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

Opening Statement: 61st Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission

Madeira, Portugal
15 June 2009

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The world has changed dramatically in the 60 years since the original signing of the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Now it is time for the International Whaling Commission to also evolve into a modern organisation, equipped to protect and support the recovery of whale populations and to address the many threats to whales in their environment. This is a journey that Australia has been on since we ourselves brought an end to our history as a whaling nation only 30 years ago.

Last year, at its 60th annual meeting, the Commission agreed to embark on an unprecedented and important process to ensure the current organisation truly reflects the views and priorities of its membership while embracing the concepts of modern oceans management.

This is a process that Australia takes very seriously. Australia has engaged constructively and intensively in the Small Working Group (SWG) process on the future of the IWC over the past year because we want reform of the IWC. Australia attends this 61st annual meeting of the Commission determined to accelerate progress and with a real hope and a reasonable expectation that all members are likewise genuinely engaged in the search for a solution. We remain hopeful that the meeting will provide genuine reason to believe that progress will be made if further negotiations are agreed.

Australia's position has been consistent throughout: we believe the Commission should be modernised, we believe the moratorium remains essential for the recovery of whale stocks and we urgently want to see progress toward an end to unilateral scientific whaling.

For over 20 years, special permit whaling has been the most controversial and divisive issue within the Commission. The Small Working Group has identified research under special permit as one of three key issues to be addressed. Unless we address the issue of special permit whaling, the Commission's credibility and its ability to operate effectively in the future will be lost. To this end, Australia wants to see practical outcomes in relation to addressing the problem of special permit whaling. For Australia, whale conservation is an urgent task and we cannot commit to a continuing negotiation process if it does not produce results.

In the interests of trying to find a way forward on this issue, Australia believes that the Commission should look at this question in the context of the Commission's overall scientific needs. Australia's proposal would reinforce that whale research activities be underpinned by a genuine scientific research need, should adhere to agreed, modern, best practice principles and should be brought under the authority of the Commission.

Australia's proposal also provides that all scientific research is undertaken in the most humane and ethical way, because 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.

Australia believes it is reasonable to expect that any modern and effective international organisation that directs research must do so based on best practice scientific principles; this is a benchmark against which the institutional credibility of the Commission will be judged in the future.

In the past 18 months, Australia has put forward a number of well-developed and constructive new proposals to help the Commission's discussions to move forward together. We have submitted papers on the future of the IWC, on cooperative research partnerships, on collaborative conservation management plans, and on the reform of IWC science.

We have also emphasised that we are willing to consider proposals of other countries that may assist in reaching consensus and shared understanding. It is extremely important that any proposal before the Commission receives rigorous and transparent policy and scientific scrutiny.

Australia advances this new proposal in the spirit of stimulating discussion towards a consensus solution to the dispute over scientific whaling. It may not be the only proposal, and we would welcome the suggestions of others. We urge all Commission members to be part of this discussion and put forward their own constructive ideas towards an agreeable solution.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia