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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

ABC Radio National, Australia Talks Back
Thursday 23 May 2002

Subject: 54th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission


Sandy McCutcheon:

Well as we go to air, the 54th meeting of the International Whaling Commission continues in Shimonoseki in Japan and the verbal harpoons are flying thick and fast as differences over a range of issues have dramatically increased tension.

The meeting got off to a very lively start with Japan producing flyers suggesting that a ban on commercial whaling was an attack on Japanese culture, likening it to a ban on Sunday roast lamb in New Zealand.

And on the second day of the conference, Iceland walked out of the meeting, accusing the Commission of acting illegally. But all of that was just a prelude to the Australia versus Japan clash fixture of the last few days.

After the move to establish a sanctuary in the South Pacific was lost yet again, the Japanese Whaling Commissioner, Masayuki Komatsu said Australia and New Zealand were irrational whale huggers who should be kicked off the International Whaling Commission.

So tonight on Australia Talks Back, after two straight defeats for the South Pacific Sanctuary proposal, is it time to give up on the idea? Is Japan's cultural integrity being infringed by Australia and New Zealand or is all this talk of scientific whaling just a sham? And is it time to impose a complete ban on all forms of whaling?

Well our first guest this evening is the Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, who has just come back from the IWC meeting. I spoke to him earlier today.

Minister, the meeting is continuing as we speak. Are you able to bring us up to date with some of the latest developments?

Dr Kemp:

Well I believe that this morning there has been a very considerable debate, and a lot of procedural motions moved on the question of subsistence whaling for indigenous people. And the proposal for the Bowhead Whale to be made available for subsistence whaling was voted down by the Japanese bloc at the Commission this morning.

Now that's not at all an ideal or satisfactory outcome. It shows the degree of frustration that the Japanese are feeling, I believe, over the votes over the previous days. But it is quite incorrect to suggest that somehow or other, the Japanese desire to take 50 Minke whales in coastal whaling off Japan, is in any way parallel at all, to subsistence whaling by indigenous communities who depend entirely on the take of a very few whales for their communities survival.


Yes, Minister there's been some undiplomatic rhetoric going on. Australia is being called a whale hugger. This has been a pretty tense meeting, hasn't it?

Dr Kemp:

It has been a meeting where emotions have run high. The Japanese whaling industry has declined very markedly in recent years and this is seen as being a very important meeting for the survival of that industry. And one can understand of course those who have made their livelihoods out of whaling for a long time feeling deeply about that.

We need to remember that Australia was a whaling nation until 1978. New Zealand was a major whaling nation. And it's only the recognition by countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States, that commercial whaling is essentially utterly unsustainable; that it's led to the bringing to the brink of extinction of many of the great whales, that has persuaded Australians and New Zealanders and Americans and Britons generally, that commercial whaling has no future. That the future of the relationship between people and whales is in the non-consumptive approach to whales which is through whale watching and the industries, which can be built around that.

And it's just a very substantial industry. The estimate is that about a billion dollars at the moment is earned through whale watching activities. And undoubtedly one of the major reasons why the South Pacific nations have arrived at the consensus that they do not want to see in the future any commercial whaling in the South Pacific, is because they see in part a very significant advantage to themselves in the growth of the great whale populations in that area in attracting people to their islands.


Yes, but Australia and New Zealand's push for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary was lost yet again. Is that the end of the matter or will you take it to the International Whaling Commission in Berlin next year?

Dr Kemp:

Well it's definitely not the end of the matter. I'll be taking it to Berlin next year. We're heartened in fact by the growing momentum in favour of the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary. When it was first put three years ago, the vote was 18 in favour. Last year it was 20 nations in favour. This year it is 24 nations in favour as well as the largest majority in favour that there has been in any of the three years.

And I think this is what has shocked the Japanese whaling industry. They thought that because this meeting was on home ground as it were, in a Japanese whaling community, that this would have an impact on the voting. But what in fact it's shown is that there is a strengthening movement of opinion around the world in favour of the preservation of whales and the complete ending of commercial whaling.


