Exchanging letters with the Australian Minister for the Environment
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
I remember the day that Kevin Rudd was elected back in November 2007. I was up on the Gold Coast in Queensland that morning and the news that Kevin Rudd had won the election was greeted with an overwhelming feeling of hope. Later that month, Peter Garrett was appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.
Finally Australia had a government that would do something about illegal Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. We had Peter Garrett’s word for it. “A Rudd government would end the killing of whales in the Southern Ocean.”
That is what he said and a great many people in Australia had faith that he would. After all this was Peter Garrett of a band called Midnight Oil, and not just some run of the mill politician. We could trust Peter, we thought. He was one of us – an environmentalist.
That was over two years ago and nothing has changed. Japanese whalers continue to kill whales whenever they want, however they want, and wherever they want.
Meanwhile Peter Garrett lives in a fantasyland where he believes all he needs to do is click his heels together and mutter slogans like, “we have appointed a whaling envoy.” Or “we may take international legal action” and the whales will be saved.
But the question must now be seriously asked. Does the Rudd government have any intention of doing anything about this issue? Was it all electioneering posturing and posing to snatch the votes from whale loving Australians who wanted then, and continue to want now, that something actually should be done to end the illegal slaughter of endangered whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary?
During the last two years, Peter Garrett has consistently refused to meet with or talk with any representative from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society including former Australian Environment Minister and now Sea Shepherd Advisor Ian Campbell.
Although I attended the International Whaling Commission meetings in Santiago, Chile in 2008 and in Madeira in 2009, Mr. Garrett refused to speak with us whenever we approached him. He says he wants to resolve this issue but he is not talking to us and his whaling envoy, Sandy Holloway (Former Sydney Olympic Chief), appears to be having a one sided conversation with the Japanese government consisting of them talking and Australia listening.
I wrote another letter to Mr. Garrett on December 17h, 2009 asking if he would be willing to meet with Sea Shepherd Executive Director Steve Roest before Mr. Roest returned to the United Kingdom.
Today I received a reply.
This is the reply and my response to his reply.
From: The Honourable Peter Garrett
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts
Dear Captain Watson,
Thank-you for your e-mail of 17 December 2009 regarding whale conservation and the critical importance of ending the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean. While I am not available to meet with Mr. Roest at this time, I appreciate this opportunity to reiterate the Australian Government’s opposition to commercial and so-called “scientific” whaling.
Captain Paul Watson’s Response: Mr. Garrett says that he is not available to meet with Mr. Roest “at this time.” This begs the question of just when is Mr. Garrett available for a meeting with Sea Shepherd? So far he has not been available to meet for over two years. Instead he appreciates the opportunity to lecture us again.
PG: As you are aware, the Australian Government remains committed to the conservation of whales and the continuation of commercial so-called “scientific” whaling. The Australian government is continuing to engage in constructive efforts to resolve whaling issues diplomatically. If we cannot resolve this matter “diplomatically”, we will take international action.
Captain Paul Watson’s Response: Mr. Garrett does imply with his quotations that he does not accept the scientific justification for Japanese whaling. The problem is that diplomacy has failed for 23 years to get Japan to stop their illegal activities. As long as Australia and other nations continue to “talk,” Japan continues to kill whales. Diplomacy has worked quite well for Japanese whalers. Diplomacy has utterly failed the whales and the interests of conservation. The time for legal action was yesterday, certainly now and definitely not tomorrow.
Mr. Garrett has been threatening legal action for three years. In January 2008, the Australian Federal Court ordered Japan to cease killing whales in the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters. Japan is now in contempt of an Australian Federal Court order. This is grounds for intervention by Australia.
Mr. Garrett argues that Japan does not recognize Australian sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory. Perhaps he has forgotten that Japan did not recognize Australian sovereignty of Australians over Australia in 1942.
Australia could also insist upon the ending of whaling in trade negotiations. Australian iron ore, uranium, wood chips etc have a market elsewhere in China. Japan needs Australian resources more than Australia needs Japanese markets.
PG: The government position is clear, and it contrasts with the record of the previous Coalition Government who repeatedly dismissed the option of international legal action, refused to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet and oversaw a doubling of the number of whales targeted by the Japan in the Southern Ocean. The previous government’s approach further entrenched divisions within the International Whaling Commission, setting back the prospects for genuine conservation reforms, and all the while an increasing number of whales were targeted in the name of science. This approach should not be repeated.
Captain Paul Watson’s Response: This is an amazing statement. Peter Garrett’s performance for the last two years at the IWC meetings has been pathetically non-progressive. Nothing has been accomplished other than to make the Japanese feel that Australian opposition once so aggressively demonstrated in the person of former Environment Minister Ian Campbell has now faded away into diplomatic babbling doublespeak.
Everything that Peter Garrett has criticized the Howard government for is exactly the position of the Rudd government today. Garrett says that the Howard government dismissed the option of legal action yet what is the difference in dismissing the option and not exercising the option. It has been almost three years of threatening legal action and not taking action.
