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

Ministerial statement on the future of the International Whaling Commission

House of Representatives
15 June 2010

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Next week, I shall attend the 62nd annual meeting of the IWC. A meeting that is shaping up to be a watershed in the conservation of whales in the 21st Century.

This meeting will consider a proposal to sanction commercial whaling, a proposal which Australia believes is deeply defective.

As I have said previously, the Government has carefully considered this proposal and has concluded that it falls well short of anything Australia could support.

We strongly support efforts to find a negotiated solution to differences over whaling. The process has yielded some good results, and there are some features in the proposal which has been put forward by the Chair and Co-Chair of the IWC which are worth discussion. We commend the Chairs for their efforts.

Those who would support the Chairs' proposal have emphasised that all sides must compromise if agreement is to be reached. But this is no compromise - the current proposal is patently unbalanced in favour of whaling nations.

And the critical question is, if the proposal is passed as it stands what will the IWC have agreed?

It will have agreed to legitimise commercial whaling for ten years at quotas which will sanction the killing almost 13,000 whales.

It will have agreed to hunting on vulnerable and endangered whale species and on humpbacks in the Northern Hemisphere.

It will have sanctioned the killing of whales in the Southern Ocean - an IWC-agreed sanctuary. It will have set whaling quotas using ad hoc measures rather than IWC-agreed scientific procedures.

And it will have put off, to yet another working group, efforts to definitively address issues of critical importance to Australia, including so-called 'scientific' whaling.

If such a deal were to go through, Australians would need to resign themselves to watching the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean, year after year, over the next decade. We may protest, but the IWC would have made it so.

The proponents of the compromise argue that this will be a transitional arrangement, a truce between whaling and anti-whaling countries, that would hopefully lead to a permanent settlement of the contentious issues.

Australia also seeks a resolution of differences on whaling, and would support reform that enabled the Commission achieve substantial progress through consensus and cooperation.

But a bad deal, particularly if driven through the Commission on a split vote, is unlikely to achieve the reconciliation we all desire.

The proponents claim that only an agreement allowing a return to commercial whaling will save the IWC.

But their characterisation of the organisation as a dysfunctional body powerless to control whaling is an overly negative view of the IWC, which ignores the organisation's considerable strengths.

The IWC remains in need of reform, and there is a bright future for the body if it can move further in the direction of a modern conservation-oriented organisation.

But characterising the IWC as dysfunctional ignores the IWC's recent initiatives such as collaborative non-lethal whale research, progress in developing conservation management plans, efforts to address whale entanglement and ship strikes, and the promotion of sustainable whale watching industries.

Australia is proud to be playing a strong role in these initiatives.

Most importantly, the IWC is the custodian of the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which remains the single most important contributing factor to improved whale conservation in the world today.

Many would argue that the IWC Chairs' proposal would be preferable to the status quo.

Unfortunately, this proposal would in fact wind back much of the progress we have made since the implementation of the moratorium. It would see a return to block whaling quotas which were effectively abandoned by the IWC as a failed management tool decades ago. It would undo much of the hard work undertaken over many years in the IWC to embed rigorous science as the basis for IWC management decisions.

It also does not do enough to move towards an end to commercial whaling.

Even if one just looks at numbers, the improvement on the status quo would be unimpressive, merely a reduction of only 175 whales killed globally in each of the first five years of the ten year agreement, and 380 a year thereafter. Three thousand whales would still be killed in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

Sadly, there is no guarantee that after the proposed 10 year agreement expires, the number of whales hunted would not return to existing levels or even higher than the status quo. As a country which seeks the eventual elimination of all commercial whaling, including so- called "scientific" whaling, this would be unacceptable to Australia.

Critically, the proposal is mute as to what happens after ten years.

There are no commitments that any conservation gains will be maintained, no commitment that the loopholes in the convention will be addressed, no commitment that the proposed South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary will continue and no commitment that additional species of whales will not be targeted for hunting.

Commercial whaling under the moratorium is considered by many analysts to be a dying industry. Consumer demand is very low and whaling in most cases is propped up by Government subsidies.

Annual whale kill quotas set by the three whaling nations are rarely met, and there is little market for the whales that are caught. Much of the meat sits unsold in warehouses. International trade in whale meat is banned.

Left to its own, it is an industry that should and would die a natural death.

Given this state of affairs, it is obvious that for the IWC to authorize large-scale whaling in the Southern Ocean and whaling on endangered species would not amount to any improvement on the status quo and may, indeed, entrench whaling for years to come.

