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

The 62nd Meeting of the International Whaling Commission; Leadership

Doorstop interview
International Whaling Commission
The Centre De Congres
Agadir, Morocco
23 June 2010

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GARRETT: I am very pleased that the strong feeling here in the International Whaling Commission is that the compromise proposal which we have objected to consistently will not go forward in its current form at this point in time.

We have always said that the compromise was flawed and whilst we recognise that there has been much goodwill in the discussions that have been undertaken, at the end of the day it was our view that the International Whaling Commission could not take a step backwards and I am very pleased that this morning it is now clear and confirmed that in fact the Commission won't be taking a step backwards and won't be opening up the prospects of commercial whaling in the future.

This morning when I spoke on the floor of the plenary I acknowledged the good support and very strong and cooperative engagements that have had from many nations here. And I think that has been in evidence on the floor of the plenary. And Australia acknowledges the goodwill and the constructive dialogue that has been a feature of the discussion so far.

At the end of the day a compromise which saw whaling in IWC sanctuaries, the continuation of whaling for the foreseeable future in the Southern Ocean, the removal of the moratorium on commercial whaling, was never going to be acceptable to Australia and it was on that basis that we were very clear from the outset of what we could and what we couldn't accept.

Today I also put forward a series of what I think are positive proposals for member nations to consider. It is clear that the IWC needs to consider the reform of its governance. It is clear that we need to have a stocktake of the rules and of the regulations and of the procedures of the Commission. And I think it is entirely appropriate for an independent, at length body to be commissioned to do that work. I think that would provide a great deal of opportunity for sensible and necessary reform.

The other thing that is clear today I think is that the IWC as a whole is a body that continues to improve in its dialogue, that continues to find ways of working effectively even though there has been a history of disagreement on some issues and that is a positive that we take from this meeting here in Morocco.

For Australia's part, we will continue to very strongly represent our views about the necessity for this whaling commission to focus on the protection of whales, to better understand the risks and challenges they face. And to provide additional opportunities for those countries who want to see economic sustainability through activities like research and whale watching be undertaken in the future.

So I think it was a good morning session for the IWC. Yes there are some discussions that will be had in the future on matters that are not yet resolved, but there are also positive things that we can focus on and I hope that other like-minded nations and others in the Commission will want to focus on those in the days ahead.

JOURNALIST: Did Australia lack the political will that was suggested by Sir Geoffrey Palmer?

GARRETT: I don't think it was a question of political will at all here. It was a question of the substance of the compromise that was in front of us. And it is very clear that there were a number of countries, not only Australia, that could not and would not accept the substance of those compromises.

Remember that the IWC is a body which must evolve over time like all other international institutions do. And on the basis of its commitment to a moratorium on commercial whaling, build on that good work which is some decades past, into the future.

This is not about political will, it is about the substance of the compromise and what it contained and the fact is there was not a consensus at this meeting to accept that compromise and I think the fact that there wasn't a consensus is the right place for the commission to be.

JOURNALIST: What kind of governance reforms would you like to see?

GARRETT: Well I don't want to second guess where those governance reforms, if there are to be reforms contemplated, would go.

All I would say is that it is Australia's view that it is an appropriate time for there to be consideration given to reform of governance for this organisation. Other organisations undertake that work. Companies undertake that work, governments, local institutions undertake that work. And so I am inviting the commission to consider, and commissioners to consider, whether or not it is appropriate to engage a third party organisation of credibility, agreed credibility, to consider these issues. Terms of reference and the like are matters for the commissioners. But it clearly is a time and an opportunity to consider governance in the longer term.

JOURNALIST: Do the whales win here though given the status quo continues and more than 1000 whales will be hunted and killed in the Southern Ocean this year?

GARRETT: Well the next step that is important coming out of this whaling commission rejection of the compromise, is for those pro whaling countries, in particular Japan, to show significant opportunities arise for reducing down to zero in the Southern Ocean of whales that are targeted, and to take seriously those issues we have brought and others have brought with us, into this International Whaling Commission.

I want to see a recognition that the issues that we have considered to be serious and important and issues which have resulted in this compromise being abandoned at this point in time - I want to see those issues taken seriously by other countries in the Commission, and that is my hope.

JOURNALIST: Can I do one more question, just quick. We have done the thing on Lateline. Do you support Gillard or do you support the Prime Minister?

GARRETT: Look I have supported the Prime Minister in my earlier statements and that is my position at this point in time. I don't propose to add anything to that given that I am now in Morocco and whatever political events may or may not be unfolding in Australia, my focus has been on the conservation of whales in the International Whaling Commission.

And I am pleased today that a compromise proposal that we believe had deficiencies in it has not been accepted and isn't going forward.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia