The Japanese whale hunt in the Southern Ocean is always controversial in Australia. But, as predicted earlier this week, the political and public heat around the issue has escalated further in the aftermath of the ramming and subsequent sinking of the Ady Gil – a small trimaran – from the Sea Shepherd fleet, by a security ship from the whaling fleet.
Most Australians are anti-whaling – a stance supported by all political parties, including the government and the main Opposition party – and the widely available video evidence of the collision has only entrenched that view. The pressure on the Australian government to ‘do something’ is stronger than ever. The same situation can also be said to apply in New Zealand, where the Ady Gil was registered and where many of its crew are from. The public squabbling by supporters of either side about the levels of responsibility for the collision will do little other then keep the issue boiling along.
The Australian government has been forced by the public pressure to publicly state a deadline of June before they decide on whether to take legal action against the whaling, depending on whether or not “substantial progress” has been made in diplomatic efforts to get Japan to end whaling. As the opening words in this piece from the Courier-Mail demonstrates, this is being reported as the Australian government giving the Japanese government “until June to agree to abandon future whale hunts or Australia will take action in the international court.”
This is not actually what Environment Minister Peter Garrett actually said – he said if they “don’t see substantial progress having taken place (by June)… then the question of legal action will be firmly in front of us, and the Government will be in a position to make a decision.” While this form of words is designed to provide some wiggle room, the only message the public will hear is that the Government will take court at the end of June if the Japanese government doesn’t agree to stop whaling – which of course they are not going to do.
It was always virtually certain that the Japanese would continue to ignore calls to stop or even to reduce whaling, and it is more certain than ever now. But this statement makes it far from certain that the Australian government will decide to take legal when this fact has been demonstrated in June at the next meeting of the International Whaling Convention.
However, if there is no move to initiate legal action, the heat will be turned up even more on the Australian government and public support for those who are prepared to action – that is, the folks from the Sea Shepherd – will probably grow even more.
Meanwhile, the Tony Abbott led Liberals – who are normally more likely to be complaining about the government being too close to the environmentalists – are slamming the government’s response as “gutless” and demanding the government “submit court action papers and give Japan until 30 June to end whaling.”
This media statement by Greg Hunt, the Opposition’s environment spokesperson, last June shows that they were already demanding court action back then. It also contains a handy list of some of the previous commitments by the current government to do this, including comments by Kevin Rudd, when he was in Opposition back in 2005, calling on the then conservative government to initiate court action.
Calls from government Ministers in both Australia and New Zealand for both the whalers and the conservationists to ‘show restraint’ will continue to be ignored by both sides. It is far too late for that. As the Sea Shepherd leader, Paul Watson, says whenever there are calls for restraint from the Australian government:
“We’re not going to restrain ourselves from protecting these whales and we’re not going to restrain ourselves from upholding international conservation law. The Government has shown so much restraint over the years they have done absolutely nothing.”
This last sentence really is the key one.
The disputes over this issue have been going for many years, but there is little doubt it will become more volatile than ever over the rest of this year, which is of course also an election year.
(the original version of this piece was first published at Asian Correspondent)
ELSEWHERE: These two pieces provide some more useful bacground:
– This one from the website of The Australian newspaper provides some background to the perspective of the new Japanese government;
– This one from the website of The Guardian newspaper provides some background to the history and attitude of Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd.