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A simple question on Whaling

Rachel Siewert 9 Nov 2005

My question today is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. I seek further information on the actions the government intends to take on whaling. I refer to the answer given by the minister yesterday in response to a question by Senator Andrew Bartlett. If the government is not contemplating legal action, can the minister explain what diplomatic and other actions he will be taking to halt the greatly expanded Japanese whaling program?

In particular, I refer to the 14 recommendations provided to the minister by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which include banning any vessels supporting the whaling fleet from access to Australian ports and monitoring and documenting the whaling activity. What actions, if any, is the minister intending to take?


Senator IAN CAMPBELL-It is a very important question, and I am genuinely pleased to have a question on the environment from the Greens. They tend to focus their policies on how to make drugs more readily available for children at venues, how to decriminalise marijuana-

Honourable senators interjecting-

Senator Bob Brown-Mr President, I rise on a point of order. You will note that the minister for the environment begins each answer to a question from senators on this side with his irrelevant comments. He should be answering the question on whaling. I ask you to draw his attention to the question so that he can get on with answering it.

The PRESIDENT-Senator, I did have some difficulty in hearing the opening of the answer because of the interjections. Senator Ian Campbell, I remind you that you have 3½ minutes to answer the question, and I remind you of the question.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-I was very pleased to get a question from the Greens on the environment. It is a very rare thing indeed. They go to elections telling people they care about the environment, and of course most of their policies are on issues such as drugs and putting up taxes for Australian families. Whaling is a very important issue to the government. The Greens senator, in her question, refers to the recommendations of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. They put forward to my office, two days ago, 14 points that relate to the conservation of whales. I have thoroughly examined all of those points.

One of the suggestions that were raised was to pursue the conservation of whales through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. It was an idea that Senator Bob Brown fatuously-and, I would say, almost stupidly-put forward a week ago when CCAMLR was meeting in Hobart. He clearly had done no research or work on this. It was another opportunistic, political stunt that will do nothing to save whales because, of course, CCAMLR has sent the issue of whaling to the United Nations sanctioned organisation that controls whaling-that is, of course, the International Whaling Commission.

I thank you, Mr President, for drawing attention to the delegation from Ireland in the gallery. I record in their presence my sincere thanks to Dick Roche, the minister for the environment for Ireland, for the incredibly strong support-

Senator Bob Brown-Mr President, on a point of order: there is now less than two minutes for the minister to answer the question as to what action he is taking to defend whales from the Japanese fleet, which is now sailing south. I ask him to answer the question.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-On the point of order, the so-called Greens senator has raised a point of order in the middle of my thanking a Irish parliamentary delegation, in their presence, for the support that the Irish environment minister gave me in my global quest to stop whaling.

Senator Conroy-Is this still on the point of order?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-This is still on the point of order.

Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT-Order! I remind all senators that this is question time, not a debating time. I ask Senator Ian Campbell to return to the question and I ask other senators to stop interjecting.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-The so-called Greens senator asked what action I am taking to try and save whales. One of the actions I have already taken this year is to fly around the world to Ireland and meet their whaling commissioner and their minister for the environment. The minister for the environment in Ireland was personally responsible for moving the Irish cabinet's position on whaling to support Australia's.

The senator asked me what action I will continue to take. I will continue to ensure that Australia maintains its leadership in drawing together the biggest international coalition of nations to conserve whales that has ever been brought together by diplomatic activity. Only last week in London I called together a meeting of like-minded nations-

Senator Carr-What a man!

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-The Labor Party scoffs.

Senator George Campbell interjecting-

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-Australia takes a leadership role, brings together the biggest coalition of countries to put pressure on Japan-

Senator George Campbell interjecting-

The PRESIDENT-Order! There are too many interjections on my left. Senator George Campbell, you are being particularly boisterous this question time. I do not want to have to warn you.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-We put together the most effective international coalition of countries to bring pressure on Japan, to bring pressure on Norway and to bring pressure on Iceland to stop their slaughter of whales. All the Labor Party can do is come up-

Senator Forshaw-Mr President, on a point of order: the minister was specifically asked a question about what he is doing in relation to whaling near the Antarctic. He has spent the last 3½ minutes and he is still stuck in the Northern Hemisphere, telling us about London, Dublin and Japan. Could you ask him to get to the answer?

Government senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT-Order! There is no point of order.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-And what do Labor and the Greens do? The Labor spokesman says, 'Go to court.' What did Labor do when they were in power? They did nothing about going to court. They had exactly the same situation that we are faced with now. They did not go to court, because it would not have been effective. Senator Faulkner was the minister for the environment; he sat in the chair that Senator Minchin sits in now.

He did not go to court, because he knew it would not be an effective action. Ireland has not taken them to court. The US has not taken them to court. England has not taken them to court. France, Germany and any of those other countries have not, because it is ineffective. It is a good cheap political stunt but it will not save a single whale.

(Time expired)

Senator Bob Brown-Mr President, I rise on a point of order.

The PRESIDENT-The senator has finished his answer.

Senator Bob Brown-Yes, and I am taking a point of order on it.

The PRESIDENT-What is the point of order, Senator?

Senator Bob Brown-The point of order is that, during the delivery of the answer to that question, the minister twice used the expression 'so-called Greens senator'. That is a breach of standing orders. I ask you, Mr President, to look at that terminology and come back to the Senate with a ruling on it, lest I be tempted to call him the so-called minister for the environment.

The PRESIDENT-Quite honestly, question time today has been quite disgraceful. The number of interjections and points of order mean that we will have very few questions and even fewer answers.

Supplementary Question

Senator SIEWERT-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the legal situation has changed substantially since the government last looked at this matter, in that the Japanese whaling industry has more than doubled its so-called scientific cull and the whale watching industry in Australia is now a large-scale employer with clear interests at stake. I ask: is the minister aware that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea allows for provisional measures to be granted which would immediately halt the Japanese whaling program in Antarctica for 14 days in advance of a full dispute being heard?

Supplementary Answer

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-I am deeply aware of the international law as it applies to these issues. I have studied it more closely than I suspect just about anyone else on the planet has. I say that because I will not take short-term political opportunist action in relation to whales. I will work harder than anyone else on this planet to save the whales and, as I have said-

Opposition senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT-Order! There is too much noise on my left.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-As I have always said, if I thought that legal action through the international court on the law of the sea or any other international tribunal would save a single whale, we would have taken that action already, and we stand ready to take it if think that it will be successful. In the meantime, we will work with our good friends from Ireland, we will work with our good friends from other countries and we will use what we think are effective measures to stop whaling for all time. (Time expired)

Take Note of Answers

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (3.29 p.m.)-I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (Senator Ian Campbell) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to the Japanese whaling program.

I was grossly disappointed by the answer. It seems that Captain Planet is not going to save the whales with his actions. In fact, he did not outline any actions other than diplomacy. The minister said that he has gathered the 'biggest international coalition of nations to conserve whales that has ever been brought together by diplomatic activity'. But he has refused to say what that almighty coalition will actually do. I believe that the minister just avoided a perfectly good opportunity to explain the actions he was planning to take and what would result from this biggest international coalition of nations.

Instead, we were treated to a torrent of what I believe was schoolyard abuse. It brought to mind the image of him as Captain Planet, flying around the world trying to save the planet. It really achieved nothing more than a waste of our time.

The minister did not take the opportunity to outline the actions that could have been taken. There was no action other than to say, 'We'll pursue diplomatic activity.'

That is clearly failing, because, as we all know now, the fleet has set off and will be ready to start whaling in about three weeks time. We are aware that they will be taking around 1,000 whales, and for the first time taking humpback whales and fin whales. Over the last decade we have been starting to see humpback whales off our coasts again.

The community has come to deeply love them and spends a lot of money going out to try to look at them.

It is all very well to carry on the diplomatic activity, and I am glad that the minister is doing that, but the time for real action has come. In a minute I will go on to the legal action that could be taken.

For a start, we could be stopping the support fleets getting supplies and refuelling in Australian ports. We could be being very obvious about our surveillance of the fleets, to keep very accurate records of what they are doing. But the most important thing is to start to look at the legal action. The minister said that he was deeply aware of international law as it applies to these issues. He said, 'I have studied it more closely than, I suspect, anybody else on the planet.' I am sorry, but I beg to disagree with him. I suspect that he does not know more than many international experts. Some of those international experts are Australian, including Professor Don Rothwell.

We believe that there are legal mechanisms to stop the activity that is about to happen in Antarctica, where 1,000 whales will be slaughtered, dying tragically for no reason. Professor Rothwell has advised IFAW that the Australian government does have very strong grounds to take Japan to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to stop so-called scientific whaling. Let us stop the pretence of calling it 'scientific' whaling, by the way. We know that a fleet of vessels has left Japan, bound for the Southern Ocean sanctuary. As I said, they will start whaling in approximately three weeks.

Professor Rothwell believes that Australia does have firm legal arguments to stop this in its tracks, to stop JARPA II and to request provisional measures. This is effectively an injunction that could halt the program for two weeks while an application is lodged with the tribunal.

According to Professor Rothwell, a key factor in the success of any application by Australia to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea would be the urgency of the need for provisional measures. IFAW is arguing that conditions have been met because diplomatic efforts have failed.

They have clearly failed because the fleet is on its way for more than a doubling of last year's whaling. The fleet has left the port and there remains significant scientific uncertainty about the impacts of or the need for JARPA II.

Quite clearly there are grounds for legal action. We believe that the government should go back and try again. They need to look again at the legal advice. Really, if the minister is that committed to dealing with whaling he will grab at any opportunity to deal with this. Quite clearly, there are legal grounds to deal with it. They should be tested. Take a stab at it. Try it. Do not just say, 'We don't think it is going to succeed.' Have a try.

One thousand whales are on the line. Have some guts, take action and do not wait until after the boats come back. The minister said, 'We'll know if diplomacy has worked if the boats come back empty.' I can guarantee that unless he takes any action the boats will not be coming back empty, and then diplomacy will have failed and we might do something. We might do something when the boats come back, after they have killed 1,000 whales. It is not good enough.

Try again.

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