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

The 62nd International Whaling Commission meeting in Agadir, Morocco

Doorstop interview
On the steps of the Centre De Congres
22 June 2010

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GARRETT: I'll make some remarks briefly. Why is it that non government organisations and the media are unable to go into this meeting and have the opportunity to watch the discussions that should be underway by now at this International Whaling Commission?

The reason, in part, is that the so-called compromise proposal brought forward by the Chair, which includes among other things to lose the moratorium on commercial whaling which was one of the International Whaling Commission's great achievements, that compromise is now the subject to significant disagreement and intense discussion.

I believe the people of the world's voices on protecting whales need to be heard. I certainly hear them today in front of the International Whaling Commission meeting here in Morocco. And I know that the million or so people who have already signed this online petition that Avaaz have done, will be added to minute by minute, hour by hour, by many other citizens around the world who want to see a comprehensive protection of whale populations.

So here, in Morocco, I am pleased to be able to accept this petition on behalf of the Australian Government and other like-minded nations here. And in accepting this petition, I say that we too understand how important it is that this compromise proposal that has been floated which would see the commercial whaling moratorium finish, does not succeed.

Australia believes that one of the flaws of the compromise proposal is to overturn the progress that the International Whaling Commission has made. We can say that the moratorium on commercial whaling is one of the Commission's great achievements. It is not time to go backwards at this Whaling Commission meeting. It is time to move forwards and millions of people worldwide are making their voice heard and I am very pleased today to accept that petition.

Finally, to make this point - these will be difficult discussions in the days ahead, but I am confident that with goodwill and a constructive approach which I know that all countries will bring to the discussion, we can continue to take steps to advance the protection of cetaceans worldwide; advance the protection of whales worldwide.

That is something that Australia is committed to and I know it is something millions of people around the world are committed to as well.

So thank you very much Avaaz, IFAW thank you very much too. It is a great pleasure to be here and accept this petition of 1,098,987 names of citizens right around the world and those numbers will continue to grow.

Thank you

Excuse me, [inaudible] compromise can be reached by the end of the week?

GARRETT: We are at a very uncertain stage. Here we have an agenda which we haven't had an opportunity to fully discuss. The Acting Chair has delivered a completely different process at the last minute which sees people to have access to these discussions.

On that basis, it is very difficult to say what constructive and positive steps could take place quickly, but I am very confident that the views that Australia and other countries are bringing to this Commission will be heard and I am very confident that the voices of those citizens around the world who are concerned that countries here in Morocco will take a backward step, I am very concerned that they don't take that backward step but rather we are able to take a forward step.

JOURNALIST: What is Australia willing to do to meet the whaling nations halfway?

GARRETT: Well what I would say is this - we have participated constructively in the discussions that have taken place since the last time that the IWC met in Madeira. We have provided significant support for non-lethal whale research partnerships - the largest non-lethal whale research partnership in the world is supported by Australia.

And we have provided a series of positive proposals for reform of the IWC, for a commitment to the principles that should underpin this organisation in the 21st century, to focus not on the number of whales that have been killed allegedly in the name of science at the tip of a harpoon, but the number of whales which we understand the challenges that they face and the fact that we can derive sustainable income from non-lethal activities, of course including whale watching.

Australia and other like-minded nations bring to this IWC a commitment to discuss in good faith, a commitment to recognise that the moratorium on commercial whaling that the IWC agreed is worth preserving. And a commitment to ensuring that overtime we can see a cessation of those activities which see the taking of whales in the name of science, particularly, in Australia's view, in the Southern Ocean.

JOURNALIST: Which countries support us?

GARRETT: Well I think in terms of who is supporting and who is not supporting, the case is, and many people listening to this and watching this will know, that the numbers will be very close. There are a number of countries who have strong pro-conservation positions and there are other countries who may support a compromise.

At the end of the day, no country can support a compromise, in my view, which sets the course of whale conservation back, nor breaks the moratorium on commercial whaling which has been one of the great achievements of the IWC.

JOURNALIST: Is the move to zero an iron clad commitment for Australia, as far as Australia is concerned?

GARRETT: Australia has laid out very clearly what it considers to be a positive set of alternative proposals. We do want to see the phase down within a reasonable period over time in the Southern Ocean to zero - no whales to be taken. And we also believe that there shouldn't be the hunting of whales in International Whaling Commission Sanctuaries - after all what is a sanctuary if it can still be a place where whales are hunted?

Finally, and importantly, we believe that it is time for the Commission to adopt those measures which would see it have an appropriate and robust governance structure, where agreed and appropriate science measures and mechanisms are in place for determining these issues, done in a way which would enable all countries to participate fully in those deliberations and all citizens, including the million or so citizens who have signed this petition, to have confidence in the deliberations that take place in this important body.

JOURNALIST: Mr Garrett, you can of course if it comes to a vote, vote according to your pushes. But what are you doing to try and bring other countries around to your way of thinking here?

GARRETT: I very much look forward to having discussions over the next day or two with a range of delegations. I hope to be able to meet with ministers. I already have met with Minister McCully from New Zealand today. I hope to meet with other ministers in the days to come.

Australia brings a cooperative sprit to this IWC but a clear position that we do not believe that compromising in the interests of the conservation of whales is the appropriate and right steps for the Commission to take.

Thanks everybody.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia