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

Collison in the Southern Ocean, Japanese whaling, Murray-Darling Basin

Transcript
Doorstop Interview, Perth
6 January 2010

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GARRETT: I just want to make some brief remarks about the reported collision in the Southern Ocean between vessels there including the Ady Gil.

I can confirm that there has been a collision between the Ady Gil and another vessel in the Southern Ocean; that all the Ady Gil crew are uninjured and are safely on board another vessel, the Bob Barker; that that incident was reported at around 3:30pm Eastern Summer Time; and the location is around 1,300 nautical miles south of Tasmania. I can also confirm that the Australian Marine Safety Authority was not asked to provide any search and rescue assistance.

And the Government repeats its call on all parties in the Southern Ocean to exercise the utmost restraint. Safety at sea is an absolute priority in this dangerous and inhospitable ocean area, and it is the safety of all concerned that is the utmost priority and the Government is relieved to know that there has been no injury that we are aware of, according to those reports.

It is critical to remember that we have consistently urged restraint on all parties in relation to the activities being undertaken in the Southern Ocean. Its critical for safety at sea to be the highest priority, and for the absolute and utmost restraint to be exercised by all parties in this very remote and inhospitable region.

JOURNALIST: Given the new level of aggression that the Japanese are obviously showing - that its not constraint on their part what is the Australian Government going to do about it? Paul Watson wants an Australian vessel down there immediately. Can you do that?

GARRETT: Well, the point I would make is that the risk of accidents is high and the capacity for rescue in these areas is low, and it is absolutely critical that restraint be prudently exercised by all parties by all parties. In relation to this particular matter, the Government is very concerned at this collision, and has said on a number of occasions and I repeat today we condemn any dangerous or violent activity that takes place in the Southern Ocean and we call on all parties to exercise absolute restraint, because safety at sea is the number one priority.

JOURNALIST: Paul Watson says that a distress signal was sent out by the Ady Gil people. It was ignored by the Japanese. Hes [inaudible] literally a hit and run. The distress signal was ignored by the Japanese. Whats the Australian Governments reaction to that?

GARRETT: Well, we want to see and get the right level of informed information about this incident. At this point in time, Im not going to comment on a range of claims or comments that are made until officials are in a position to know with a much greater degree of accuracy what has happened in the Southern Ocean. What I can say - what I can say is that no request for assistance was sought by the vessels involved, that the Government repeats its calls for the utmost exercise of restraint and to remember that safety at sea is of paramount importance.

I can also say that for the Government, our strongest condemnation applies to any violent or dangerous activity that takes place in these remote and inhospitable waters.

JOURNALIST: Paul Watson has actually called on the Australian Government in an interview he did just before we came here called on the Australian Government to send an Australian vessel immediately to the area. He has called for assistance.

GARRETT: Well, again, on the basis of the reports that we have, and given that there has been no seeking of assistance that AMSA has received at this time, as I am advised, and bearing in mind also that there are vessels in this area and that the existing protocols both from the New Zealand Government and the Australian Government point of view, is that safety at sea is the absolute priority. If there is no injury in this incident, as has been reported, we are extremely, extremely concerned that safety at sea remains the absolute priority, and I think that is the most critical thing to communicate to those parties in the Southern Ocean at this time.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any contact with the Japanese authorities?

GARRETT: Well, lets remember that prior to these vessels departing for the Southern Ocean, the Australian Foreign Minister, the Dutch Foreign Minister and the New Zealand Foreign Minister reiterated the call on all parties to exercise the utmost restraint in these dangerous waters.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any contact with the Japanese Government?

GARRETT: At this point in time, given that these reports we are only receiving now, on the basis of confirming these reports, officials will make the appropriate communications with relevant governments.

JOURNALIST: The report that the Andy Gil is sinking, according to the interview that we just conducted with Paul Watson, he says it is catastrophically damaged, it is probably sinking, there would be no salvage possible. Is there nothing else you can say about the Japanese aggression, which he says is obviously stepped up to a very dangerous level, given your comments about parties needing to show restraint?

GARRETT: Well, I think its really important for the Government to make very, very clear that any dangerous or violent activity that takes place in the Southern Ocean is to be condemned, and...

JOURNALIST: By the Japanese?

