Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview with Michael Rowland and Karina Carvalho, ABC News Breakfast
21 February 2013
MICHAEL ROWLAND: To other news now, Japan has called off its whale hunt in the southern ocean. The country's fisheries agency says its suspended operations because anti-whaling activists are stopping its fleet from re-fuelling.
KARINA CARVALHO: Earlier the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd accused whalers of ramming its boats. It claims stun grenades and water cannon were also fired at them. Environment Minister Tony Burke joins us now from Adelaide. Tony Burke good morning. You must welcome the suspension from Japan.
TONY BURKE: Good morning. As long as it's the Japanese government's intention to come back again, I don't think there's very much to celebrate. A suspension certainly is better than a continued hunt, but the word suspension's not good enough. As long as they are intending to come back into the southern ocean and continue what amounts to commercial whaling, then we have to continue our action in the International Court.
This is not scientific. They claim its scientific whaling. There's nothing scientific about harpooning a whale and chopping it up and then putting its meat on a plate. That - as long as that's what they intend to do, we're not ready to celebrate any decision about a suspension.
KARINA CARVALHO: Are you satisfied that the Sea Shepherd acted appropriately? Japan says their ships were too close and it stopped them from re-fuelling.
TONY BURKE: There's claims and counter-claims and the Maritime Safety Authority's going through the investigations on this because it's within our search and rescue zone so AMSA will continue to work through the claims and counter-claims, but the starting point of all of this is still that we don't believe a whaling fleet should have been there in the first place.
KARINA CARVALHO: The Sea Shepherd has called on the government to send the navy down to the southern ocean and the opposition wants a customs vessel sent there. Have you responded to Greg Hunt's letter?
TONY BURKE: Well Greg Hunt's very much aware, he's heard it personally from me directly and he's heard it through the media as well, that we do not believe it's the right thing to actually assert the territorial claim down in those waters. You've got to remember the nations in the Antarctic won't assert their territorial claims against other nations underpins the whole Antarctic treaty system including the principle that there will be no mining in Antarctica.
It's within our search and rescue zone. We believe the legal grounds are already there because it's a flagrant violation of the principle of no commercial whaling - what Japan's been doing - and that's why we've taken it to the International Court of Justice. But the argument that we should stop the -
KARINA CARVALHO: Yeah where is that case at Tony Burke?
TONY BURKE: Oh we're getting very close to a hearing date. We're not in the position that we can announce the precise timeline, but we are getting much closer now to a hearing date on that. If the action had commenced under the Howard government back when Labor was saying it should have started, then this part of it, the process, would have been already fully resolved.
But just on the question that you asked about sending a navy or a customs vessel down to assert the territorial claim, people need to be very careful to make sure that we don't take action which actually undermines conservation in the Antarctic. You know we are a government. We need to solve this and settle this in the courts not in the car park.
KARINA CARVALHO: The Sea Shepherd thinks that the whalers have been using heavy fuel oil in Antarctic waters. Are they allowed to do that?
TONY BURKE: Heavy fuel is not allowed to be used once you get below the sixty degree line of latitude. Then you're under the Antarctic rules. It's one of the questions that the Maritime Safety Authority have put to Japan and as that information is resolved, certainly if they've taken heavy oil down, it is a flagrant breech of Antarctic rules. A flagrant breech.
So you've got safety at sea issues, you've got the Antarctic rules and obviously you've also got the first principle which has brought them there at all which is that they should not be whaling. This is not a scientific process, its commercial whaling and our position is immovable on that.
KARINA CARVALHO: The fallout from the Greens/Labor spit - split, rather - is continuing. The Greens are now saying that they will block cuts to research and development funding. That's that one billion dollars that's supposed to fund the jobs package that was announced over the weekend. Doesn't this show that Labor does need the Greens' support?
TONY BURKE: Well let's just look at the major environmental reforms that we've had this term: protection of the oceans with the biggest world network of marine national parks; the Murray-Darling Basin plan; the Tasmanian Forestry agreement. All of them resolving battles that have been there in environmental conflict of thirty years, forty years and in the case of the Murray-Darling a hundred years.
In every one of those, as we've made the announcements, the Greens have stood up and opposed what we've been doing. So when it comes to major environmental reform, I'm actually more interested in delivering the environmental outcome rather than the Greens' position which has been because they think for each of those reforms it hasn't been absolutely everything they've wanted they've therefore stood opposed to them.
KARINA CARVALHO: Tony Burke we'll have to leave it there. Thank you.
TONY BURKE: Good to be with you.