad situation.

The death of whales on beaches is very, very distressing for communities. It's obviously a very distressing moment for everyone who sees this kind of event and we want to make sure that we utilise the best science, best available to prevent these events happening and then to make sure that we handle whale beaching as effectively as possible to help the stranded animal.


So, very basically what is that outlined? What is the strategy, what does it involve?


Well, today we are announcing additional funding to assist with the strategy. It's going to mean working very closely with the states and territories. The whole aim of the strategy is to prevent entanglements by whales in fishing nets and fishing lines and to make sure that there are well understood procedures so that whale beaching occurs that those involved in rescuing the whales and dealing with them know exactly what to do to have the most positive effect and maximise the chances of putting those whales back in the ocean alive.


I understand the government's (indistinct) in the …


We're very proud today to be receiving a “Gift to the Earth” award from the World Wide Fund for Nature. This award is a great honour for Australia. It's the fourth such award that's been won by the Howard government and this award is in full recognition of the twenty-five year ban that Australia has had on commercial whaling and the world leadership that Australia is exercising in the International Whaling Commission.

It's important to understand that Australia is probably the country which has done more than any other to lead world opinions against the commercial killing of whales. Australia is very strongly opposed to the so-called, scientific whaling which is just commercial whaling under another guise and we have carried that vice into the International Whaling Commission.

I'll be going to the meeting of the International Whaling Commission late this year to once again put forward Australia's case for the South Pacific whale sanctuary. This whale sanctuary is already being implemented in a peace meal fashion by the nations of the South Pacific. What we want is a worldwide recognition of the importance of this sanctuary to the preservation of the great whales.

End of segment

Commonwealth of Australia