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

The 62nd International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco

E&OE Transcript
ABC Radio National - Breakfast
Interview with Fran Kelly
22 June 2010

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FRAN KELLY: It's always contentious, isn't it, the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, this one no exception. The meeting has been suspended for two days of private talks, just minutes within the meeting being opened. That means the Green groups and the media have been thrown out, and the delegates, the political delegates only, left in the room.

The talks in Morocco are shaping up as the single-most important meeting of the IWC, since the factory-style slaughter of whales was banned almost 25 years ago.

Member nations, including Australia, will vote on a compromised proposal to reintroduce a limited form of commercial whaling in exchange for an end to the farcical practice of so-called scientific whaling by Japan, Norway and Iceland. Whaling would therefore be legitimised again, but advocates say it would actually mean fewer whales being slaughtered every year.

Australia though opposes the compromise, it wants a phase-out of whaling in the Southern Ocean, within five years. Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, is leading the Australian delegation, he arrives at the meeting later today in Morocco, I spoke to him from Rabat earlier this morning.

GARRETT: Hi, Fran.

KELLY: Minister, the talks opened briefly, and then the doors were slammed shut again for two days, what does that mean, are ministers still talking around the table? What's going on?

GARRETT: Oh, ministers will talk, but this is an unusual and worrying process that the acting chair has put into play, Fran, even though Australia will continue to engage constructively with it. It effectively means that the proposed compromised position that had been floated, which we believe was going to be discussed at this meeting, and which we are opposing, is suspended until these other discussions are underway.

My understanding, even though they were Chatham House Rule discussions today - so I haven't been informed exactly of what was said by other countries, I'll start to speak to countries when I get there tonight and tomorrow morning, and when we get into the forums, but it doesn't appear as though there's any additional offers that have come onto the table, at this point in time.

I've got to say that Australia has always said that the compromises that were on offer, were neither acceptable to us, nor I don't think, to a number of other countries, but more importantly, they don't go to the route issues that this IWC must confront. I'm not at all convinced that this suspension of process and this behind-closed-doors activity that we've seen, will do that either.

KELLY: Well, let's go to this proposed compromise, that seems to be a sticking point, it's a proposal to overturn basically the 24-year ban on commercial whaling, and to allow some limited commercial whaling, instead of the scientific whaling that Japan and Norway and others, operate under now. How exactly would it work, what would it mean?

GARRETT: Well it's effectively saying that we'll no longer have a moratorium on commercial whaling, and the agreement that the IWC had put in place for that, probably one of its most important achievements, will now be overturned in favour of quotas being allocated to the three whaling nations, including Japan, for a round figure of up to nearly 13,000 whales to be killed over the next 10 years, including the continued targeting of vulnerable and endangered species, including whaling in the Southern Ocean, and including whaling in IWC sanctuaries, the idea being that if hypothetically less whales are killed through this process, then that is a better thing.

But frankly, that is by no means acceptable to us, we think that this moratorium on commercial whaling has been an important and progressive step forward, for the pro-whaling nations, and frankly for what the IWC ought to be considering in the longer term, we think that it's important that IWC whaling sanctuaries are just that, whaling sanctuaries.

And we also think that the underlying reform issues, including having agreed and robust scientific measures, and countries not being able to unilaterally exit themselves from parts of the convention, need to be on the table for discussion now.

KELLY: It's a strange turn of events for things to take at the IWC, particularly when you consider that New Zealand, probably perhaps one of the most strident critics of Japan's scientific whaling program, is now supporting this compromise, this notion of some kind of legal catch, with a limit on it, on the grounds that it would reduce the number of whales slaughtered, and it would be more transparent, and it would bring Japan and Norway back into the IWC processes. Does that argument from a country like New Zealand, give you any cause for thought?

GARRETT: Yes it does, Fran, and I expect to meet with Foreign Minister McCully to really iron out with him, and explore all of those issues, particularly given their position up to this point in time. I have to say that the lack of any significant concessions or offers on the part of the whaling nations, up to this point in time, notwithstanding the fact that we have seen the moratorium, meaning the moratorium should have work in place for this point of time, effectively being overturned by the actions of countries like Japan, and yet countries like New Zealand and others, seeking to reach some accommodation with them, pretty concerning.

So I want to have some discussions with Minister McCully, we value the relationship, I know that many people in New Zealand hold strong views about this issue, as many Australians do as well, and for Australia, we are the only country that has put an alternative proposal on the table, and we're also a country that has stayed in the discussions and provided significant additional participation in these discussions for the last two years, so we've been an important and central player.

I think there are a number of other like-minded countries, including some of the countries from what's known as the Buenos Aires Group, that's countries from South America, who have been very supportive of some of the issues that we've raised, and so when I get down to Agadir tonight, I'll be wanting to have discussions with those countries as well, as a matter of urgency.

KELLY: What is Australia's alternative proposal?

GARRETT: We believe that there should be a phase-out of whaling in the Southern Ocean to zero, and that that should happen over five years, we don't believe that there should be the targeting of vulnerable or endangered species, we believe that all whaling activity should remain under the control of the IWC, but specifically that the scientific committee should exercise its proper role in determining those issues that it's required to under the Convention, with robust and agreed science.

We don't believe that the moratorium on commercial whaling should either be suspended or lifted, and we believe that the Commission itself, needs to have a strong conservation focus, encouraging cooperative research, that's non-lethal research, encouraging additional activities and understanding of whalewatching, so that countries that have got whale populations can start to build their tourism industries on the back of whale-watching.

And we believe that ultimately we need to have much better science to understand the other risks to cetaceans, not only the great whales, but whales, medium-sized and others, and dolphin space, from climate change, from ship-strike, from potential impacts that they're seeing on their food sources and the like, we think those issues are absolutely critical for the IWC, and we want them addressed.

KELLY: So that means that if there's no way Australia would support this compromised notion for a suspension of the moratorium, or a sanctioning of commercial whaling, even if the compromise also included a ban on commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean, a ban on commercial whaling in the Antarctic Sanctuary, and no endangered species being allowed with the catch, still - Australia still would not support that?

GARRETT: There's no indication that those measures that you've identified are going to come onto the table at all, we've always said that we're open to discussion, but very clearly in the context of the points that we've put by way of an alternative for the IWC. In that framework that I've just identified some of those elements, we believe lies the future for the IWC, for it to be a modern, conservationbased organisation.

Now if any countries want to bring matters for consideration and discussion, of course Australia is more than prepared to have those discussions in good faith, but we are the only country, Fran, that has produced an alternative framework for the IWC, focused on conservation, recognising that the organisation has been driven by dysfunction in the past, with much debate, a fair amount of argument, but not much progress made, we see that there is a path for progress, but in no way do we believe that compromises, such as have been proposed previously, will get us there.

It's very important to recognise that we participated in good faith, in a process under the leadership of the chair of the IWC, which was meant to bring forward a consensus-based proposal for countries to consider, potentially options, potentially a proposal. Now that didn't happen, because consensus couldn't be reached, and in fact a compromise that came to the Commission was one that the Commissioner himself had delivered, but it's been supported it seems, or had been supported, by some countries on the basis that some compromise was better than nothing.

Australia doesn't take that view, we have more ambition in relation to this matter, and I'm really confident that there'll be some support around the table for our views, when we get to Agadir.

KELLY: Peter Garrett, thank you very much for joining us.

GARRETT: Thanks, Fran.

KELLY: Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, joining us there from Morocco, talking about the IWC meeting now underway, and the stakes as you heard, are high, especially for the whales.

[ENDS]

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