Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts logo
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts home page

Archived media releases and speeches


Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

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

Speech to the Asia-Pacific college of diplomacy

Speech - Australia’s approach to reform of the international whaling commission
15 June 2009

Download the PDF


Thank you, Andrew, [Professor Andrew MacIntyre] for inviting me to address this evening’s gathering.

I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

It’s terrific to be at ANU where I studied many years ago, indeed living for some time on campus at the then brand-new Burgmann College, which since that time has produced a number of residents who went onto play prominent roles in public life.

I am talking to you today on the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, which takes place this year in Madeira, Portugal.

This is an importing meeting Australia takes seriously and we got to this meeting with a position that is both principled and constructive, determined to make progress.

We have a clear position which we will contine to advocate vigorously, especially on central matters such as commercial whaling, so-called ’scientific’ whaling, and whale conservation.

We are entitled to expect two things from all participants at Madeira: real progress and genuine engagement.

We want diplomacy to work and we want the IWC to be an effective force for the conservation of whales. At Madeira we will be looking for evidence that is can be that, and taht all countries, regardless of their perspectives, are seriously engaged in a search for a solution.

Four months ago, addressing the Lowy Institute in Sydney, I outlined the government‘s position on the future of international whale conservation.

The statements I made then remain true today. The government has not wavering on our opposition to so-called scientific whaling, and we will not do so.

Australia remains resolutely opposed to commercial whaling, including scientific whaling, and this is the position I will continue to advocate in Madeira next week.

I also go to Maderia to advocate for critical steps in reforming the Commission and building a new consensus that can effectively protect and conserve whales. And to achieve that we need to work with all IWC members.

The world has changed dramatically in the 60 years since the original signing of the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, and we believe it is time for the IWC to catch up.

This will only be achieved through modernisation of the IWC and Australia is leading the charge for this reform.

We have never doubted the challenging nature of this task, because the IWC has had decades of difficulty in resolving these issues.

It has become clear in recent months that the reform process will not be completed at Madeira. This is disappointing for Australia, because for us, whale conservation is an urgent task and we cannot commit to a continuing negotiating process if it does not produce results.

It is the case that a number of key whale conservation issues are now on the table, issues that have previously proved intractable.

It has been increasingly acknowledged by all countries that the status quo in the Commission is intolerable and our efforts have succeeded in focusing attention in many countries - and most importantly Japan - on the need to find a way forward on so-called scientific whaling.

So what we will work for at Madeira next week - and what we must see next week - is convincing evidence that we are on track towards our key goals. Most urgently that means progress towards addressing ‘scientific’ whaling.

I take heart from the recent announcement by the Obama Administration that it is committed to reforming the Commission by the middle of 2010 and it regards scientific whaling as the critical issue in need of attention. The importance of these statements should not be underestimated. And I welcome the very strong positions taken by our friends in the European Union and throughout Latin America.

Through genuine engagement from the nations of the IWC, we believe that it is possible to resolve the most serious source of tension that impedes the Commission’s work.

Otherwise, scientific whaling will remain a divisive problem.

I will go into more detail about our long-term IWC strategy shortly. But first, I would like to address the belief that some out there that we are taking the wrong approach to the IWC.

Ian Campbell, a former federal environment minister, was quoted a few weeks ago calling for an approach at the IWC that would humiliate the whaling nations of Japan, Norway and Iceland, and make those critical participants dread going there.

A similar approach is taken by the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt, who is yet to support the Government’s reform agenda or engage on the critical whale conservation issues facing the IWC.

Well, we know what the Liberal Party did achieve. During the years 2005 and 2006, when Mr Campbell was Environment Minister and Mr Hunt was his Parliamentary Secretary, they oversaw the doubling in the number of whales targeted by Japan in the Southern Ocean.

During this same period, the 2006 meeting of the IWC saw the passing of the ‘St Kitts and Nevis Declaration’, the first time in almost 30 years that pro-whaling nations secured a simple majority, voting for a return to commercial whaling.

This is the whaling legacy left by the previous Government, who for 12 years adopted the approach of well-rehearsed sound and fury, a complete cop-out aimed at containing the domestic political debate while further entrenching divisions at the Commission.

The Rudd Government has set high ambitions for reforming the IWC and bringing an end to so-called scientific whaling, and we are working intensely to achieve them. But we will not disingenuously suggest that thumping the table and handing out wrist-bands will achieve our goals.

Any call for a confrontational approach fails to understand that constructive talks in the International Whaling Commission are, at this point in time, our best avenue for change.

We will not assist change in the IWC by attempting to humiliate the very countries we are seeking engage as part of the reform process, the countries whose behaviour we believe must change.

Further, it is simply impossible to protect highly migratory species like whales without international agreements that are enthusiastically endorsed and acted on. None of our objectives for whales can be achieved beyond Australian waters unless the IWC is working effectively.

However, to be successful, a diplomatic approach is dependent on whaling nations joining us in good faith at the negotiating table.

Since the moratorium on whaling began in the 1980s, the IWC debate has been polarised. The abuse of a provision in the treaty that allows hunting of whales for scientific purposes has poisoned the Commission. It is time for this gridlock to end.

The split between pro and anti whaling sides has long threatened to bring the IWC to a halt.

Up until last year’s IWC meeting, each year we would see nations argue and bluster, and even threaten to leave the Commission.

It made for good copy in the press, but this ritual of insults and abuse achieved nothing, and meanwhile, increasing numbers of whales continued to be slaughtered.

