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

Australian Government's decision to initiate legal action against Japanese so-called 'scientific' whaling

E&OE Transcript
Interview, CBC Radio-Canada, 'As it happens' with Chris Howden and Carol Off
2 June 2010

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HOWDEN: Even though the International Whaling Commission has had a moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986, Japanese whaling fleets have continued to kill hundreds of the giant mammals each year. That is because of a loophole in the moratorium allowing whaling for scientific research.

But this week the Australian Government is taking Japan to the International Court of Justice. Australian officials hope the court will agree that Japanese scientific whaling isn't actually scientific but a cover-up for commercial whaling.

Peter Garrett is Australia's Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. We reached him in Canberra.

OFF: Mr Garrett, why is Australia taking Japan to the International Court over whaling? What are your countries interests in that regard?

GARRETT: We want to see a permanent end to so-called scientific whaling. That is part of our policy, it is something which we wanted to advance through the International Whaling Commission. And it is particularly crucial for us in the Southern Ocean, including in the IWC Southern Ocean Sanctuary. And we have had a period of intense diplomatic negotiation, bilateral discussions, with the Japanese on this issue.

We haven't seen any substantial progress made in resolving outstanding issues which we believe do need to be addressed. And we think that the International Court of Justice is the appropriate forum for this matter to be adjudicated.

OFF: And what are you saying in this Southern Ocean Sanctuary, in the waters around Australia, what have you witnessed as to Japan's whaling practices?

GARRETT: Well the Japanese reserve the right to target whales in the Southern Ocean. They target a number of species including species which are considered vulnerable or endangered. And the targeted figures are as high as 900 whales in a season.

Previous to the moratorium on commercial whaling being brought through the IWC the Japanese had killed a relatively small number of whales in the course of their activities in relation to the purposes of scientific research - some 800 or so. Subsequent to the moratorium, the figure's closer to 7000 whales which have been killed purportedly for scientific purposes.

And we believe that there is a very clear case that we want to bring into the ICJ challenging the fact this is actually whaling for scientific purposes as opposed to other purposes.

OFF: Why do you think there is no justification for saying that they, the Japanese, are killing the whales for science?

GARRETT: Well there is a great deal of scientific debate about the Japanese program itself and we have heard that there has been whale meat for sale in Japan, that a certain amount of the resources are simply stored over time.

And we argue very strongly that if you do want to engage in a scientific process of research into cetaceans, that you don't need to kill them in order to do it in any event.

And in the meantime we will argue that this large-scale program is one which doesn't fulfil the obligations that we believe that party has under the international convention itself.

OFF: We know that New Zealand and the United States are concerned that your Government's efforts, your Government's taking this Japanese whaling to court, might mean if you lose the case that Japan will expand its whaling efforts, it will take advantage of that victory in court to say 'well I guess it is okay for us to do this'. That's what we're hearing from New Zealand and the US. What is your response?

GARRETT: Look I don't share that view. And in any event it is some distance to travel now in relation to a legal case in the court, it won't be a matter which is resolved overnight.

And we also recognise that the IWC itself has in the past called on Japan to halt its activities, that there has been a range of proposals that have come to the IWC and there has been contentious discussion there over a significant period of time which really hasn't resolved this issue at all. So we believe that in order to resolve this particular issue, the court action is the appropriate step for us to take.

But I must emphasise that we recognise that the Japan - Australia relationship is a strong one. We are major trading partners, we agree that this is one matter upon which we have disagreement. But we consider that the relationship itself is a positive relationship.

OFF: But this court case could drag out for years, could it not?

GARRETT: Yes, that is right.

OFF: So in the meantime, what happens if Japan says 'well, we're in court where it is being worked out', and continues its whaling?

GARRETT: That is a question for the Japanese Government to consider. What I would say is that Australia has brought forward into the International Whaling Commission, a comprehensive reform agenda.

We're focusing on conservation. We think that it important that we do have an agreed and robust assessment of science that operates within the IWC. We don't think that there should be whaling on endangered or vulnerable species and we certainly don't think that there should be whaling in the IWC Whale Sanctuaries.

Now they are substantial matters for the Commission to consider and for other like-minded nations and parties to the Commission to discuss. That is a discussion which has been ongoing for decades but it does need to reach resolution.

OFF: All right Mr Garrett, we will follow your court challenge with interest, thank you very much for joining us.

GARRETT: Thanks very much Carol.

OFF: Bye bye.

GARRETT: See ya

HOWDEN: That was Peter Garrett, Australia's Minister of Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. Yes he is the same Peter Garrett who used to sing for the band Midnight Oil. He was in Canberra.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia