'Research' whaling by Japan to resume as Tony Abbott voices opposition

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Tue 8 July 2014

Tony Abbott has reiterated Australia’s opposition to whaling in a joint appearance with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who confirmed Japan will conduct “research” whaling next year.

The international court of justice ruled in April that Japan’s whaling program, which had been claimed as scientific, was commercial in nature and should end.

In a joint media conference in Canberra, Abe said Japan will resume whaling for “research” purposes, but that the country is a “good international citizen” and that it will adhere to the ICJ ruling.

“Japan is a country which values international law and order and the rule of law and therefore Japan will abide by the decision,” Abe said.

Abe said the ICJ decision confirmed that one of the objectives of the convention was the sustainable use of resources.

"Based on this Japan, looking at international law and scientific grounds, will engage in research of whaling in order to collect the indispensable scientific information in order to manage the whale resources,” he said. “In any case differences in the positions of whaling should not impact our favourable bilateral relationship overall and that is the important part."

Abbott said Japan should receive “great credit” for respecting the ICJ decision and that the issue would not affect the strong relationship between Australia and Japan.

He said the friendship was “far far bigger than our disagreement on one particular subject”.

“Obviously Australia and Japan respectfully differ on the question of whaling,” Abbott said. “Friends can disagree on subjects and that’s in no way inconsistent with a strong and growing friendship.”

Australia, under the previous Labor government, brought the ICJ case against Japan.

Abbott’s comments follow those of New Zealand prime minister John Key who raised the issue with Abe in New Zealand on Monday. Key said: "The prime minister did make it clear that they are looking at what sort of whaling program, in theory, could be conducted that fits within the rules.

"He was very clear to say that Japan will abide by the ICJ decision but it's also fair to say that there's a difference of opinion. New Zealand would certainly prefer to see the end of all whaling."

During speeches to the Australian parliament, neither Abbott nor Abe mentioned the two countries’ conflicting views on whaling.

A spokesman for Greg Hunt, the environment minister who has been a vocal advocate for whales, said: “The government remains opposed to all forms of commercial and lethal scientific whaling.”

The Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson moved a Senate motion on Tuesday calling on Abbott to raise whaling concerns with Abe.

"The Japanese PM has made it clear his nation wants to again pursue lethal, so-called ‘research' on whales in the Southern Ocean,” Whish-Wilson said.

"This is just commercial whaling in disguise and the Australian Greens are calling on Tony Abbott to make an absolute end to whaling and new co-operation in non-lethal research a top priority today in his discussions with PM Abe.”

Whish-Wilson said Abbott and Hunt had “run dead” on whaling since being elected.

"The Abbott government has refused to raise concerns over Japan's statements since the ICJ ruling about resuming whaling and minister Hunt broke a long-held election promise to monitor whaling in the Southern Ocean this past summer,” he said.

"Bilateral talks are not just about trade and the cruel slaughter of whales is a very important issue to Australians.”

Japan has committed to not undertaking its annual whale hunt later this year, making it the first break in whaling since 1946, but has indicated it is looking at modifying its program so that it can return to the Southern Ocean in 2015.

Darren Kindleysides, director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Guardian Australia that the prime minister would be “incredibly remiss” if he did not raise the issue with Abe.

“Australia has become, under successive governments, one of the leading anti-whaling nations,” he said. “It is expected that our prime minister raises the matter and it would be peculiar if he didn’t.

“The ICJ judgment was damning over the lack of science and the fact Japan hasn’t looked at non-lethal ways of collecting research on whales. With the methods we now have to study whales, it’s a fallacy to say you have to kill them to study them.”

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