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

Leadership; The 62nd Meeting of the International Whaling Commission

Interview with Tony Jones
Late line, ABC1
23 June 2010

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TONY JONES: Well while Kevin Rudd's leadership is imploding the Minister for Environment Protection is in Morocco at the International Whaling Commission where any chance of a deal is dead in the water.

Official talks resumed today after two days of private negotiations but a plan that would allow Japan to resume commercial whaling if they cut their quotas in Antarctic waters has caused major divisions in the anti-whaling camp.

New Zealand, the United States and some European countries backed the deal. Australia was opposed, but the New Zealand delegation told the meeting that the gap couldn't be bridged because of an absence of political will. Well to talk about the leadership crisis and the crisis at the IWC I was joined just a short time ago by Peter Garrett. Peter Garrett thanks for joining us.

PETER GARRETT: Hi Tony.

TONY JONES: Obviously very big news from the IWC, but before we get to that we're obviously going to have to ask you, are you surprised by the news from Canberra that senior party figures are trying to bring on a challenge to Kevin Rudd?

PETER GARRETT: Tony I've been in the International Whaling Commission meeting all morning and in meetings and negotiations all last night so what I'm hearing is intermittent, and I'm hearing a bit from you as well, this is the nature of politics that there are things that are underway of one kind or another. I don't know the details of them I don't propose to add anything else to your questions on that basis because I've been really focused on what's happening here in Morocco on the Whaling Commission.

TONY JONES: Indeed, understood but as we speak it's reported that a group of senior ministers are locked in talks with Kevin Rudd in his office. Have you heard from any of your ministerial colleagues about what's going on? Have they talked to you? Have they advised you about what's happening?

PETER GARRETT: Again Tony, I don't think I can stress enough I'm not trying to deflect your questions, I'm just pointing out my communications and political reality. I'm on the other side of the world, we've been spending all of our time focused very much on the negotiations leading up to the plenary meeting, which I've just come out of, this morning has been the critical morning where we've seen the compromised proposal that Australia opposed, be abandoned. I haven't been spending all my time on the telephone taking calls or monitoring the Australian media, I've been focusing on what's been happening here in this Commission meeting.

TONY JONES: It's difficult for you to influence the process from Morocco, that's obviously the case, but it's not so difficult to answer the question I originally asked you. Are you surprised to hear that senior figures are putting on a challenge to Prime Minister?

PETER GARRETT: Well Tony, I'm hearing it, I'm hearing it from you and I don't have any other information in front of me other than what you're putting to me and, you know, the nature of politics means that there will be issues that arise, there will be issues that you want to put me to discuss, I'm not coming up with any more answers to you than that. I'm here in Morocco focusing on the Whaling Commission.

You know, you want to bring more issues in front of me, I'm not across all the media, I'm not receiving a whole bunch of messages from people about any of these matters, so that's probably the best that I can say to you. If you're letting me know about it, well I'm aware of it now.

TONY JONES: There's one thing I can absolutely confirm for you and that is that Paul Howes, the leader of the AWU, has taken his support away from the Prime Minister, the whole union, one of the biggest in Australia, and put it behind Julia Gillard. Do you think that will have any impact?

PETER GARRETT: Tony, I'm not going to provide a running commentary on what's happening in Australia in relation to these matters. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to do that and to be frank I don't think you'd expect me to given that I'm operating at a different time zone and I've just come out of the first, and most critical meeting, of the International Whaling Commission.

This was the plenary this morning. I've actually made a presentation on behalf of Australia this morning and I've been listening to the presentations from other countries and their representatives, including ministers as well, and on that basis that's been my focus and it's going to remain my focus in this interview.

TONY JONES: Yes, indeed and I understand that. I'm going to ask you one more question about this and it is an important one which you should be able to answer. Does Kevin Rudd still have your complete support, if it came to a vote in the Caucus, and I note that you are trying to get back to Australia as soon as you can, would Kevin Rudd have your complete support?

PETER GARRETT: I support the Prime Minister, Tony, I said that before I left Australia. And that's my position and I'm not trying to get back to Australia that urgently. I'll try to get back in time that's appropriate, but I've come over here in order to do something which was really important for Australia and for the Australian Government and we've succeeded, by the way, at this meeting and my focus has been really absolutely 100 per cent on that particular issue. It's been a critical issue for us, as you know, it's a matter of great interest to Australians and that is what I've been focused on.

TONY JONES: OK, let's talk about that, has been a dramatic day in the International Whaling Commission. As you say the proposal to end commercial whaling has effectively been dropped, is that down to Australia?

