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

National Whale Day; Australia's decision to initiate legal action in the International Court of Justice; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme; Polls; David Marr Quarterly Essay

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop Interview, National Whale Day, LA Perouse Museum, Sydney
5 June 2010

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GARRETT: Look it is really good to be her at La Perouse Museum this morning with the International Fund for Animal Welfare to commemorate National Whale Day, on World Environment Day, and to reaffirm the Government's strong commitment to ending the taking of whales in the name of science in the Southern Ocean, to reforming the International Whaling Commission so that it becomes an organisation that focuses on the conservation of whales and again, inviting and welcoming the participation of many other governments in Australia's agenda of reform and of cooperative research that we have taken to the IWC.

We were very clear that we would oppose the activities of the whaling fleets in the Southern Ocean. We surveilled those fleets; we have had extensive diplomatic engagement with countries, particularly Japan, on this issue. We have appointed a Special Envoy for Whale Conservation to continue those discussions. And last week, we have now announced the initiation of legal action in the International Court of Justice.

We do this recognising that we have a strong and enduring relationship with Japan but on this mater we have a significant disagreement. And it is appropriate for that matter to be adjudicated in the International Court. We have made those commitments on the basis that our conviction is that we need to better understand the threats that our whales face, that we need to work cooperatively with non-lethal whale research, and the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, the largest ever of its kind in the world, is now underway and I welcome the participation by other countries in that research effort.

As we go to the International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco at the end of this month, we do not judge that this will be an easy meeting at all. There is a compromise proposal that has come onto the table. Australia does not agree with many of the issues that have been identified for compromise. We are a country that has put an alternative proposal to the IWC.

I judge that this will be an extremely difficult and hard negotiations up to and including in the IWC. But Australia's position is absolutely clear - we are leading the world in the protection efforts for the world's whales and we remain absolutely and totally committed to maintaining the moratorium on commercial whaling, to ending the taking of whales in the name of science in the Southern Ocean, and to reforming the International Whaling Commission so it is an organisation that focuses on the conservation of whales, not the numbers of whales that are being killed.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Why not make the announcement about legal action today, on National Whales Day, World Environment Day? Did you bring it forward and why?

GARRETT: We always said that we would make the announcement on the initiation of legal action when we judged that the diplomatic process had been given every full effort to see whether there was any opportunity for additional progress to be made.

That diplomatic effort has been an intense one. It has done for a period greater than two years but on the basis both of Minister Smith and my own judgements about how much progress was being made, our judgement was that we hadn't seen any significant actions taken and on that basis we wanted to initiate legal action.

JOURNALIST: But it was only a week and a half ago you made the announcement, why not wait another week and a half? What was the urgency of making that announcement then?

GARRETT: We agreed and felt that it was important to initiate that legal action when we came to a view that the negotiations and discussions that had been underway for some time with Japan were not making significant progress.

We weren't mindful of the dates of different other events. Once we reached that point where our judgement was that we weren't seeing any significant progress being made, then we would take the next step which was the initiation of legal action and on that basis we took that step.

JOURNALIST: So you are saying that you didn't bring the announcement forward?

GARRETT: What I am saying is that we made the announcement at exactly the time that we intended - once our judgement was that the diplomatic engagement hadn't brought forward the fruit that we thought was necessary.

JOURNALIST: What about the criticisms from the United States and also the New Zealand governments saying that it could potentially worsen the situation?

GARRETT: I don't agree with the view that has been put that Australia's decision to initiate legal action will make the negotiations at the IWC more difficult.

We're in the International Court of Justice with a specific matter that concerns the Japanese whaling activities in the Southern Ocean but there are a range of other critical issues and matters that will be and should be considered at the IWC, and Australia goes to the IWC willing to have strong and engaged dialogue with countries there, willing to participate in productive negotiations, and mindful of the fact that we have always said that the International Whaling Commission is the right forum for these broad issues around whale protection to be discussed and to be resolved.

JOURNALIST: If it was the right forum then why is a court case being initiated in the Justice Court?

GARRETT: Well I just take you back for a little bit of history, briefly. The decision by the IWC to have a small number of countries come up with a consensus proposal for consideration by the IWC, a process that Australia participated on, did not deliver any consensus.

