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Interview, ABC2 News Breakfast, 'As it happens' With Michael ROWLAND and Virginia TRIOLI
2 June 2010
ROWLAND: As we know, the Federal Government has filed a law suit with the International Court of Justice in a bid to stop Japanese whaling.
TRIOLI: The Humane Society's Nicola Beynon has told us on ABC News Breakfast it's been a long time coming.
So we'll speak now to the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett. He joins us from Canberra.
Peter Garrett, good morning and thanks for joining us.
GARRETT: Morning Virginia.
TRIOLI: What took you so long?
GARRETT: Well, we've said that we wanted to collect material and do the appropriate surveillance in the Southern Ocean, which we did. We also said that we wanted to put in a really significant effort on the diplomacy between Australia and Japan, and have a really intensive diplomatic effort out there. We appointed a whale envoy as well to progress that task.
But, at the end of that, we recognised that if we weren't seeing any significant progress in those discussions, that we would take this step. Each and everything we said, we've done, and now we're at the point where we've actually lodged the action in the International Court.
TRIOLI: How long do you think it will run for and will it be very expensive to fund?
GARRETT: It's a bit difficult to say how long it will run for, but it's certainly a year or two at least. And again, the cost will depend, in part, on the way in which the court treats the case and the amount of time that needs to be taken in terms of presenting Australia's case.
But the Government will make the appropriate allocations for the case as it unfolds.
TRIOLI: Is it possible that the court might decide that it actually doesn't have proper jurisdiction here, that this is a loophole that the International Whaling Commission itself actually has to stitch up and it can't decide it for it?
GARRETT: No. The Court has accepted the lodgement documents from Australia, and both Australia and Japan accept that it's the appropriate tribunal for this matter to be adjudicated. And we've presented those documents and, basically, an outline of the case that is going to be pled in the International Court, and that's been accepted by the court.
TRIOLI: Do you have any fears that there might be trade repercussions for Australia from Japan?
GARRETT: I think that we've been very clear about the fact that on this particular matter, we do have a distinct disagreement, but that the trading relationship and the overall relationship between the two countries remains strong.
We spend a great deal of time, Virginia, making sure that in our diplomacy we fully explored any opportunity for concessions and movement on this particular issue to come forward and they didn't. And we also made it very clear, as we went into the International Whaling Commission meeting that we have an alternative proposal about conservation and how we ought to be actually dealing with these questions, which have been highly, highly problematic for the Commission over that time.
Both countries recognise that both the court and the IWC are the forums for these matters to be explored and adjudicated on, and the overall relationship remains a strong and resilient one.
TRIOLI: Minister, did you try to get other countries to join your action at the International Court as a way of making it more powerful?
GARRETT: No, we didn't. Australia has taken this step of its own course. I did note some remarks from the New Zealand ministers that they may consider taking an appropriate step, or a similar step, at a later point.
I guess, the point overall though is that this is just one of the many things that we think needs to be done in order to put a permanent end to whaling and to so-called scientific whaling. And, you know, over the last 10 or 15 years, all we've really seen is an increase in the number of whales targeted in the Southern Ocean, which is a matter of some concern to Australia.
We recognise that there needs to be a number of really concrete measures that this government has put in place to address the fact that the previous techniques, and tactics and policy positions that were taken weren't having any success at all.
And we've had strong support from other countries for our overall approach. We've had strong support, for example, from Latin American countries when we've been advancing issues about whale watching and non-lethal scientific research.
So, I think the IWC meeting is going to be a difficult meeting. The IWC itself is at the cross-roads, because you've got three pro-whaling nations who continue to seek to undertake those activities, and with an atmosphere of some difficult discussion and very, very significant objections to the way in which that's been undertaken, and you've got a range of other countries who we think can see a different future for the IWC in the longer term.
TRIOLI: Peter Garrett, just moving to some other issues before I let you go.
We now know, and have learned in the last few days, that you actually warned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in writing, of the unacceptably high risks of the Government's insulation scheme months before that scheme was axed. There were a number of letters from you to him, and a number of changes you made. Why didn't you tell us about that earlier?
GARRETT: I did refer to the communications that had been made, Virginia, through the course of that particular debate, and presenting those issues. And it was the case that it was up to Prime Minister and Cabinet to determine whether those letters did or did not fall within the Cabinet-in-Confidence bounds, and they made that determination and the letters were released on that basis.
But the first statement that I made to the Parliament on this issue was a comprehensive statement detailing the actions that I took, and a range of other measures in terms of improving the guidelines, which is one of the things that's the subject of those letters to the Prime Minister.