PETER GARRETT: Well, it is a huge day for the Commission and the fact that the proposal that was there to resume commercial whaling is now no longer on the floor of the Commission is a very positive step. It's one that Australia argued very strongly for but we haven't been the only nation putting those views, and we've received strong support in general for the issues that we raised, which were critical of the proposal, and I think what's absolutely remarkable about today is that we have participated very constructively in the discussions right through the IWC including this chair's proposal.

We've responded to it, not only by saying that we don't accept the resumption of commercial whaling but also by putting forward a series of other positive proposals and initiatives, which we think the IWC can take up, and I think what's, at the end of the day, even more important about what's happened this morning is that not only has Australia's view about this flawed proposal prevailed, and it has with the support of others, but it also means that it is now in the court of the Japanese and the Japanese whalers to determine whether they are still going to continue to target large number of whales in the Southern Ocean.

Something which clearly at this commission we have seen views put about the undesirability of those actions.

TONY JONES: You've had to go against both New Zealand and the United States who say they were very close to a compromise deal with Japan which would dramatically lower the number of whales Japan kills and put an end to scientific whaling. Was it not even worth considering that sort of compromise?

PETER GARRETT: We looked very closely at the compromise, Tony, and we put a nine point proposal, an alternative proposal, which identified some of its flaws. Remember, it wasn't only about resuming commercial whaling, there was whaling in IWC sanctuaries, there was a targeting of vulnerable and endangered species. There was no commitment to look at the significant governance issues and issues around the use of agreed science in the Commission, all of which must be dealt with in a comprehensive manner.

So to that extent yes, there were other countries including the ones that you've mentioned who were in favour of compromise but frankly this wasn't a compromise that we or others could accept and I've been very pleased to see interventions from countries such as India, the support that we've received from the Buenos Aires group and a number of Latin American countries, and others, recognising the substance of Australia's objections, which they share, and understanding that we do need to have a very different but holistic vision for the IWC in the future. One which Australia's been very, very positive in bringing forward.

TONY JONES: What will you do though if Japan simply walks away completely, as they've threatened to do, from the IWC and goes back to commercial whaling unilaterally and just ignores you?

PETER GARRETT: Well, there's no signs as yet that that's going to happen and I very much hope that Japan doesn't take that step and I'd urge them not to. We've always said that these discussions are always difficult, are always contentious, but Australia has expressed its confidence in the IWC as the appropriate body for these matters to be resolved and discussed.

We think that's where the discussions should happen and we're committed to identifying those things which we can do positively together. Remember that we actually brought forward the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, a big partnership which we invite other countries to join us with, Tony, and the support that we've received here in Morocco for that has been really tangible.

And so what we're saying is 'let us work together on the things that we can agree on.' Sure there will be areas of disagreement, we need to find ways of resolving those over time, but in the meantime let's have confidence building measures working on those things which we can find agreement on and for Japan to consider whether it's still appropriate for them to be targeting those large numbers of whale species in the Southern Ocean for the coming seasons ahead.

TONY JONES: But at the same time you are effectively holding a gun to the head of the Japanese by taking them to the International Court of Justice and trying to stop them in the International Court. How much more important now is that case and particularly if Japan walks away from the IWC?

PETER GARRETT: Well that case is part of the Government's repertoire of actions in relation to whaling which we always said that we would bring forward, but it's not the whole of our repertoire. The point I'd make about the case is simply this: we're well prepared to take that case and Australia and Japan accept that the resolution of that particular matter which has been identified in that case, the question of so called scientific whaling, is one that can be adjudicated in that court.

But there are a range of other issues, important issues, including some that were in the substance of the chair's compromised proposal that we think need to be very, very seriously looked at and resolved. And the only way that we can do that is to continue the process of agreeing on those things which are positives in the Commission and saying, listen, where we can work together on non-lethal whale research - let's do it'. Where we can identify the economic benefits for developing countries for whale watching - let's provide expert support and additional advice and help. Where we can actually have rigorous science in the Commission as the basis for determining those matters under the reservations and the like - let's have rigorous science.

I mean these are not exceptional matters but they're things which are absolutely fundamental to the future of the International Whaling Commission. One which, again, we very much want other nations to join us in.

TONY JONES: Peter Garrett, we'll have to leave you there. I appreciate the difficulties you were having, caught between two very big stories on one night. At least you're able to talk fluently about one of them. We thank you very much.

PETER GARRETT: Well Tony, the numbers that I've been focusing on here are the numbers of whales that have been targeted in the Southern Ocean and the sort of positive policies that we think need to be brought forward in the Commission and we've been doing that I can assure you.

TONY JONES: Ok. Thanks very much.

[ENDS]

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