Senate debates

Monday, 30 November 2015

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:32 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Whish-Wilson today relating to the environment.

It was only two weekends ago that I was lucky enough to spend a beautiful Tasmanian morning in a town called Bicheno, on the east coast of my magnificent state. My son and I got some fantastic surf. It was an offshore, north-easterly swell and we spent three hours out in the water. Then, because the swell was up, he wanted to have his photo taken on the rocks for his Facebook profile—like a lot of kids of his generation do. We went down onto the rocks and, as I was taking the second or third photo, a whale breached the background. For about an hour and a half we sat on the rocks with other people from our town while a mother and calf put on a show for everyone. They were on their way to the whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean—where they go every summer, Senator Williams.

It breaks my heart that the Japanese government has decided that again this year they are going to send the harpoon boats down to the Southern Ocean. We have taken action through the International Court of Justice. The Labor Party initiated it. The current federal government maintained it, and they upped the pressure. Even though we had a very good outcome, where the International Court of Justice clearly showed that Japanese whaling was not scientific—it was actually commercial and therefore it was illegal—the Greens warned that would not be enough and that the highest level of diplomatic representation was necessary to stop this cruel and barbaric practice, a practice that nearly every Australian finds abhorrent.

While I was asking my question in the Senate today, the Japanese government announced their boats are leaving tomorrow. So much for Senator Brandis's diplomatic avenues and pressure. They made that announcement today. This is thumbing their noses at the Australian people, because they know it is a deeply offensive issue to a lot of Australians. That is why we have pursued this issue. That is why we have shown global leadership to prevent whaling. That is why Malcolm Fraser led the global charge to ban whaling. We have always shown leadership on this issue, and we cannot afford to be seen to be wimps on whaling—given the importance of our leadership in the past.

I have to point out that the answer Senator Brandis gave to my question—on why the government could not use its leverage with something such as the submarine contracts to persuade the Japanese government to not send their boats—does not make sense to me, and it does not make sense to a lot of Australians. He said:

Both governments have consistently agreed not to let our differences on the issue of whaling affect the broader bilateral relationship.

That means it is not being prioritised enough by this government. It is not an important enough issue on its own if we cannot raise this at the highest dramatic levels and let them know how important this is to our nation.

As far as the patrol boat goes, Senator Brandis said:

Senator Whish-Wilson, if I may say so we are getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Two years ago the government said, in an election promise, that they would send a patrol boat to the Southern Ocean to monitor the Japanese fleet. This was the year that Sea Shepherd was there. Sea Shepherd is not going to be there this year, so who is going to monitor the Japanese fleet? The clock is ticking on the election promise, and there no more important time than now to commit to send the ADV Ocean Shield, which is up off Christmas Island someone on Operation Sovereign Borders, down to the Southern Ocean—which is what it was purchased for. It is one of the only ice-rated vessels we have. We also know that this summer there is likely to be illegal Patagonian toothfish poachers down there again, which, once again, Sea Shepherd stepped into the breach about last year and chased them away.

It is time we took our responsibilities in the Southern Ocean a lot more seriously. I know our new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has been to International Whaling Commission meetings before. This is an issue that I believe he actually does feel deeply about. When he meets Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, in a few weeks time he has to look him in the eye, like the New Zealand Prime Minister did, and say: 'This is totally unacceptable to the people of Australia.' If I were in his shoes, and I am sure a lot of you are glad that I am not, I would be saying: 'No submarine contract if your harpoon boats go south.' It is as simple as that. I reckon that would be enough to persuade the Japanese government to withdraw their boats. If that is all they are interested in—they are not interested in respecting the International Court of Justice or the Australian court that found the Japanese government acted illegally just a few weeks ago against the wishes of the Australian people—then I am not sure what we can do to stop this cruel and barbaric practice.

Question agreed to.