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Interview with The World Today
31 May 2010
ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Environment Minister today rejected US claims that the Federal Government's court action on Japanese scientific whaling risks legalising the Japanese program.
The Federal Government's legal case is drawing criticism from the US representative at the International Whaling Commission and from the New Zealand Prime Minister who argue that negotiation is a better way to protect the whales.
Felicity Ogilvie has our report.
OGILVIE: The Japanese say their whaling program in the Southern Ocean is for scientific research but the Australian Government disagrees and is going to take Japan to the International Court of Justice to try to stop the whaling. The US commissioner at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) says the action is an uncertain gamble on whale's lives. The New Zealand Government agrees - describing the action as a risky move because if Australia loses the court case more whales could be killed by the Japanese.
But the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, says the legal action isn't risky because Australia has a strong case.
GARRETT: We don't think that this is a risky move at all given that Australia has been central to the negotiations in the IWC preparatory work and will continue to be playing a really constructive role in negotiations up unto and including in the IWC.
As well as that Australia is the only country that has put an alternative proposal on the table about the conservation of the world's whales. We play a significant and quite robust role in the commission and my expectation is that we will continue to do that.
OGILVIE: If this court case fails though in the International Court of Justice, isn't the risk though that Japan will either continue its whaling program in the Southern Ocean or extend its whaling program?
GARRETT: Well, the key issue around the legal action is whether or not Japan is in breach of its international obligations under relevant international instruments. We will be putting forward a very strong case into the International Court of Justice. Clearly it is going to be some time before those matters are resolved so it is not appropriate to start speculating about what will happen at the end of that process.
OGILVIE: It could take years to resolve the whaling dispute in the International Court of Justice.
The Australian National University's international law professor, Don Rothwell, has told Radio National that Australia can use the lengthy court case to also pursue diplomacy.
DON ROTHWELL: I suspect that Australia will be asking the court to issue provisional measures effectively an international injunction to stop the Japanese whaling program for this coming summer and that will allow, I think some diplomatic negotiations to take place without the ongoing clashes in the Southern Ocean between the Japanese whalers and conservationists.
OGILVIE: Environmental groups like the Humane Society have been calling for the Government to take legal action against the Japanese for years. Michael Kennedy is the Human Society's campaign director - he says the US is correct in labelling the action as a gamble - but says it worth the risk.
MICHAEL KENNEDY: As an NGO concerned with stopping whale killing in the Southern Ocean, we support that risk being taken but the US in our view are also being hypocritical.
OGILVIE: And why do you say that the US's criticism of the legal action is hypocritical?
KENNEDY: Well, there is a move on now, every year at the whaling commission meeting which is being held next month in Morocco, there is a compromise being put this time around which would in fact see, which aims to stop Japan having its commercial scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean but in exchange having some form of commercial whaling in coastal areas.
And that compromise is very dangerous. The numbers could be gained and the US is one of the major backers and protagonists for this compromise proposal and so I think their claims that what our government is preparing to do could endanger more whales is, as I say, hypocrisy. They are, at the moment, backing a proposal in June in Morocco that could see the very same thing happen.
OGILVIE: Australia is refusing to support the compromise that would let Japan set up a coastal whaling program in return for stopping its so-called scientific research in the Southern Ocean.
HALL: Felicity Ogilvie reporting.