I will not, however, be travelling to Morocco as a defender of the status quo. Australia will attend the meeting with clear goals to achieve further conservation-oriented reform.

In Australia's view the role of science is paramount for the IWC to be an effective 21st century organisation.

Consistent with the Government's objectives of ending unilateral scientific whaling and bringing scientific research under the auspices of a reformed Commission, on 6 December 2008, I announced that the Australian Government will invest a total of $32 million over six years in non-lethal research and other initiatives to combat so-called 'scientific' whaling. This investment includes:

  1. $14 million working with nations around world in the Southern Ocean Research Partnership - the largest of its kind in the world - supporting a series of innovative surveys in the Southern Ocean using aircraft and ships to deploy the latest non-lethal research techniques, as well as tracking whales along Australian coasts; and I recently announced more than $668,000 of non-lethal whale and dolphin research funding.
  2. $14.6 million for the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, co-located at Hobart's Australian Antarctic Division, to provide competitive grants for applied, strategic, non-lethal research and related activities.

The Southern Ocean Research Partnership, backed by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre will deliver valuable, non-lethal research on an international scale and confirm once again that whales do not need to be killed in the name of science.

Australia has adopted a positive approach in IWC negotiations. We have not simply sat back and criticised the ideas of others. We have been constructive.

We have argued and delivered increased provisions on conservation and the protection of whales from new threats like climate change and ocean pollution.

Ahead of the IWC annual meeting, we also developed a strong Australian proposal for the future of the IWC.

Australia's nine-point proposal, which I released on 25 February 2010, seeks robust conservation measures including the complete phasing out of whaling in the Southern Ocean within five years, an end to whaling in all sanctuaries, and an immediate reduction to zero in the take of vulnerable and endangered species and populations.

We are heartened by the number of conservation-minded countries, who, on the eve of this crucial IWC conference, are declaring themselves forcefully for whale conservation and against such practices as whaling in the Southern Ocean sanctuary and whaling on vulnerable and threatened species.

I particularly want to applaud the efforts of the Latin American countries, including Brazil and Mexico, and many European countries, particularly the United Kingdom and Germany, to ensure the outcome from this crucial meeting of the International Whaling Commission does not undo all the conservation gains of the past two decades. We will keep working with these and other countries to promote genuine IWC reform and improved protection for whales globally.

Perhaps the whaling countries will be receptive to this. But, unfortunately, this is expressed as our hope rather than our expectation.

The fact is that to date, the response of the whaling countries has not been positive.

Recent statements by whaling countries in the Commission have provided Australia with little cause for hope that our serious commitment to conservation of the world's whales will be reflected in any IWC compromise agreement.

In particular there seems to be little chance that whaling in the Southern Ocean will be brought to an end or that the misuse of the Article VIII scientific whaling provision of the ICRW will be definitively addressed.

The Government has always said if we could not find a diplomatic resolution to differences over 'scientific' whaling, we would pursue legal action. For this reason, Australia has initiated legal action in the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Japanese 'scientific' whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Australia has been involved in the discussions on the future of the IWC because we believe the Commission has a robust future as a conservation-focused organisation. We don't subscribe to the view that the only way to ensure the organisation's future is for it to return to its past, policing the development of a heavily subsidised whaling industry.

The Rudd Government believes that in the 21st century the Commission must move forward to embrace a contemporary approach to the conservation of living resources; one that acknowledges the dramatic increase in whale watching as an economic activity which now dwarfs whaling as a source of income for a growing number of countries around the world; that recognises that you don't need to kill whales to learn about them; and that acknowledges the extraordinary level of public concern about our treatment of the worlds' whales.

Australia will continue to play an active and committed role in the forthcoming IWC discussions.

We will continue to engage with the other 87 IWC member nations, including many former whaling nations like Australia, to convince the final three remaining whaling nations that whale watching, not whale hunting, is the way of the future.

We are in the final days before the next Commission meeting, and I note the multiple different positions that those opposite have had on this issue.

Particularly confusing given the recent comment by the Member for Flinders who described the Commission as 'corrupt'.

The Government calls on those opposite to support our actions at next weeks IWC meeting.

Australia is a global leader when it comes to the conservation and protection of whales around the world.

This Government has done more on this issue than has ever been the case in the past.

We remain resolutely opposed to commercial and so-called scientific whaling.

With our conservation-minded colleagues in both Latin America and in key European nations, we have been leading the fight in the Commission to prevent the legitimization of commercial whaling and the undermining of the moratorium, and we will continue that fight next week in Agadir.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia