Government quiet on whaling ahead of Abe visit
Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media
Labor says it will raise Antarctic whaling with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week, as the Abbott Government withholds any plan to broach the thorny issue.
The Opposition move was confirmed ahead of the four-day visit by Mr Abe, who recently announced Japan’s ambition to resume commercial whaling.
“Japan is a close, long-standing friend of Australia,” said shadow foreign minister Tanya Plibersek.
“This allows each government to raise issues like whaling frankly and respectfully without compromising the strength of our overall relationship.”
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott declined to answer whether it would be raised, referring instead to Mr Abe’s broad program, which includes an address to a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament.
The Abe visit comes in the aftermath of the International Court of Justice win by Australia in the case against Japan over its Antarctic “research” whaling program, JARPA II.
The court ruled that the program was disguised commercial whaling, in breach of a global moratorium, and must stop.
Mr Abbott has said he “very much appreciated” Australians’ wish to see an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean, but he publicly opposed the legal action as opposition leader in 2010.
In April Mr Abbott praised Japan’s international good citizenship in accepting the court decision during his Tokyo visit, and there was no record of the issue being discussed in the summit which focussed on trade.
The Greens’ whaling spokesman, Peter Whish-Wilson, said the government had played dead on whaling ever since it came to office.
“The Japanese Prime Minister wants to go around the ICJ decision and send the harpoon boats back to the Southern Ocean,” Senator Whish-Wilson said.
“If Tony Abbott does not put whaling on the agenda this week, the Australian public can take it as a sign their government is complicit in whaling’s return.”
Japan has told the International Whaling Commission it intends to put forward a revised scientific whaling plan in October/November for a renewed lethal hunt in the summer of 2015-16.
Meanwhile Australia will work with Japan to present the IWC’s biennial meeting in September with a joint document outlining the ICJ judgement, according to the organisation’s chair, Jeannine Compton-Antoine.
ANU professor of international law Don Rothwell said although the Abe visit this week was clearly about trade, Australia would be greatly disappointed if Japan was to follow through with a new Antarctic hunt.
“There will also be a suspicion that Japan will be seeking to circumvent the ruling of the ICJ and its international legal obligations,” Professor Rothwell said.
“Whether these issues are raised in discussions during Mr Abe’s Canberra visit remains to be seen, but what it does suggest is that the thorn in the side of the otherwise excellent bilateral relations between Australia and Japan will remain for some time to come.”