Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Intervention and safety at sea
Interview with BBC RADIO
12 July 2011
JOURNALIST: Japan brought up the issue of safety at sea, it's not the first time that a Japanese delegation has done that but they were strongly asking your country, New Zealand, and the Dutch to try and do something about this issue because Sea Shepard is basing their activities in your countries. Why were you not able to say to them, yes, we will start pursuing them and sort this issue out once and for all?
BURKE: Much of what Japan was going through I could agree with. Anything that promotes safety at sea you agree with, anything that says violence at sea - agreed. Japan even acknowledged that the Australian Federal Police Continued an investigation. They need to work out if there is a legal case to pursue charges and that's appropriately a matter dealt with by our own police forces. But Japan then went one step forward and also asked us to go further than what our obligations are under the international law of the sea. If we did what was being asked, effectively Japan was saying to Australia, we want you to provide a higher level of oversight for a whaling vessel than you would for any other vessel. That's an unreasonable request.
JOURNALIST: In terms of allowing these vessels to register and use your ports, is there anything you feel you should be doing more to curb their activities?
BURKE: I think there's a bit of mythology around on the presumption that somehow the Sea Shepard vessels could be stopped simply on an issue of registration. Every one of their vessels is registered in a different nation. For deregistration you need legal grounds under the law of the country. Once again, our laws are based on the international law of the sea. No one, at any time, has argued that we don't enforce international law of the sea. But to be asked to provide a higher level of protection for a whaling vessel than we would for any other is an extraordinary thing to ask. Let's not forget that we believe what Japan is doing there is a breach of international law, that's why we are taking them to the International Court of Justice. We are continuing to pursue that case. For Japan to say, notwithstanding that we want a level of oversight way beyond what you would provide to anyone. It's a strange ask, an unexpected ask
JOURNALIST: Of course, the anti-whaling lobby is very strong in Australia, presumably you don't want to upset anyone back there.
BURKE: I just want to enforce the law. We have obligations under the international law of the sea and we want to enforce them. To the extent that Japan says we want you to enforce the international law of the sea, we say absolutely. Decisions whether criminal charges should ever apply, a decision is made by the police agency and that is the way it should be. Japan went a step further though in asking for us to go beyond our legal obligations. As I say, saying no to that has nothing to do with various lobby groups, it's simply a matter of rule of law.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much indeed.