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Interview with Chris Uhlmann, 7.30 Report, ABC TV
8 January 2010
UHLMANN: Peter Garrett, when are you going to stop threatening to take Japan to the international court and actually do it?
GARRETT: Chris, what we have said is that we want to work through a process that has been agreed at the IWC, for a special process that countries are involved in, in trying to resolve the issues that we brought forward into the Commission. There are additional meetings that are taking place – support group meetings, working group meetings and the like. And what I have said is that if we don’t see a substantial action and substantial achievement in terms of the issues that we have put up being addressed, then legal action becomes the thing that is very much on the table.
UHLMANN: Well in fact what you said back in 2007, in a joint statement actually with the Prime Minister, is that you would take legal action against Japan. Why aren’t you doing it?
GARRETT: Well we also said then that we would do a number of other things and one of things that we wanted to do…
UHLMANN: This was the first thing though. This was the top of the list.
GARRETT: Well let me just answer the question quickly. We wanted to collect information for a potential legal action.
UHLMANN: Which you have done with the Oceanic Viking.
GARRETT: We did that with the Oceanic Viking. We also wanted to engage in a vigorous diplomatic round and bring a reform agenda to the IWC to provide the conservation focus that we think it needs. And frankly, to get the kind of international support that we think we need to have in terms of our conservation agenda.
Now we have been faithful to that process and we have been a major contributor in the IWC in terms of a reform agenda. What we are now saying is if we don’t see significant, additional action taken in relation to the issues that we have brought forward, then legal action is the next step for us.
UHLMANN: In fact what you said in that same release back now over two years ago, is that “for eleven years now the Howard Government has talked about opposing international whaling but has taken no real action”. You’re taking the same actions as the Howard Government, how does that qualify as being real action, just because you’re doing it, not them?
GARRETT: Look I disagree entirely with what you are suggesting in that question and I’ll you why, Chris, because we had 12 years under Mr Howard, 12 years where they had wrist bands and table thumping, no collection of material for potential legal action, no potential legal action and no reform agenda and we saw the number of whales targeted in the Southern Ocean double. It was a completely unsuccessful strategy.
Our strategy is focused on bringing forward a conservation agenda, intense diplomatic effort and if we don’t get the results that we’re seeking in terms of cessation of so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, a movement to legal action.
UHLMANN: But Minister do you think it is either good foreign policy or good environmental policy to continue to make what seem to be empty threats?
GARRETT: Well there is nothing empty about them.
UHLMANN: So when will you do it?
GARRETT: Well, as I have said, we want to see substantial achievements in the discussions that are underway now, as we speak in fact - they will meet at the end of this month in Hawaii. We have been a part of a working group process because we brought forward into the IWC a conservation agenda. It is Australia that has specifically said that Article 8, which gives the Japanese the opportunity to say we want to kill whales in the name of science, we want that Article to no longer be a part of the way in which the Commission does its business.
UHLMANN: And if it remains in place, if you are not satisfied, you will take legal action? Is that what you are saying, you will take legal action?
GARRETT: That is what the Government has said, that is what the Prime Minister has said and that is what will happen.
UHLMANN: So we’ll see it sometime in the future. Can you put a time on it?
GARRETT: I wouldn’t want to put a time on it Chris, for the simple reason that we are involved in what I think are really important and meaningful dialogue and discussions with other nations, including with the Japanese, and because we have said it is not a blank cheque, these negotiations. We want these negotiations to arrive at a decent conclusion in Australia’s eyes. If they don’t then the legal question comes right in front of us.
UHLMANN: Can you give us a time at which we can stop taking you seriously on this? Is there a point in time at which we can say it is unlikely that you will ever do anything on this front?
GARRETT: Well I reckon there is a little bit of cynicism in your question and I will counter it by saying…
UHLMANN: Do you think that people might be getting a cynical about now, two years in, the first item on your agenda was that you would take legal action?
GARRETT: Well give me an opportunity to respond. We said we would do a number of things. We said that we would collect material by having a vessel go into the Southern Ocean. We did that with the Oceanic Viking. We said that we would bring a reform agenda into the IWC and we have done that as well. We actually also said that we would significantly advance the conservation agenda in terms of policy. We now have the largest, non-lethal whale research program in the world – the Southern Ocean Research Partnership – a commitment of some $30 million to work with like-minded nations. And we said that we would consider taking legal action.
