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Japanese Whaling

Estimates & Committees
Rachel Siewert 28 May 2008

Standing Committee on Environment, Communications & the Arts

Senator SIEWERT-I would like to first ask some budget questions before asking more detailed questions. This is from the portfolio budget statements on page 53. I understand that there has been an increase in revenue for both Antarctic policy and Antarctic science, and that part of that revenue increase is from a memorandum of understanding with the Japanese government for the resupply of their Antarctic station. Could you tell me what the funding level is, what is being done, and has this occurred in the past?
Ms Mudie-We have a collaborative arrangement with the Japanese to undertake some work on their behalf to resupply their Antarctic station and, for that resupply, we are obtaining revenue from them.
Senator SIEWERT-What do you resupply?
Ms Mudie-It is a matter of resupplying their Antarctic station, so it is all manner of equipment supplies for their Antarctic station.
Senator SIEWERT-Could you tell me how much that revenue is?
Ms Mudie-Depending on the length of the voyage, it would be between $9 million and $10 million.
Senator SIEWERT-Over the 12 months?
Ms Mudie-Over 12 months.
Senator SIEWERT-Is this a longstanding arrangement? I noticed that it was not in the estimated actual for last year.
Ms Mudie-No, it is not a longstanding arrangement. The Japanese do not have a vessel to resupply. They are rebuilding a vessel for their own Antarctic program and we are supplying our vessel for them.
Senator SIEWERT-In other words, this is the first year that it has been undertaken?
Ms Mudie-That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT-When was this negotiated?
Ms Mudie-It is still under negotiation. We have yet to finalise the MOU.
Senator SIEWERT-So that has been negotiated while we have ships surveilling their Japanese whaling operation?
Ms Mudie-That is a different issue. The Aurora Australis is an Antarctic vessel which we use for resupply.
Senator SIEWERT-Yes, I appreciate that it is a different issue. But the point is that, on the one hand, we are sending envoys to Japan, and this summer we had the Oceanic Viking in the Southern Ocean and we made very strong statements about whaling; on the other hand-and it may have been publicly available but I do not think much notice was taken of it-the Australian government at the same time was negotiating with Japan to resupply their Antarctic base.
Ms Mudie-We have a very close relationship with Japan in terms of science that we undertake and we have a collaborative arrangement in terms of logistical support as well, where possible.
Senator SIEWERT-So it is still under negotiation. I want to come back to the science issue in a minute. Could you tell me when the negotiations were started?
Ms Mudie-I would have to take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT-But that is still under negotiation?
Ms Mudie-That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT-When you say between $9 million and $10 million, that is then broken down, is it? It appears from the budget statement that some is to be allocated to Antarctic policy and some allocated to science. Is that a decision made by the department or something that is being negotiated with Japan?
Ms Mudie-It actually achieves both objectives from a policy perspective, as well as resupply and operational issues.
Senator SIEWERT-What is the basis for the allocation? Is it an agreement with Japan?
Ms Mudie-It is an agreement with Japan.
Senator SIEWERT-Japan are saying, 'We want you to allocate some of this money that we're paying you to policy and some to science'?
Ms Mudie-No. That is how we allocate it, but the actual dollar figure is for the hire of the vessel.
Senator SIEWERT-The dollar figure is for the hire of the Aurora Australis. Just for this year?
Ms Mudie-That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT-It is not an ongoing arrangement?
Ms Mudie-No, it is not.
Senator SIEWERT-Do I understand from the comment you made earlier that in the past they had a vessel, that they no longer have a vessel, and that is why Australia is negotiating?
Ms Mudie-That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT-This figure, therefore, will not be there into the future. So, while the funding is being boosted into Antarctic policy and science for this financial year, that is a one-off boost?
Ms Mudie-That is correct.
Senator SIEWERT-Could you tell me, therefore, what that money has been specifically used for in those programs, and has that been negotiated with Japan?