Is it a matter though of keeping ahead of the enrolment campaign, or the vote rigging by the Japanese? Because Masayuki Komatsu, the fisheries agency Commissioner in Japan has said that he sees nothing wrong with gaining approval for measures by offering ODA, Official Development Assistance, to these nations. Landlocked Mongolia joined this year admitting that Japan solicited its entry. I mean they could just go on stacking the numbers.

Dr Kemp:

Well undoubtedly Japan has been working very hard and they saw this as being a critically important meeting. And I think the significant thing to come out of this meeting is that, despite all that background diplomacy and work, the fact is that Japan actually fell backwards in its campaign and the move for the South Pacific Sanctuary gained further momentum.

And let me just make the point, Sandy, that Australia is going to continue with this momentum. We intend to and in fact we have nominated six new species of Great Whales for listing in Appendix 2 of the Bonn Convention, which is a Convention on the Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Now this Convention is going to be meeting again, they're meeting in September of this year. We'll be putting these nominations for the six Great Whales forward. They are the Antarctic Minke Whale, Bryde's Whale, the Fin Whale, the Pygmy Right Whale, the Sei Whale and the Sperm Whale.

And that will further, I believe, continue to show that the anti-whaling movement, the pro-sanctuary movement is gaining further momentum and I hope it will continue to build support for us as we move towards Berlin next year.


Now the Japanese want Australia and New Zealand booted off the Whaling Commission. There's no chance of that happening though, is there?

Dr Kemp:

I don't think there's any chance at all of that happening.


What about the Japanese claim though that the taking of whale meat off Japanese tables is akin to taking roast lamb off New Zealand tables or Australian tables. In other words it's a cultural issue. How do you combat that sort of rhetoric, emotional rhetoric?

Dr Kemp:

Well it's hard of course to talk about the culture in other countries but I was interested to see an editorial in the Japan Times yesterday which said this, 'Today whaling is a minor industry and its meat is a culinary trip down memory lane for the generation that associates whale meat with the post-war resurrection of the nation.' In other words, here we've got a paper that presumably is in tune with Japanese culture, saying that this is not a cultural issue. This is an issue being pushed forward by what is described as a minor industry in Japan and it is really an issue mainly for the very older generation of Japanese who remember the quite widespread consumption of whale meat after the Second World War when food and meat were very scarce in Japan.


David Kemp, is there any validity to the Japanese claims that they need to continue whaling for scientific reasons? It seems to an outside observer that they haven't done a lot with any research that they may have gathered.

Dr Kemp:

Well I don't believe that there is any justification for the continuation of commercial whaling under the guise of lethal scientific whaling. As you say, the results that come out of this are very doubtful. We had a presentation by the Japanese delegation attempting to demonstrate that the problem with whales these days is that they eat fish, and showing us fish taken from the stomachs of some of the whales that had been captured. There were quite lurid pictures thrown on the screen at the Convention.

But of course many whales don't eat fish at all. They eat krill and they're simply not designed to eat the kind of fish that might go on Japanese tables. But the other point surely is this, that when fish were at their most numerous several hundred years ago, so were whales. Whales are being made the scapegoats for the unsustainable human use of fisheries. And it's human fishing activity, which has damaged these fisheries and is increasingly making them unsustainable. It's not whales and whales shouldn't be punished for that.


Just one final thing, David Kemp, is there enough in this issue to cause real problems between Australia and Japan who on every other issue seem to have a really good relationship?

Dr Kemp:

Well that's right. We do have an excellent relationship with Japan on every other issue. I met with the Environment Minister while I was in Japan and we talked very constructively about a whole range of issues to do with global sustainable development. We discussed the issue of climate change and co-operation in a practical way on climate change issues. That discussion was foreshadowed by the Japanese Prime Minister and Mr Howard when the Japanese Prime Minister was recently in Australia. And we didn't find any difficulty at all in conducting those, that meeting in a very friendly and co-operative way.

The issue of whaling did come up very briefly, and we simply agreed that that was an issue on which Australia and Japan disagreed.


Dr David Kemp, thank you very much indeed. Been a pleasure speaking to you.

Dr Kemp:

Thanks very much, Sandy.


Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp, who has just returned from the International Whaling Commission meeting.


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