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

Japanese whaling; Opposition position on climate change

E&OE transcript
Interview with Fran Kelly
ABC Radio National Breakfast
16 December 2009

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KELLY: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has stressed again that if Australia can't find a diplomatic solution to ending Japan's whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, then he is prepared to use legal channels.

That was his message to his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama during a stopover in Tokyo yesterday.

The Japanese whaling fleet will slaughter more than 1000 minke, humpback and fin whales before this summer polar season is over.

Labor, you might remember, came to power, vowed to take on Japan - to take Japan, in fact, to the International Court of Justice to end the hunt, if that's what's required.

Back in 2007, a joint statement signed by Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett declared, quote: "a federal Labor Government will initiate legal action in the international courts to stop the slaughter." That's a direct quote.

Two years on, and nothing has been done.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett joins us now. Peter Garrett, welcome to Breakfast.

GARRETT: Morning Fran.

KELLY: Diplomacy, not legal action, still seems to be Australia's position. Is that right?

GARRETT: Well Fran, what we've said is that we want to provide a really consistent effort in diplomacy because the IWC nations, some 80 of them, agree that what we brought forward to the Commission, ie. that it needs to be reformed, that it needs to have a conservation focus, and that it's no longer appropriate for us to be having a Commission that's dysfunctional with countries like Japan unilaterally deciding that they can take whales in the name of science, we need to work those issues through.

We agree that that's absolutely critically important, but our patience is not endless. And as you said in your introductory comments, if it proves necessary, then the Government is ready to undertake legal action with the objective of ending commercial whaling.

KELLY: You say our patience is not endless, but it's two - more than two and a half years since you made the comment. In February 2007, you said a Rudd Labor Government will pull out all stops in the international courts to stop whaling. We've said before that a federal Labor Government will initiate legal action in the international courts to stop the slaughter of whales. That was your joint statement with the Prime Minister in May 2007. No wonder people are saying, this sounds like hollow threats.

GARRETT: Well Fran, we said a number of other things at that time, and we've continued to say them as well about what we need to do to resolutely prosecute this issue. We said that we'd contemplate sending monitoring exercises into the Southern Ocean to collect material for a potential legal action and we did that.

We said we'd greatly increase the conservation agenda through the IWC, including putting additional emphasis on non-lethal whale research, which we've done. We've got the largest ever whale research partnership of its kind in the world, the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. We've committed some $14 million dollars to that partnership.

And we also said that we'd work in the IWC, and through the IWC, to maintain the moratorium on commercial whaling, and to see that the efforts of all countries that want the IWC to go in this direction, not only Australia, are greatly assisted. And we wanted to work with those countries.

Now, we've done that over that period of time, and we've had a series of representations to the Japanese Government. We've had a Special Envoy on whaling as well.

We believe that it was worth, in terms of the relationship and in terms of our work in the IWC, putting every effort we could into the diplomacy, and every effort we could into building a policy foundation for non-lethal whale research encouraging, for example, developing nations on whale watching initiatives is something we've done too.

But at the end of the day, I've made it very clear at the last IWC meeting that we weren't going to write a blank cheque on negotiations, and we're not. We remain implacably opposed to the killing of whales in the Southern Ocean in the name of science.

And if it is the case that we don't see substantial progress made in the short term in these negotiations leading up to the next IWC then legal option will be undertaken.

KELLY: Well what is the time frame on that because that's a very clear comment, very firm commitment you've just made there again and I think you'd agree that a lot of people who perhaps voted for you at the last election might have voted for you because of your strong claims that you would take Japan to the International Courts over whaling. So what is the time frame, the deadline for this before Australia moves to take action against Japan in the international courts?

GARRETT: Well the Government would want to see substantial progress made prior to the upcoming IWC meeting in June. We believe that the negotiations that have been underway with a number of nations including Australia, in fact discussions that have been underway need to move forward.

We recognise by the way Fran, that when there's a change of Government there's an opportunity there for a change of position as well. Now the comments from the Foreign Minister of last week weren't particular hopeful in that regard but I think our view, our judgement was that it was appropriate to provide the opportunity for the new Japanese administration, the new American administration when President Obama came into power as well to play their role in this discussion.

KELLY: Can I just be clear here though, because a lot of focus now on this whole issue of whaling because the Japanese whalers are down in the Southern Ocean again and the Sea Shepherd is there too, when you say substantial action, do you mean a stop, a halt to whaling by Japan? When - what is the deadline for Japan to stop hunting whales?

GARRETT: Well Fran I'll characterise it in these terms because we're in these discussions with Japan and other countries at this point in time and that is: we want to see substantial progress towards a commitment on the part of Japan to completely cease the taking of whales in the Southern Ocean in the name of science.

KELLY: Substantial progress to stopping though, but you either stop or you don't. So what's substantial progress towards that mean?

GARRETT: Well look, that's something for us to see in terms of what Japan brings forward. Our commitment is for the killing of whales in the Southern Ocean to cease. We are opposed to it. We've remained opposed to it ever since we've come to government and that is our policy goal.

And what we say, and what we say to other countries that are working with us is that the IWC, up to this point in time, has proved incapable of resolving this particular issue. We believed, on consideration, that it was absolutely necessary to give those processes through the IWC the opportunity to work this issue through and to see whether a commitment which satisfied our policy goals was capable of being delivered.

KELLY: Okay.

GARRETT: Now we have - we put in a considerable effort over the last two years in order to do that, 25 representations by Australian ministers to Japan on whaling since the Government took office. It hasn't been about hot air, it hasn't been about banging a table, it hasn't been about making idle threats, it's been doing it in a constructive way. But at the end of the day our patience isn't endless and if necessary we're ready to undertake legal action with the objective of ending commercial whaling if we don't make substantial progress.

KELLY: And just very briefly because we must cross to Copenhagen, but Peter Garrett the Australian Government has been accused in Copenhagen of lying on climate change. The chief negotiator for the G77 nations has accused Kevin Rudd of being a climate change sceptic and committed to killing the Kyoto Protocol.

GARRETT: Oh well Fran, there's some comments that are flying around in Copenhagen I think that belie the position that this Government has taken on climate change.

What I would say, I've seen the reports this morning about the Opposition's change in position again, is that at this point in time and with a proposed speech underway from the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, what we can say is that everything that Tony Abbott has done since he's come to Opposition is to ensure that the Copenhagen process fails.

He's now talking about a direct intervention in the economy, a high cost approach to dealing with climate change. The Government remains committed to these negotiations, committed to seeing agreements reached at Copenhagen, that begin that very difficult task of reducing emissions as quickly as we can.

KELLY: All right Peter Garrett thank you very much for joining us.

GARRETT: Thanks Fran.

KELLY: Environment Minister Peter Garrett.


[ENDS]

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