Ms Mudie-I would have to take that on notice.
Senator SIEWERT-You do not know-
Ms Mudie-Off the top of my head, no.
Senator SIEWERT-if there has been an agreement with Japan about what will be studied with that
money?
Ms Mudie-No. It is still under negotiation. I am happy to provide the information we can on notice.
Senator SIEWERT-Is the contract amount under negotiation or is what the money is to be used for under negotiation?
Ms Mudie-The whole arrangement is under negotiation at this stage.
Senator SIEWERT-So Japan gets a say over how the money that they are paying Australia for the hire of our vessel will be used?
Ms Mudie-That is correct. That is the negotiation.
Senator SIEWERT-Why is that? If they are hiring our vessel, why do they get a say in what the money will be spent on?
Senator Wong-Senator Siewert, I understand Ms Mudie's evidence is that these are matters which are currently the subject of negotiation between Australia and Japan. I suppose what she is flagging, in terms of taking it on notice, is that there is a limit on how far she can respond, given that those negotiations under that arrangement are still pending. I appreciate you are entitled to put your views about the appropriateness of anything in relation to such an arrangement, but I think the officer at the table can only proceed so far, given that those negotiations are still under way.
Senator SIEWERT-I do take the point. In terms of the detail of the negotiations, I understand the issues around sensitivity. However, I do not see why there is an issue about whether Japan has the ability to negotiate how Australia spends its money on science when it is paying us. As I understand it, Japan is paying us for a service and, as I understood your answer-and I may be incorrect, so please tell me-there is then negotiation about how that money will be spent on science.
Ms Mudie-No, on the use of the vessel. They may utilise the vessel at some point in that resupply for some science that they may wish to do.
Senator SIEWERT-Sorry, I misunderstood. It was not clear from what you said. I understood that the vessel was purely being used for resupply, but is it also being used for science?
Ms Mudie-It could be that on the resupply voyage they may undertake some science at the same time. It is possible to do that, in terms of marine science.
Senator SIEWERT-Would it be safe to assume that that science will not involve anything to do with scientific whaling?
Ms Mudie-I think that would be a safe assumption.
Senator SIEWERT-Am I guaranteed that?
Ms Mudie-Until we complete the negotiation, it is difficult to answer that.
Senator SIEWERT-What sort of science would-
Ms Mudie-It would be consistent with government policy.
Senator SIEWERT-I would have thought it was inconsistent. I will not go there. What safeguards are being put in place to ensure that nothing associated with whaling will be carried out by an Australian vessel?
Mr Borthwick-I do not know the details of this particular contract, but there would be nothing that would be undertaken with this Australian vessel which would in any way relate to enhancing Japanese scientific whaling efforts-absolutely not-but the Antarctic Division for a long time has had a cooperative scientific relationship on a whole host of Antarctic science with Japan. But there will be nothing that will serve to enhance Japan's scientific whaling.
Senator SIEWERT-I understand your reassurance, but I am looking for what we have written into the contract and how the Australian community can be absolutely assured that nothing on those voyages will be used to contribute to any of the science they are doing around whaling.
Mr Borthwick-Why I hesitate is that we do, through the International Whaling Commission-and this is a separate issue from the Antarctic Division-undertake joint scientific assessments which can look to nonlethal science in terms of whales. That is quite separate from this particular vessel. It is not as if we are not looking at whaling issues through the auspices of the International Whaling Commission on whales, but this particular vessel is not connected with that in any way.
Senator SIEWERT-I am fully aware of the cooperative research that is done internationally, but the point is that that still contributes to their understanding of whale populations, which is then used to justify their stance in the IWC to enable them to take whales.
Mr Borthwick-But not, as I understand it, in terms of Aurora Australis. That is not connected in any way with that.
Senator SIEWERT-I want to know how the government is going to guarantee that none of that information is going to contribute to anything to do with whaling.
Mr Borthwick-The government would not allow that to happen. It just would not allow that to happen.