GARRETT: Any activity at all. And as well as that, to repeat the call the critical call for absolute restraint to be exercised by parties in the Southern Ocean. Safety at sea is the absolute priority - that is the most critical thing in this particular part of the world, which is so dangerous and which is so inhospitable.

And this Government respects the right of peaceful protest, including on the high seas. It condemns any dangerous or any other violent activity that takes place on the high seas, it continues to oppose the taking of whales in the name of science in the Southern Ocean, and it reiterates its call for the utmost restraint to be exercised by all parties in the Southern Ocean.

JOURNALIST: To clarify, youre not sending a boat at this stage, is that right?

GARRETT: The Government isnt making any decisions about sending vessels at this point in time. On the basis of the information that the Government has, there hasnt been a formal request for assistance to the Australian Marine Safety Authority. We believe, on the basis of those reports, that those crewmembers from the Ady Gil are safe on board another vessel. Were very relieved that there hasnt been any injury, that there hasnt been any loss of life, and we repeat our calls for restraint on the high seas.

JOURNALIST: Doesnt the Government have a responsibility to do something before someone does get hurt?

GARRETT: The primary responsibility for safety in these waters lies with those vessels that are in these waters. The primary responsibility for exercising restraint lies with those parties who are in the Southern Ocean. Now, whilst the Government respects the right of peaceful protest, and whilst the Government is absolutely clear in its opposition to so-called 'scientific' whaling, we call upon all parties again to exercise due restraint in these very unsafe waters to make sure that safety at sea is an absolute priority.

JOURNALIST: How much more do the Japanese have to do the Greens are saying today theyve breached the Antarctic Treaty by refuelling in an area not far from a major penguin colony, theyre sending spy planes from our own land refuelling to go and see where the ships are, theyre now ramming boats and injuring seven or six people into the Southern Ocean. What else do they have to do to warrant a reaction of action by the Australian Government? Not just words but action?

GARRETT: Well, Ill take a couple more questions and then Ill finish off, but I want to say the following. The Government takes very, very seriously very seriously indeed any violent or dangerous activity thats conducted in the Southern Ocean. We repeat our call for restraint to all parties.

I remind everybody listening or watching that we have had not only a significant and concentrated diplomatic effort, a strong conservation agenda at the IWC, the deployment of the Oceanic Viking in 2008 for the monitoring of activities in the Southern Ocean and in the event that we cannot resolve this issue, the option for legal action against the Japanese, which has been made clear by the Prime Minister.

Now, on the basis of the reports that we have to hand, safety at sea is the absolute priority, we call on all parties to exercise restraint, and we will give due consideration to whether any additional measures, actions or statements need to be taken once we have an opportunity to fully consider all of the material and reports from whats taken place down there in the Southern Ocean.

JOURNALIST: Who was the aggressor in this collision?

GARRETT: Well, I dont propose to start dealing with hypotheticals on this. I havent seen any of the material, and these are reports that we are receiving up to now. Let us wait until we have the benefit of additional, relevant and factual material before we make any additional statements on the matter.

JOURNALIST: Does that involve talking to the protestors as well as the Japanese?

GARRETT: Well, let us see what relevant material is available for the Government to consider. I think that is the most sensible approach at this point in time.

JOURNALIST: How difficult is it for you to stand there with your passions of the past and say well just wait and see what happens?

GARRETT: Well, what Im saying is very clear. What Im saying is that the Southern Ocean is a dangerous and inhospitable place, and the Government condemns any violent or dangerous activity in those waters.

We repeat our calls for restraint. We do believe that safety at sea is an absolute priority. That is what weve consistently said and were saying it again in a loud voice today. And we will very carefully consider whether any additional actions or measures need to be taken as a consequence of the reports that weve received this afternoon. I think thats the sensible course of action to take.

JOURNALIST: Just a quick question on the Murray-Darling. Will the Federal Government look favourably on a request for water to be opened up for the Murray?

GARRETT: Well, if this is a request by the Government of South Australia, all I can say at the moment is that no formal request, as I understand it, has been received by the Commonwealth. At the moment, there are already existing water sharing arrangements that are agreed by the States. Its up to the States to work cooperatively with the Commonwealth in relation to water sharing agreements, but if an additional request, once received, is considered by the Government, it will be up to the Government to decide how it wants to respond.

Thanks, everybody.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia