5 Oct 2011

Labour, Greens urge sterner response on whaling

10:00 pm on 5 October 2011

The Government is being urged to deliver a stern response to Japan's decision to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Japan also says it will send a patrol vessel to protect crews when the whaling fleet heads south in November, and both the Green Party and the Labour Party say the Government should send a navy vessel to monitor the situation.

The Greens say the response so far has been pathetic and passive. Green MP Gareth Hughes says the Government has been weak on the issue and doesn't have the courage to commit resources to stop whaling.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson, Maryan Street, says it's very surprising that Japan should want to continue isolating itself from the majority of other countries which oppose whaling.

Ms Street says the Government must continue to send an unequivocal and strong message to Japan that whaling is wrong.

'Too early' to say if Navy will be sent

Asked if New Zealand's navy will be sent if there are skirmishes between the whalers and the Sea Shepherd protest group, as there were last summer, Foreign Minister Murray McCully says it's possible.

But at this early stage, he says, the question needs to be taken step by step.

The Government says any search and rescue missions are likely to be the responsibility of Australia this year.

Mr McCully says "ominous" statements by both Japan and Sea Shepherd suggest lives will be put at risk in the Southern Ocean.

Fears 'lives will be put at risk'

McCully says Japan is isolating itself from the international community with this decision, which he says is entirely disrespectful of the strong concerns expressed by the people of Australia and New Zealand.

When Japan's statement is coupled with Sea Shepherd's that it will pursue more aggressive tactics, he says, "You can only conclude that lives will be put at risk on that pathway".

Last summer Japan ended its Antarctic whaling season early, saying harassment by Sea Shepherd activists had made it impossible to continue.

Sea Shepherd says it won't buckle

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson says Australia and New Zealand are only offering empty rhetoric against the Japanese fleet, and his organisation won't buckle in the face of what he calls Japan's increasingly aggressive tactics.

"We're not going to hurt anybody," Mr Watson says, "but we're certainly going to take the risks that are necessary to block the whole operation. If they can't load whales, they can't kill them."

Cath Wallace of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition says the Antarctic Treaty makes it clear that the region shouldn't become the object of international discord, and sending navy vessels could backfire badly.

Ms Wallace says while opposing all whaling she believes any protest action in the Southern Ocean would be counter-productive.