And incidentally, the Prime Minister responds to me as well in those letters, which is something which has been a little left out of the political debate.
TRIOLI: Well, what was left out of the debate was actual detail of either you or the Prime Minister giving us, the public, about that exchange and the detail in that exchange, because you say that you referred to it, but at the same time as that debate, you were actually saying that installers had to take some of the blame for the deaths of people as part of that insulation program. So you weren't being absolutely straight and clear about the dangers that you were directly warning the Prime Minister of.
GARRETT: Look, I don't think that's right at all, Virginia. I mean, I.
TRIOLI: What, that you didn't say that installers had to take responsibility? That's the line that you were running absolutely.
GARRETT: Well no, that's not true. We certainly did say that there was a responsibility on the part of installers to make sure that they followed the guidelines, and we.
TRIOLI: Would you like me to read you your quote: "its people actually breaching the guidelines as installers, not properly following the rules and regulations that were put in place, and exposing their employees, in some cases, to a terrible risk in death. Now, they have a responsibility as well."
GARRETT: Yeah, that's right, and.
TRIOLI: Now, that's what you said. And that's saying they have a responsibility, Minister, so you can't duck that.
GARRETT: Well, I'm not trying to duck it, but just be clear about my answer. 'As well' is exactly the right part of my quote. We always said, through the course of that program, and it remains the case, that anybody who was involved in a program of this kind needed to meet the guidelines and had a responsibility for safely installing this material. There's no question.
TRIOLI: But months before, you're warning your own Prime Minister..
GARRETT: Well, let me finish.
TRIOLI: . that your system actually isn't safe enough. Now, why weren't you clear with us about that?
GARRETT: Let me finish. And we also said that at each step along the way, when we received advice as to how the program rollout could be strengthened, in the apprehension of potential safety risks or otherwise, because safety was a priority, then we would take those steps.
And the statement that I made to the Parliament, the letters that have been released, each action that was taken along the way is entirely consistent with that.
I mean, you've got to remember that there were two things in train. One was the development of guidelines to actually make sure that this program was rolled out effectively and safely. The other was seeking advice, both from my department and from stakeholders as well, and from the industry, as to whether there were any other additional measures that they believed, and advice came to me, needed to be put in place in terms of safety.
And that's why my letters are termed in that way, and that's why the Prime Minister responded to me in that way, and that's why, when you look at what Mr Hawke, who actually examined the program in his review, what he said, he said, I acted in a timely and in an appropriate manner.
TRIOLI: Well, it would seem that you did, because those letters were being sent to your Prime Minister very early on in the piece. So given that's the case, you've ultimately then been made the fall guy, haven't you, for the fact that you properly informed your Prime Minister?
GARRETT: Look, I think that the rollout of the program, and my role in it, and the subsequent release, both of the letters, the report that Mr Hawke has done, there's a Senate committee has looked at it very closely, confirms what I said at the time. And I discharged my responsibilities properly and appropriately. I accept the decision that the Prime Minister took in relation to my responsibilities, and I'm continuing to do my job as Environment Protection Minister.
TRIOLI: So whose decision was it to push ahead then with the scheme? Was it the Prime Minister's or was it Cabinet's?
GARRETT: Well again, the scheme itself was designed to make sure that we dealt with the global financial crisis.
TRIOLI: No, you're not answering my question.
GARRETT: Well, I'm coming.
TRIOLI: Whose decision was it to push ahead?
GARRETT: I'm coming to that. And as we.
TRIOLI: Don't take too much time. Our time is tight. We're about to come up to the top of the clock, Minister.
GARRETT: Well - and as we've rolled out this scheme, the Government determined that we wanted to have in place the appropriate safety mechanisms and training mechanisms to make sure that the scheme could be delivered safely. We continued to do that until such time as it became my view, and my recommendation, that safety issues were paramount, and then the Government made its subsequent decision.
TRIOLI: Whose decision was it to push ahead with the scheme.
TRIOLI: . notwithstanding your early warnings?
GARRETT: Well, the decision was taken by the Government to continue taking on board the additional measures that we put in place in relation to both safety, and guidelines and training to continue to roll out that scheme.
TRIOLI: He hung you out to dry, didn't he?
GARRETT: Virginia, you can try and put any sort of things to me that you wish. We've gone through this process.
TRIOLI: The evidence would seem to suggest that.
GARRETT: We've gone through this process in a very straightforward way. The decisions have been taken by the Government. My role in it has been well examined and the decisions that were taken ultimately, both by the Prime Minister and the Government, are well understood.
TRIOLI: Minister, good to talk to you this morning, thanks so much.
GARRETT: Thanks Virginia.