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

Australia's approach to the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission; leadership; polls

E&OE Transcript
Doorstop Interview, Pre-depature for the International Whaling Commission
Sydney
19 June 2010

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GARRETT: I'll be leaving today for Morocco for the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission — to lead the delegation there — at what will be one of the most crucial decisions of the IWC since the decision it made to ban commercial whaling.

Australia will be a leading voice for the protection of whales at this crucial International Whaling Commission meeting and it will be without any doubt a difficult and extremely critical meeting where the compromise that's on the table, which would see almost 13,000 whales killed over the next 10 years, will be vigorously resisted by Australia.

We have been closely communicating with like-minded countries in the run-up to this IWC meeting. We recognise that there is an important decision on the table for countries to take and Australia will be a strong, pro-conservation voice at the IWC.

We have also ensured that we have an alternative proposal on the table for countries to consider. It is the only proposal that is an alternative that is on the table and it specifically seeks to maintain the ban on commercial whaling. We don't want to see any whaling in the Southern Ocean. We don't want to see any whaling in IWC Sanctuaries and we don't want to see any whaling of vulnerable or endangered species.

We will be standing up for the whales at this meeting in Morocco and we will be arguing strongly against any compromises that can see commercial whaling begin. And I very much look forward to us having a constructive engagement at the IWC. We expect any discussions and any potential agreements to be developed through serious negotiation and consensus.

In the meantime, all I can say is that this Government takes the protection of whales absolutely seriously and as a Minister, going to the IWC, I intend to be a leading voice for the protection of whales in this crucial meeting.

JOURNALIST: How are the numbers looking?

GARRETT: Well we won't know until we get to the IWC where countries ultimately may vote if there is a compromise that comes onto the table. It has always been the case that these meetings are difficult meetings; they are meetings which are very, very fluid in nature. So until we get to the IWC we won't have a sure sense of things like the numbers.

JOURNALIST: How active has Japan been in offering, in inverted commas, inducements for small countries to join their bandwagon?

GARRETT: Look I have seen the reports about bribery for some of the countries going into the IWC. They have been denied. But we think that this is a matter that is deserving of discussion in the IWC, in the context of the overall reform agenda, one which Australia has been championing in the past.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, you'll be discussing the bribery issue?

GARRETT: Well we think it is worth having discussion if other countries choose it worthwhile, in the context of the overall reform discussions and a reform agenda which we have put forward in the past.

JOURNALIST: So landlocked countries which are not anywhere near any whales who sort of turn up and all of a sudden are pro-whale killing?

GARRETT: Well the major focus that I have at this IWC is to make sure that we don't see a resumption in commercial whaling, that the moratorium that the IWC put in place to save whales, is maintained. That's absolutely critical. That is why it is a genuinely historic, threshold meeting.

JOURNALIST: So the scientific whaling is not under threat is it? It is additional whaling?

GARRETT: Well Australia has said a number of things. We have said that we don't want to see whaling in the Southern Ocean, that we don't want to see the taking of vulnerable and endangered species. And we have also said that we think that any determinations around science, including scientific whaling, have to be done in a way where the science is agreed by the parties to the IWC.

We have put forward that reform proposal. We expect and we hope that that will be discussed at this upcoming meeting.

JOURNALIST: So, exactly how are you going to broach the subject of bribery?

GARRETT: Well this is a meeting where the actual organisation of the meeting and the discussions that take place can be very, very fluid. So I won't add anything to what I have previously said, other than pointing out that Australia is the only country to have brought forward an alternative proposal to this crucial IWC meeting.

We will be standing up for the whales. We will be a leading voice for the protection of whales and the maintenance of the moratorium on commercial whaling. And the compromise proposal that has come from the Chair that is on the table falls well short of what Australia could support. And we want to work closely with like-minded nations to forge an approach for the IWC which is based on conservation, on looking at whales, not at counting the numbers of them that are killed.

JOURNALIST: Apologies if you have already answered this, but the front page of The Australian has the article that some of the backbenchers are preparing to roll the Prime Minister. Your response to that?

GARRETT: There is 100 per cent support for the Prime Minister. I don't propose to engage in any other discussions about that. I am very focused on leading the Australian delegation to the IWC in Morocco.

JOURNALIST: Is there a point where the polls will hit a low point, that polls might hit, where you think it might be time for a new leader?

GARRETT: Well again, the support for both the agenda and the Prime Minister is very strong and I simply make this observation: if it hadn't been for the decisive and early action that was taken by the Prime Minister and the Government in dealing with the threats of the global financial crisis, Australia and Australians would not be in the position that they are now with better than average employment figures, an economy that is working extremely well, interest rates at reasonable levels, and compared to all other OECD countries, with an enviable economic record in the face of this crisis.

JOURNALIST: So these backbenchers should pull their heads in, they have got no right to be disgruntled?

GARRETT: Well look we are going to focus on reminding people that we have brought forward a positive agenda — improving health, making sure that we have dealt with the financial crisis and in my case going to Morocco to ensure that Australia is a leading voice for the protection of whales.

JOURNALIST: The latest I think shows that the Government will be returned, which contradicts the previous poll. Do you take solace form that?

GARRETT: Well I don't provide a running commentary on the polls. I never have in the entire time I have been in Parliament. I don't propose to start today.

Thanks everybody.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia