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ABC, Day shift with Carol Duncan
20 October 2008
CAROL DUNCAN : Have you been out to see the whales heading south? It is that time of year again, when lots of us will go and have a sticky to see if we can spot a whale on its southern migration to the feeding grounds, to fatten up before they turn around and head north again. And concerns continue to abound about the annual killing of whales in the name of scientific research.
Australia's official position is, of course, against it. And in an effort to try and open a more productive dialogue with country's like Japan, the Government has appointed a whale envoy, former Sydney Olympic chief Sandy Hollway.
And to tell us more I'm joined by the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
Minister, as you would know, we have a very active community up here that is very interested in seeing our whale species preserved along our coast, and in the Southern Ocean indeed. And the appointment of Sandy Hollway is our - Australia's first whale envoy is fulfilling an election promise, but what will it actually mean?
PETER GARRETT: The Government's decision to appoint a whale envoy means that we will have a more and stronger and deeper dialogue with Japan and with other countries internationally, to find a diplomatic solution to socalled scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean.
This is a commitment that the Government made as a part of its overall strategy, to oppose the killing of whales in the Southern Ocean. And it will enable us to have a stronger diplomatic effort as we continue our discussions, both with Japan, but also with other nations and international communities.
CAROL DUNCAN: How important is it that we get in there and forge these sorts of personal relationships, because undoubtedly the way voting goes at the International Whaling Commission, has been very, very flawed indeed and not really done anybody any favours.
PETER GARRETT: Well this is an important part of the Government strategy. I think we had a very good meeting earlier in the year in Chile in the International Whaling Commission, because Australia's proposals for non-lethal whale research and a strong conservation agenda for the Commission were broadly supported.
But we still need to have a strong and really deep dialogue with leaders in other countries, particularly in Japan, and having a whale envoy enables us to do that. We recognise that this is a really tough and difficult issue and we know how strong concern is amongst the Australian public about this issue. We reckon that we need to take a level of engagement up a notch. Having an envoy enables us to do that. This means that we've got a robust approach on the issue of commercial and so-called scientific whaling. We'll continue to have that robust approach and having a whale envoy enables us to make sure that that's done at the highest levels, as this discussion continues.
CAROL DUNCAN: My guest is the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
You mentioned in there non-lethal methods of conducting scientific research on whales. What sort of response has that suggestion had from the Japanese so far?
PETER GARRETT: Well I called for a cessation of the so-called scientific whaling at the Commission. This is the first time when we haven't had a specific break out on the floor of the Commission, but rather consideration of that call. We haven't seen, up to this point in time, any additional commentary from Japan which would indicate that they are going to take any steps to reduce the likely number of whales that are targeted in the summer season.
But we think that it's really important, particularly now in the lead up to the season, to have a really strong, deep and hopefully constructive dialogue with the Japanese. And I think that's why the envoy's already the opportunity not only to travel to Japan, but also to other countries including the United States. And I would expect that increased diplomatic effort to continue.
Remember, that both the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister on a number of occasions and myself have specifically put Australia's views in international meetings, including with the Japanese. We think that strong, robust engaged diplomacy is an important part of our efforts and Mr Hollway's appointment means that we're going to continue to do that as we said that we would.
CAROL DUNCAN: You have mentioned previously though the possibility of legal action. How exactly would that happen? Through which international facility?
PETER GARRETT: Well the option of legal action is something that the Government hasn't ruled out. We'll make a determination about that in due course.
What I would say is that we've also announced an international workshop to be held in January of next year. We're inviting all nations to be a part of that workshop. It's a way of looking at how we can actually have research in the Southern Ocean environment, which is non-lethal, which looks at the kind of threats and challenges that our whale population face. We think that building an international consensus around conservation of whales is absolutely critical. And we'll determine the options on the question of legal action at a time that's appropriate, given all the other activities that we have underway on this issue.
CAROL DUNCAN: You'll have to take a copy of last Thursday nights Catalyst program, which featured two researchers from off Queensland who were conducting non-lethal research on whales to look at the amounts of nasty toxic chemicals in their blubber. So maybe they're onto a means of doing this without having to kill the animals.
PETER GARRETT: Yeah, look, I think Australian science is really leading the world in this area. We've got some fantastic marine scientists who are very focused on the kinds of risks that our whale population face. We don't believe, in Australia, that we need to kill whales to learn more about them. We think that there are plenty of appropriate and rigorous scientific methods of doing that. We believe that we have an opportunity to play a really constructive role and invite other nations to join us in that effort.
I know when I was at the International Whaling Commission in Chile, that we did find a number of other countries, particularly some of the South American countries, in countries like New Zealand, South Africa, who have got quite good at building whale watching businesses, recognise that this a way of increasing our understanding and our knowledge, whilst at the same time strongly opposing the killing of whales in the name of science.
CAROL DUNCAN: Peter Garrett, as someone who has been personally environmentally concerned for well, essentially a lifetime, when you go to Chile for meetings like that and you see young women like our own Skye Bertolli turn up with her petitions and her drawings from children around the world, what do you think?
PETER GARRETT: Oh look, it just tells me that our community here has a huge amount about what's going on and how we can better look after whales. And I think we had a number of people from non-government organisations, you know, Skye and others who were bringing a really genuine and, you know, very, very strongly connected to community feeling about what was going on. And we were putting, you know, those views very strongly on the floor of the conference and in our meetings.
And I mean I get an opportunity, I guess, as Environment Minister to say very clearly that from an Australian Government perspective, we're strongly, strongly committed to conservation approach generally, in our oceans, particularly in relation to whale populations. When we think about the fact that, you know, only three or four decades ago a number of these populations of whales were seriously jeopardised and in threat, we've come a long way since then. But we've got a long way to go and I think we reflect the Australian public and the community's feeling about those matters very strongly when we actually are participating in these International Whaling Commission meetings.
CAROL DUNCAN: The Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett talking there about the appointment, by the Government, of Sandy Hollway, the former Sydney Olympic boss as the country's whale envoy. And I guess it is that close dialogue that gives us the best opportunity of some sort of breakthrough there that's for sure.
Although did you hear about - I mentioned to the program - I mentioned to the minister there the program Catalyst last week, where there were a couple of researchers up in Queensland who were doing their research on whales, by using non-lethal means. They were firing a little dart into them, took a little biopsy of their blubber, and they were looking at the levels of some pretty toxic chemicals, dioxin and so on, in them. So surely that can be done.