Senator SIEWERT-How? Is that currently being included in discussions and negotiations?
Mr Borthwick-No, it is not pertinent to the discussions.
Senator SIEWERT-Why is it not pertinent when they are carrying out science?
Senator Wong-No, you are at cross-purposes. I think Mr Borthwick was saying that those issues are not pertinent to these arrangements.
Mr Borthwick-Yes.
Senator SIEWERT-No, I did understand what Mr Borthwick was saying.
Mr Borthwick-It is a difficult thing because Australia, in terms of broad Antarctic science, cooperates very closely with Japan, and has for a number of years, as do other areas of government cooperate with Japan, but on one issue we fundamentally disagree with them, and that is on lethal scientific research when it comes to whaling, and we would do absolutely nothing to cooperate with them on that front.
Senator SIEWERT-I understand the point, and I have been reassured that-
Mr Borthwick-We will make sure that there is nothing in terms of this contractual arrangement which will enhance or indirectly contribute to lethal so-called scientific research on whales.
Senator SIEWERT-What I want to know, then, is the type of research that will be carried out, because the other scientific research does contribute to their lethal scientific research and it does contribute to the evidence that they take to the IWC.
Mr Borthwick-Ms Mudie will be able, if she does not have it now, to give you more generally a rundown of the scientific research we have been undertaking with Japan and the cooperative relationships with Antarctic that we have had for quite some time, just to give you the context of it. In terms these specific moneys, some of those moneys, as you can see, will be departmental-that is, they will go to fund the ship and the crew and all those other things-and some of these moneys will just go into our general bucket, so to speak, to enable the division to undertake scientific research completely unconnected with this particular voyage.
The science, as I understand it, that we might be undertaking with Japan would be incidental science and it is of a kind, from what Ms Mudie said, that we undertake all the time. When we undertake voyages to our bases, we try and undertake science in terms of testing ocean currents and biomass et cetera.
Senator SIEWERT-I understand that.
Senator Wong-Can I make it clear that the government has a very clear and strong position on whaling and will not enable government resources to be utilised by any other government, including in the context of these discussions, in a manner inconsistent with that policy. Secretary Borthwick has made that clear and I have now made that clear.
Senator SIEWERT-One of my colleagues here is asking, 'What are the safeguards?' and that is the point I am trying to get to. I appreciate that it is non-lethal research, but there is non-lethal research that contributes to the Japanese argument on taking whales. Does your assurance, Minister, go to that point as well?
Senator Wong-I am advised yes.
Ms Mudie-Yes, it does.
Senator SIEWERT-And it will be written into the contract?
Ms Mudie-Absolutely.
Senator SIEWERT-And you will be scrutinising it?
Ms Mudie-It is an MOU.
Senator Wong-The arrangements will take account of or reflect the policy position that I have just outlined to you.
Senator SIEWERT-Will Australia be in a position to oversee the research or look at the research projects to ensure that?
Senator Wong-That goes to how. Those are matters for negotiation, but the advice I have is that the arrangements will reflect the policy position I have outlined.
Ms Mudie-It is primarily a resupply voyage. That is the function of the voyage.
Senator SIEWERT-Yes, I appreciate that, but you did say they would be undertaking science.
Ms Mudie-I said that they could be. That is up for negotiation. But it would not be addressing the whaling issue; it would be a separate issue.
Senator SIEWERT-Will it be written into the MOU that there will be a process whereby Australia can be assured that none of the research is targeted at supporting the Japanese argument for whaling?
Ms Mudie-We would assure that.
Senator SIEWERT-Will the MOU be able to be tabled as a public document?
Senator Wong-That will be a decision for government after the conclusion of the MOU.
Senator SIEWERT-You can guarantee that I will be back here next time asking for the MOU.
Senator Wong-I gathered that, Senator Siewert, and I am sure that Ms Mudie and Secretary Borthwick will ensure that at least we come prepared for that question.

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