Garrett says that the Howard government refused to monitor the whaling fleet yet the Rudd government is not monitoring Japanese whaling activities either.
Garrett said that the Howard government entrenched divisions at the IWC. What he is really saying is that the Howard government got in the face of the Japanese with an aggressive no nonsense demand to end whaling. And because the Japanese were upset with Ian Campbell’s strong defense of the whales, Peter Garrett defines this as creating divisions. The fact is that the IWC is not about love, peace and good vibes. It’s about dirty dealing, vote buying, economic threats, and the countries of Japan, Norway, and Iceland telling the rest of the world to go to hell on the issue of whaling. They want to kill whales and anyone who opposes them, they accuse of creating division, conflict and even racism. What Peter Garrett is saying is the Rudd government does not want to overly upset the Japanese. Instead they want to talk, and talk, and talk as the whales continue to suffer and die. Talking is obscene when blood is flowing. Silence the harpoons first and then talk, which is what Australia should be demanding of Japan. Instead, Japan has not budged an inch and the Japanese whalers have the full support, and the Japanese government subsidizes them. The Australian government will not even talk with Australians wanting to defend the whales. In Japan, pirate whalers are treated as heroes and subsidized by the Japanese government. In Australia, pirate whale defenders are treated with contempt by the Australian government.
This was not so under the Howard government when Environment Minister Ian Campbell was very cooperative in communicating with Sea Shepherd over this issue. Under Campbell the office of the Environment Ministry was accessible. Under Garrett the doors have been closed and locked for over two years.
Peter Garrett can thump his chest with all the great and wonderful things he purports to be doing for the whales but from our point of view as whale defenders actively working to shut down illegal Japanese whaling activities in the Southern Ocean, we have not seen any evidence that he is doing anything at all.
PG: I am aware of the recent media reports of incidents involving the Steve Irwin and the Japanese whaling fleet. The government respects the right of individuals and groups to protest peacefully, including on the high seas. At the same time we condemn dangerous and violent activities by any of the parties involved, be it protesters or whalers. The Southern Ocean is a remote and inhospitable region where risk of adverse incidents is high and the capacity for rescue or assistance is low.
Captain Paul Watson’s Response: This is priceless. What we have is a rock star politician telling a sea captain and a crew of sailors that the Southern Ocean is a remote and inhospitable region. Hmm do you think Peter? We had no idea. Wow, thanks Peter, we’ll be extra especially careful from now on, now that we know.
What Peter Garrett has consistently refused to acknowledge is that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not down here protesting whaling. We are down here intervening against illegal whaling activities under the mandate of the World Charter for Nature. We are an anti-poaching organization not a protest organization. We are down here trying to uphold international laws that his government is refusing to uphold or even acknowledge.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has an unblemished record of never injuring anyone nor sustaining an injury or a fatality. The whalers have had three fatalities and numerous injuries. Greenpeace has had fatalities and injuries yet the Minister consistently regards Sea Shepherd as being irresponsible.
As for violence? There is plenty of violence and all of it coming from the whalers and inflicted on the whales. The Japanese whalers are spilling tons of blood into these waters and thousands of whales are dying agonizingly cruel deaths. I wish the Minister would speak up about this violence, and better yet, actually try to do something about it.
PG: I emphasize that the masters of the Sea Shepherd vessels are directly responsible for the actions and safety of all on board, including Australians and we call upon them to ensure that all vessels exercise restraint and ensure that safety on the seas is their highest priority.
Captain Paul Watson’s response: Actually safety on the high seas is our second highest priority. Our first priority is the defense of the whales. As for safety, we have the best safety record of any group operating down here in these waters. We are working with a very big disadvantage. The Japanese are trying to damage our equipment, they are trying to injure and kill us and if they do, their government will justify and defend their actions no matter what the consequences. On the other hand we have to do what we do, ensuring that no one is injured knowing that whatever we do, our governments will condemn us for nonetheless. If whale defenders had the support of our government as much as the whale killers have the support of Japan, we might actually end this charade of “scientific” whaling down here in these waters.
One thing I do know is that politicians blabbing to each other at conferences will not end illegal Japanese whaling. The only language that Japan understands is economic. Sea Shepherd is cutting quotas and negating profits. The government of Australia is talking and talking and talking. Sea Shepherd has saved the lives of over a thousand whales. Peter Garrett has not saved the life of a single whale.
It is sad that the government of Australia is hostile to Sea Shepherd but we do have something better going for us, we have the support of the Australian people. It would be nice to have been able to cooperate with Peter Garrett and we have certainly tried to do so. Peter is now too busy being the Minister of the Environment and therefore cannot meet with the only organization physically battling the illegal Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.
And thus we continue to defend the whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by ourselves. Somebody has to do it and if the government of Australia won’t then we have no other option than to continue to intervene directly and aggressively with the Japanese fleet.