And in fact it was the International Whaling Commission, Mr Maquieira, who put together his own proposal. It is a compromise proposal. It doesn't bear the endorsement of any of the countries that were involved in that process in a formal sense.

That being the case, it was entirely appropriate for Australia to take the step that it took and it is also absolutely appropriate that we consider in the discussion on the broader [inaudible] contained in Mr Maquieira's proposal in the IWC itself.

JOURNALIST: Would you be concerned at all by the reactions of the Japanese Government over the court case?

GARRETT: Look I think that we recognise that the relationship is an important and enduring relationship. We understand that it is going to be a matter of some difficulty because we do have a disagreement about it. But I am confident in the resilience of the relationship and I know that Government will continue to work closely with the Japanese Government and continue discussions on a wide range of other matters where we have a common interest.

JOURNALIST: Just on the ETS, you admitted on Sky News this morning that you found out that the Government had shelved the ETS in the newspaper. That is a bit surprising isn't it, given that you are the Environment Minister? Don't you think people would be surprised to learn that you weren't privy to that decision [inaudible] newspapers?

GARRETT: Well the point I was making was that in that particular component and that particular matter, it was a newspaper report that came out at an earlier stage. I think that was just the way that it was...

JOURNALIST: You would have known about it before though?

GARRETT: Well the fact is that all the components of the budget, including that particular decision, of course were discussed by and approved by the Cabinet. But we had an article that appeared earlier in the newspapers and when it appeared earlier in the newspapers - I was just giving an honest answer to the question.

JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed though that you didn't know before it hit the papers?

GARRETT: Well I think sometimes these things getting floated into the media and find themselves in the media as a part of a media cycle. It think the important fact is that the decision that we took was one on the basis that Mr Abbott was walking away from any real action on climate change.

He wasn't going to in any way take seriously what his predecessor had done. The minor parties likewise. So faced with a situation of a hostile Senate that had no conviction to advance climate change, the Government's decision was the appropriate decision to take at the time.

JOURNALIST: You also said...on Sky this morning that politics is occasionally a pretty bumpy exercise. Do you think it is going to be bumpier in the lead up to the election? There is a Galaxy poll out today showing Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd neck and neck?

GARRETT: Oh look I don't think anyone would be too surprised that I described it in those terms. But there will be plenty of polls between now and election day and we will continue to argue very strongly that Mr Abbott is an erratic alternative Prime Minister, that he is all over the place on a range of issues.

And that the Government has shown very clearly its determination to bring the budget back into the black earlier than expected. We have rolled out a series of profound reforms on things like health and education. We have got a strong level of achievement there and we will continue to discuss and promote those in the run up to the election whenever it takes place.

JOURNALIST: You have suggested that Tony Abbott is erratic but David Marr, in the latest Quarterly Essay, says that Kevin Rudd has an 'angry heart'. Have you experienced his 'angry heart' at all?

GARRETT: I haven't had a chance to read David's article but all I can say is that I find all of the interactions with Kevin and all of my colleagues in the Cabinet and in the party to be constructive and positive and I wouldn't have described it in those terms at all.

JOURNALIST: In terms of Australian planning at IWC meeting, are you getting more support from other countries?

GARRETT: Well look, I am encouraged by the fact that a number of countries are willing to take Australia's alternative proposal seriously. I am certainly pleased to see that the Buenos Aires Group, which makes up a number of Latin American countries, are bringing forward what I think is strong positions in relation to whaling and the whaling issue generally.

But we do expect to have ongoing and pretty intense discussions with all countries in the run-up to the IWC and I do invite all IWC members to consider what Australia has brought forward. We are bringing forward a constructive set of proposals to resolve issues that have seen the IWC in gridlock for many years. And I think they are proposals that deserve people's serious attention.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident from the [inaudible]. Are you confident?

GARRETT: Sorry, say again.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident to get the support from other countries in IWC meeting?

GARRETT: Well I will conclude by saying I am very confident that our proposals will be given very serious consideration; I think they have got great merit. We have got a vision for the IWC which isn't about killing the number of whales killed in the name of science. It is about a greater conservation - and a greater shared effort in conservation - amongst all nations world wide.

Thanks very much.

[ENDS]

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