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

The 62nd meeting of the international Whaling Commission Agadir, Morocco

Agadir, Morocco
23 June 2010

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Mr Chairman as this is the first time I have spoken at this meeting, I'd like to begin by expressing my appreciation to the Kingdom of Morocco for hosting this meeting and to express my appreciation to you for taking on the role as Chair of this Session.

Mr Chairman I won't reiterate Australia's position which is well known, but I would like however to associate myself with the remarks made by the distinguished Commissioner from Argentina.

This clearly is a time of both challenges and opportunities for the Commission. For the past two years we have been engaged in a process to chart the future of the IWC. This has required us to undertake a clear-sighted examination of where we are at the present moment, to identify where our interests converge and where they do not, and to explore whether there may be new ways of operating and working together.

In Australia's opening statement we said that in recognising the challenges faced by the IWC that we must avoid the trap of a 'negative mindset'. Some have claimed that the IWC is dysfunctional and on the verge of collapse. We do not share this view. The organisation may be grappling with serious and contentious issues but the Commission still stands as the primary international body with the responsibility to conserve and manage cetaceans.

Many countries have put a great deal of effort, time and expertise into our discussions on the future of the IWC. I would like to express Australia's appreciation to all the participants in the Support Group the Small Working Group and here at the IWC over the past week. While the product of the process will not attract consensus support, there is much that is positive about the process.

In many respects the process has been a positive demonstration of how the International Whaling Commission can conduct its business. This is because, as other delegations have noted, it has been a significant departure from the previous period of acrimony, bitterness and hostility. Not only has the process identified elements of common ground; more importantly it has demonstrated that significant differences of opinion can be discussed in a very proper, cordial and mutually respectful manner.

This is no small accomplishment. The culture of an organisation is important. An organisation which bases itself upon frank and respectful dialogue is an organisation which is capable of managing its challenges as well as realising its potential. The mark of an effective organisation is not that its members always agree. I think that all the participants in the process, including Australia, have learned much from it. It can be viewed as a stage in the positive evolution of the International Whaling Commission.

Therefore Australia does not regard the failure to achieve a consensus compromise at this time as the end of the world. We think that there is reason to take the alternative view; a positive view.

I recall at IWC 60 in Santiago the IWC did embrace the need for reform. We welcomed the fact that the Small Working Group was created, charged with assisting the Commission to arrive at a consensus solution to the main issues. As I stated recently in the Australian Parliament, while the IWC remains in need of reform, there is a bright future for the body if it can move in the direction of a modern conservation focused organisation.

Australia has invested in reform over the last three years, through our participation, collaborative efforts such as the Southern Ocean Non-Lethal Research Partnership and through our voluntary contributions to conservation initiatives. This effort has demonstrated that while we still hold our strong views on Article VIII, science and reform of the IWC, we can continue to make progress.

Australia believes that we all share the same vision expressed in the chairs report, but then how do we proceed?

We need to embrace this vision now - a vision which said: "the IWC will work cooperatively to improve the conservation and management of whale populations and stocks on a scientific basis and through the agreed policy measures." The report went on to say: "by improving our knowledge of whales, their environment and the multiple threats they face, the Commission will strive to ensure that whale populations are healthy and resilient components of the marine environment." We need to embrace this vision now and build on this foundation.

This view is shared by many contracting governments in this room as we have heard. In Australia's view we need to find the same strength that led to the agreement to the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982. We need to continue to redefine the IWC to ensure the long term protection of whales, but how do we do this?

The Chair's proposal has helped us along the way, but it is time to close the door on that document and move forward, of course building on the increased understanding that has emerged from these processes.

We must all be realistic, recognising that the mere passage of time will not bring about a resolution of fundamental disagreements. We must also reinforce ongoing discussion of differences with a practical program of collaboration in areas where we do agree. Such as:

Regardless of policy differences about whaling, the future of the International Whaling Commission can only be assured with best practice management and governance. The future of the IWC should involve a stock take of our rules and standards.

The external reputation and efficiency and quality of the operation of the International Whaling Commission, requires clear, transparent and properly monitored rules and procedures. I expect and hope that the organisation will undertake a review of these matters as a natural and essential part of its housekeeping as it moves into a brighter future.

These are steps that we can take now as we reflect on what we have learned from the processes on the future of the IWC. It is Australia's view that this is the way forward.

Thank you Mr Chairman.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia