Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts logo
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts home page

Archived media releases and speeches


Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

61st Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission, Portugal

23 June 2009

Download the PDF

Mr Chairman

Thank you very much for your introduction to this important item and for your efforts towards reforming the Commission.

Last year, the Commission decided in Santiago to begin a process of review and reform aimed at arriving at a 'consensus solution to the main issues it faces'.

Australia has engaged very actively in this process because we are strongly committed to reforming the IWC. The status quo in the IWC is unacceptable, the IWC's conservation mandate has been under-developed, and unilateral special permit whaling is of deep and increasing concern to the Australian public.

I welcome the fact that there is a more respectful and constructive atmosphere of dialogue in the Commission than there has been in recent times. And we have taken some steps collectively to leave behind the acrimonious and hostile dynamics that have debilitated the organisation for too long.

The Small Working Group has made some progress on procedural issues. It sorted the 33 issues identified by contracting governments into different categories. It discussed the concept of a package with immediate action on three core issues with a second phase to address the remaining issues. And it identified ways to address a number of so-called Category B issues through the normal processes of the Commission.

But we were deeply disappointed that there has not yet been any serious engagement on how to address the dispute over special permit whaling. This issue has been one of the most controversial and divisive in the Commission for many years.

The Small Working Group has rightly recognised that any package must include action on this issue, and now is the time for that action to be progressed.

Mr Chairman,

As you know, the question of finding a way forward on the problem of special permit whaling is an urgent one for this organisation.

We have tried to stimulate discussion on possible solutions in the Small Working Group and through bilateral discussions with many countries.

At this meeting we are presenting a discussion paper titled 'Addressing Special Permit Whaling and the Future of the IWC' - IWC/61/9.

Our paper suggests that it might be possible to find a way towards a resolution of the dispute over special permit whaling by developing a multilateral approach to determining the Commission's scientific requirements and evaluating research proposals.

We believe that it should be possible for the Commission to reach agreement on a number of key principles that would guide the Commission's approach to scientific research. The Commission could set out a modern, best practice basis for how science should be undertaken. This could be done by agreement of governments and would not require any change to the Convention.

We have brought forward this discussion paper now because we want to find a way forward through dialogue and negotiation. We are not expecting agreement to these proposals at this meeting.

Rather, we need to see a commitment from all governments represented here to bring forward ideas and to consider possibilities to find a way forward on special permit whaling.

We would welcome constructive ideas and proposals from others. We have heard mention of the idea of restricting special permit whaling within IWC sanctuaries, of a code of conduct for special permit whaling, and of the Scientific Committee assessing the impact on stocks. Of course we have views on each of those ideas.

But what is essential for this process to lead to real results is a commitment by others to develop their ideas, to comment constructively on proposals, and - moreover - to engage in intense, bold efforts to find a way forward.

The fact that we continue to put forward papers and ideas - on this and other matters - is a measure of our commitment to make negotiations work.

Mr Chairman,

Australia strongly hopes to see all governments engage wholeheartedly in the effort to find a way forward. And we do expect that the Small Working Group will discuss all proposals and ideas with the aim of making concrete progress in the immediate period towards resolving the dispute over unilateral special permit whaling.

I must however be clear that we do not believe that it will be possible to reach any package predicated solely on reductions to the size of certain special permit programs. While Australia certainly wishes to see fewer whales killed under special permits, reductions in catch cannot resolve the fundamental problem.

Mr Chairman,

Australia welcomes the proposed resolution on extending the Small Working Group that you have put before us.

We support the resolution and are willing to work as hard as is necessary. We do so in the absolute and clear expectation that others will join us in a genuine negotiation to resolve the issue of special permit whaling within the context of a package that can be accepted by all contracting governments.

In addition, we must consider and decide what the Small Working Group should do in the months ahead.

Our substantive priorities are clear - but to date there has been no agreement on the shape of a core package or the concept of a two-stage approach. Further reflection on these matters would help all of us determine what sort of package the SWG might be able to achieve over the next year and how we should organise our work to get there.

Finally, Mr Chairman, Australia is ready to join the Support Group and the Small Working Group to work towards an agreement at IWC62 next year so long as there is constructive engagement and genuine commitment on all sides towards finding a way forward on unilateral special permit whaling. I look forward to hearing the views of other governments during this debate.

Thank you


Commonwealth of Australia