Now every single thing that we said we would do two years ago, bar one, we have done. We continue to be the strongest voice in the Commission against the killing of whales in the name of science and if we don’t see substantial progress on this particular issue, legal action is next.
UHLMANN: What is you legal advice, Minister? Would you win an action in either the International Court of Justice or the Law of the Sea Tribunal?
GARRETT: I am not going to canvass the legal advice that the Government has received….
UHLMANN: But you have legal advice?
GARRETT: Well clearly we have legal advice.
UHLMANN: And you have the evidence?
GARRETT: Well, we have got material that we collected when the Oceanic Viking went into the Southern Ocean, but I just make the point…
UHLMANN: So do you have a brief that you are confident in?
GARRETT: Well I’ll make this point. The success of a legal case is something that cannot be guaranteed. It is a difficult and can be a time consuming process. Our political opponents never took that path, they never took that course of action.
If we are to take that course of action we want to be as substantially and resolutely prepared as we can and we need to have a case which we think has got some prospects of making the kind achievements that we need…
UHLMANN: Where would you make the case?
GARRETT: Well that is a matter for the Cabinet to consider, Chris. I am not going to start canvassing the details of that potential…
UHLMANN: But you must know by now where you would make your case, you must know where the court is going to be if you are considering taking it to court?
GARRETT: Well again, we have considered this matter, we have got the advice, there are a number of potential fora open to us. As you would know there is the International Court of Justice and there are other fora. But I don’t propose to rehearse the details of Australia’s potential legal action on the ABC tonight.
UHLMANN: Alright, let’s look at the other side of the argument, with the Sea Shepherd and the boats that it is using, do you have any legal advice on the way that they’re behaving in the Southern Ocean? Could you actually take them to court over matters of piracy or maritime terrorism?
GARRETT: I don’t have any advice of that sort in front of me. What I can say is that the skipper of the Ady Gil was specifically communicated to by authorities prior to travelling to the Southern Ocean, a reminder of the responsibilities that masters have over taking proper carriage of those people on their vessels.
UHLMANN: And just to be clear, you are not allowed to interfere with the navigation of another vessel at sea, are you?
GARRETT: Well in terms of the law…
UHLMANN: You can’t foul their propellers, for example.
GARRETT: Well, in terms of the laws of the sea that apply in international waters, we have been very clear on urging restraint on all sides and on all vessels and one thing that I think needs to be really clearly understood here, and that is that when vessels under another flag nation go into international waters to conduct whatever kinds of activities that they do, of course we have an interest, but they have a primary responsibility to ensure that they conduct those processes peacefully and without any violence.
UHLMANN: But if they dock in our ports, we have an obligation to enforce the laws of the sea, don’t we?
GARRETT: Well, in relation to boats that are stopping by for refuelling or portage of that kind, we offer the same opportunities to vessels under international flag carriers as we do any other kinds of vessels.
UHLMANN: Minister, on another matter, are we going to see a ban on climbing at Uluru?
GARRETT: Well today Chris, I have approved the draft plan, it is now a formal plan, from the Board at Uluru, made up of traditional owners and others. And what they have said to me is that subject to some preconditions, potential closure of the climb could take place in a few years hence. But I think it is important that we look at those conditions, see whether they can be met, and at the same time develop a deeper and probably more long lasting tourism experience for people who visit the rock.
UHLMANN: Would you like to see the climb closed?
GARRETT: Well I have always said that I am sympathetic to the views that have been put by traditional owners. There is already a sign at the bottom of the climb which says, ‘will you respect this rock and not climb it’. And I know other people have got other views on this. I think they have come up with a really sensible decision. We will see additional tourism coming to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park where people don’t in the future necessarily have to climb the rock both to enjoy the rock itself and Indigenous culture.
UHLMANN: But again and finally, Minister do you think that this Government is in danger of confusing words with actions?
GARRETT: Not at all. I think it is appropriate for us to take advice from the Board who has responsibility for the management of Uluru. We have done that. I have listened carefully to the arguments that they have put. I think they are good arguments and I am very, very happy to accept them.
UHLMANN: Peter Garrett, thank you
GARRETT: Thanks Chris.