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Interview with Derryn Hinch
3AW Drive, Melbourne
28 May 2010
HINCH: I will find it more about it from the Federal Minister for the Environment. He is on the line, Mr Peter Garrett good afternoon.
GARRETT: G'day Derryn.
HINCH: I don’t care what your motives are for doing it, I am glad you are doing it, so let’s get that out of the way to start with. So any decision is a good one. But why the delay?
GARRETT: You know I actually don’t agree with a bit of your intro remarks, Derryn. I think we did say right up the top end that we would do a couple of things and we wanted to do them in the right order. The first of those was to have the surveillance activities, the monitoring, which we did with the Oceanic Viking. That was in the first season when we came into government.
We then wanted to consider that material. In the intervening period we wanted to really ramp up the diplomatic effort and as well as doing that we have also had, through the International Whaling Commission itself – that is the body that regulates so-called scientific whaling – a whole series of quite intense negotiations and a process that that body agreed we would try to work through to see whether consensus would arise.
Now that has taken a long time, in fact that has been nearly a two year process. Having reached the end of all of that and not having significant concessions on the table on the part of the Japanese in relation to this matter, we always said that we would take that next step and today we actually have initiated that legal action.
HINCH: Now this will be the first time I think that any country has used an international court to try to stop the whaling. I mean, Australian attempts go back, way back to the Cheynes Beach when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister and I think his daughter Phoebe was about 12 and she is now a woman in her 30’s. So it is going to be a long, long way. Obviously you are prepared, you will get some opprobrium or have had some opprobrium from the Japanese?
GARRETT: Look I think the thing that Stephen Smith and I were very clear about today when we made the announcement in Sydney Derryn, was that our relationship with Japan is an important one, it is recognised as being one which there is a great deal of trust. There is a big trade relationship between us and we work together on a range of issues but we have a very distinct disagreement about this particular matter.
The Government believes that the relationship can be managed, but we also believe that if we are going to be serious about challenging this particular aspect of their activity in the Southern Ocean i.e. claiming that in fact it is scientific whaling when we don’t believe that it is and where we do believe that in fact it is in breach of their international obligations under the International Convention and the like, then legal action is the right place for this kind of issue to be adjudicated.
HINCH: Yeah now look, 20 years ago on the Hinch program on television we aired footage of the Japanese killing whales for scientific reasons for research in the Antarctic. And we showed footage from Greenpeace – they got on board one of the boats – and it showed whales being chopped up and wrapped in plastic and put in boxes for restaurants. That is 20 years ago. So it is nothing new that you are fighting, is it?
GARRETT: No look the issue has been a really contentious one for some time and I do know that the last period of about 10 to 12 years all we really saw, even though there was pretty strong comments from various government ministers over time, all we really ever saw was the number of whales that the Japanese targeted kept on increasing. It doubled during the term of the Howard Government.
I came into this job with a strong conservation background. I am not trying to make a political point but just to say that that clearly wasn’t the right strategy.
There is a range of things that we think you can do. One of the things we are doing is initiating this legal action. But the other thing that we are doing is we have actually got the world’s largest non-lethal whale research program – that is the Southern Ocean Research Program – launched it in January, working with New Zealand and other nations and really trying to provide a counterbalance for this idea that you have to kill whales in the name of science. We think it is in contravention of the convention itself. We will have to argue that through the legal process, but in the meantime we want to show people that we can learn as much as we want to know about these beautiful creatures and we don’t have to kill them to do it.
HINCH: All right. I was told by somebody that should know a lot more about it than I do that one of the reasons you were reluctant to go to court was to expose Australia’s flank in that it could open up the door to people questioning our rights and what we claim to be Australian territory in that region. Is that true?
GARRETT: Not specifically. We think that there is appropriate standing for us under the International Whaling Convention itself and other international instruments to be able to take the action into the court.
HINCH: It is a risk though isn’t it? It could be challenged?
GARRETT: Well look there is going to be a lot of complex legal argument. But the legal argument that will go on in the International Court of Justice, Derryn. You are absolutely right it will take some time and it will also be conducted by the most senior international lawyers that are around and there will be all matter of issues which are brought to bear. I am not going to rehearse what may or may not be pled in the court, that wouldn’t be appropriate.
I think the point is that we believe that we do have an appropriate course of action. We have looked at it very carefully and very closely. We don’t take the decision lightly.
Yes it is something which we said we would do. I notice that the Opposition has been pretty all over the place on this issue but we have actually said no, we think it is the right next step for us to take and that is why we have made the decision today.
HINCH: All right. Now to just to talk briefly about insulation. Only a couple of quick questions, that is because you took a pounding from everybody, me included, over this issue of insulation, the batts etc. You have been a cartoonists dream.
GARRETT: They did have fun, didn’t they?
HINCH: Yes. And you also, you have lost part of your portfolio over it. Now, there is a story out today that on August 28 last year and again in October 28 last year, you actually wrote to the Prime Minister and told him of your fears about the standards were not being met. Correct?
GARRETT: Well I did write to the Prime Minister to detail a number of issues that I was addressing in the program, recognising that there were some matters that I thought were important for us to act upon and saying this is what I was proposing to do. Pointing out the fact that we were going to strengthen the guidelines and what have you. But I don’t think it is true to characterise it in the way that the Opposition has. I mean what…
HINCH: Hold on, but you wrote, in your letter of October 28 to the Prime Minister, which has now been released under FOI, quote “including increased risk of fire,” and we had another fire that broke out in the roof of a house today. Now you wrote to the Prime Minister. You warned him twice last year. You carried the can for the Cabinet. You became the scapegoat for this whole bloody thing.
GARRETT: Well Derryn, I don’t agree with your analysis. In fact when I made the statement in the Parliament about this matter in the beginning, I detailed all of the actions I took and I pointed to the fact that we had actually responded along the course of the way and that is why there was an identification of this correspondence…
HINCH: Are you saying that the Prime Minister doesn’t read his mail? That he got these letters from you, August 28, October 28, in which you use words like “including increased risk of fire”. Why can’t he have to carry the can like you carried it and it cost you half your portfolio?
GARRETT: Yes but Derryn, you have got to look to the fact that the Prime Minister responded to me as well. I mean we not only released my letters but we released the Prime Minister’s responses as well. And what is clear about it, and this is why it is appropriate for these letters to be on the public record, is that they are entirely consistent with what both Mr Rudd and I had said in the Parliament, what I said in my statement and the actions that I took.
And the point about all of this is that we did take safety seriously, and I did, and remained very concerned about any safety issues as they arose and then I took steps to deal with them. And I communicated that properly to the Prime Minister and then to the rest of the stakeholders as well. The fact is that we had the Alan Hawke review. Mr Hawke came and reviewed all of this rollout of the Program, he vindicated my actions when he said that I had acted in a timely and an appropriate fashion…
HINCH: Yes you had, you told other people, you told the Prime Minister. Can you tell me what was in the fourth letter?
GARRETT: Well the point about the fourth letter is that it details matters which were subject to Cabinet-in-Confidence discussions, but I just need to make the point that the generality of what is in those letters has been referred to both by the Prime Minister and by myself in our statements.
And I think that Senator Birmingham from the Opposition did have an exchange with Senator Wong in Estimates in relation to the proper claim of confidentiality on that and he said ‘I accept the case around the letter’. And the fact is that we have outlined the basic contents of that letter as well. The advice to Government is that it ought to be considered in confidence.
HINCH: All right Mr Garrett, you are a very loyal soldier. You are not sharing the blame around. I think you should.
Thanks for your time.
GARRETT: Thanks Derryn.