We will only break the gridlock, and transform the IWC into a modern, conservation-focused body, by engaging with our IWC colleagues.

For this reason, Australia has worked actively in the group of 33 nations who have been involved in intensive discussions on the future of the IWC.

Our position has been consistent throughout: we want the Commission to be modernised and become more conservation-focused. And we urgently want to see progress towards ending scientific whaling.

And we want this to happen with the moratorium on commercial whaling still in place.

Next week in Madeira, the outcomes of the IWC’s small working group which has been trying to find a way forward will be presented. We will continue to be very active in those discussions.

While the moratorium on commercial whaling has been in place, more than 13,000 whales have been slaughtered in the name of research.

Whale kills under this guise are now occurring at ten times the rate of scientific whaling kills prior to the moratorium.

In Madeira, I will be proposing to the IWC that all scientific research should be brought under the authority of the Commission.

Australia’s proposal would reinforce that whale research activities be underpinned by a genuine scientific research need.

It would also ensure that all scientific research is undertaken in the most humane and ethical way. The use of animals in the name of science, including outside the laboratory setting, carries with it a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent unnecessary death and suffering.

If it is to have a future, the IWC must bring itself in line with internationally recognised and applied scientific principles - including on the ethical and humane use of animals in scientific research.

Unless we address scientific whaling, the IWC’s credibility and its ability to operate effectively in the future will be lost.

We advance this proposal in the spirit of stimulating discussion towards a consensus solution to the dispute over scientific whaling. It may not be the only solution and we are willing to consider and explore others’ ideas.

In Madeira, we will be seeking a genuine commitment from all parties to explore our proposal, along with any other promising ideas.

Another issue looked at by the small working group that has already received widespread coverage is Japan’s proposal to undertake small type coastal whaling.

Australia and other countries have very serious concerns about this proposal.

It is extremely important that any proposal before the Commission receives rigorous and transparent policy and scientific scrutiny, and we will continue to emphasise this in Madeira.

However, as I made clear at the Lowy Institute in February of this year, Australia does not view trying to legitimise scientific whaling or simply shifting the killing of whales from one part of the world to another as solutions to the issues confronting the IWC or as means to advance whale conservation.

Another item which I will be releasing this week and taking to the IWC is the results of the Global Cetacean Summary report.

Using global data, this report identifies ‘hot spot’ areas in the oceans around each continent that provide habitats for threatened species. The maps of these hot spots provide an indication of priority areas which could be targeted for future internationally coordinated action - as pioneered by the Australian-led Southern Ocean Research Partnership that I will come to in a moment.

The report makes it clear that more cetacean species, sub-species and populations are likely to come under threat unless the world takes urgent action.

The global and scientific community must come together to develop conservation management plans that actively reduce or remove key threats, and substantially improve scientific knowledge.

Australia’s view is that the Commission must work together to become a genuine conservation-based organisation, one equipped to respond to the world in the 21st century.

The IWC should address the full environmental contexts in which whales live. This includes current and emerging threats like climate change, marine pollution, ship strikes and habitat disturbance.

Instead of its narrow focus on hunting whales, a reformed IWC would see nations agree on how to conduct cooperative science. It would see nations sharing information and working together to plan recovery strategies for threatened whale populations.

I presented proposals to initiate these reforms to the IWC last year and they were warmly welcomed by many countries, because they hold the potential to revive the organisation and rebuild consensus for the conservation of whales.

We have backed up these initiatives with a commitment of more than $32 million over six years for national and international non-lethal research and conservation initiatives.

The investment includes $14.5 million for the Australian-led Southern Ocean Research Partnership, bringing together countries to undertake non-lethal cetacean research in the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean Research Partnership is the first truly international, multidisciplinary research collaboration with a focus on improving the conservation of whales. It is the largest program of its kind in the world.

In March this year, 13 nations participated in a planning workshop for the Partnership and developed a five-year plan, and I will be presenting the draft plan to the IWC in Portugal next week.

We have also appointed Australia’s Special Envoy for Whale Conservation, Mr Sandy Hollway, to advance our diplomatic efforts. Mr Hollway is an experienced and well respected diplomat, and his work supports the efforts of the government, including the efforts of the Prime Minister, myself, the Foreign Minister and many government officials.

These initiatives represent a comprehensive approach which will improve whale conservation, and work towards a global end to commercial and scientific whaling.

In November 2007, the Government came to office following a June meeting of the International Whaling Commission that had reached a fundamental impasse over a number of issues.

The polarisation in the Commission had brought its very future into question, and nations had agreed to an intersessional meeting to bring this question into focus.

As an incoming Government, we faced a clear choice of whether we would engage in this process, genuinely and constructively, ensuring we explored every avenue to break the global gridlock that has seen increasing numbers of whales killed.

In December 2007, the Government made the choice not only to engage, but to play a leadership role, committing to a range of new and innovative policy approaches to reform the IWC and advance Australia’s long-term whale conservation agenda.

We have delivered on every one of these commitments.

And unlike the previous Government, we do not rule out the use of legal options if, at the end of the day, Japan does not join us. The Government’s preference is for a diplomatic solution because we believe that at present greater progress can be made - and more quickly - through the IWC. However as I have already said, we cannot commit to a continuing negotiating process if it does not produce results.

Next week in Madeira, we will ensure that Australia remains committed to open and frank discussions, and I urge Australia’s IWC colleagues to join us at the IWC in that spirit.

Thank you.


© Commonwealth of Australia