Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (5.32 pm)—It is interesting to read the minister’s statement that I understand he tabled yesterday in the House of Representatives. He is essentially trying to reassure Australia that the government and the minister are not asleep at the wheel on whaling and, ‘It’s okay; we’ve now made up our minds about what we are going to be doing.’
They have set a course, after making very clear promises in the run-up to the last election that they were going to take decisive action to end whaling. The only whales that have been saved from being killed in the Southern Ocean on the government’s watch have been saved by the Sea Shepherd and the work of the volunteers in trying to protect those whales. The government have not yet saved one whale. The government have left it to the last minute to take legal action. They are part of the IWC. They have been at the negotiations and at the small group meetings. They knew what direction the IWC was taking. They knew that diplomatic action was not succeeding. They have left it to the last minute to initiate legal action against whaling, knowing full well that if the proposals before the IWC succeed their legal action will probably be invalid and unsuccessful. They have one hand tied behind their back already going into this legal action because they knew the proposals coming up at the IWC had the potential to make their legal action invalid.
At the same time the government were toing and froing about whether to take legal action, two people in Japan, the Tokyo Two, took action to try and expose the embezzlement of whale meat. I had the good fortune of meeting one of them, Toru Suzuki. He is a delightful, brave young man who made a decision to try and expose the embezzlement of whale meat and expose what is going on in the whaling industry. The Tokyo Two are currently on trial in Tokyo. Foreign Correspondent had an excellent show on this last week. That program highlighted just how brave these two young men were and the risks they took that could see them sent to jail. They face 10 years jail for trying to expose this embezzlement. It is something that I think every Australian would be proud that they tried to do. Rather than an investigation into the embezzlement of whale meat, those two young men who were seeking to protect whales have been charged and are currently facing trial. What have our government done?
As far as I am aware, they did not even send an observer to the trial—something that was requested by many people. Those two young men are currently facing a 10-year jail sentence for doing what I think most Australians would have done to expose this trade. Yet this government have taken so long to take legal action, and now they are trying to de-fend their position a minute before midnight before they go into the IWC. A similar situation where the government has not been active enough can be applied to the sinking of the Ady Gil. We are very concerned that that ship was sunk by the deliberate action of Japanese whalers.
A report was released by the Maritime Safety Authority which is inconclusive. Our Federal Police facilitate Japanese investigation of the Sea Shepherd and yet do not take any action when a boat is sunk, we believe, in our territorial waters. The Ady Gil was sunk, putting at risk six lives—those people trying to take action to save whales—but again our government has refused to act. In the ministerial statement the minister talks about the crucial role of science and says: It is Australia’s view that the role of science is paramount to the IWC.
I think what is paramount to the IWC is protecting and conserving whales. Australians are very clear: they want our government to ensure that the killing of whales is stopped. We Australians totally oppose the commercialisation of whaling and we want our government to take action to ensure that does not occur. I am concerned that the focus on the paramount role of science takes attention away from the fact that we expect the IWC to be conserving whales. That is the role that Australians want from the IWC, and we want our government to be taking clear action not only to ensure that the killing of whales ends but also to work very constructively and pro-actively to ensure that happens—and not make meaningless promises and commitments and not take action after the horse has bolted, which I am deeply afraid is what is happening with the legal action that the government has now said it will take.
If it had initiated that action straight after the Oceanic Viking had been to the Southern Ocean and had the video footage and the documentation of that process at the end of the 2007-08 season, we might have now been in a position where that court case had been argued and where we might have had a judgment. Now we may never have a judgment because the government has prevaricated on this issue for so long. The previous government tried diplomatic action and it failed. So this government continued it, but it does not use other levers—for example, saying we do not want to negotiate a free trade agreement. It is an example of a mechanism that the government could have used to remind the Japanese just how important we find the whaling issue.
I agree with the minister’s comments in his ministerial statement that commercial whaling is dying out and that the countries that are whaling are subsidising it. In Japan it is clear that it is being subsidised. That is true and I agree with the minister that it is being propped up. Japan is continuing to prop it up. Whale meat, as I understand it, is not popular in Japan, and whaling is not a traditional industry, broadly, in Japan. I am aware that there has been coastal whaling in some communities, but the commercialisation of whaling at the scale that it is not a tradition in Japan. It started in the fifties as a way to feed the country after World War II— the 1940s and 1950s, after the war—but there is no justification whatsoever for continuing this barbaric trade and this barbaric view of whaling.
I think the nations of this world made a very sensible decision to put in a moratorium. We need to ensure that whaling never ever recommences. I am very concerned that the proposals that are being put to the IWC will in fact wind back the good work that has been done in the past. I urge the government and the minister to take an extremely strong stand—but, unfortunately, I think the action has been taken too late. We will be watching IWC negotiations very closely—very closely indeed—and I just hope that the outcome at the IWC does not invalidate the legal action that the government is commencing.