GREG JENNETT: Now, having won the case, Australia’s going out of its way to be gracious towards Tokyo. All are stressing that the disagreements of the past are over. The parliamentary secretary in the Environment portfolio is Simon Birmingham. He doesn’t even want to contemplate the idea that Japan might step up its activities in other oceans.
GREG JENNETT: Well, Simon Birmingham, this is an emphatic win. Does it justify Labor’s original decision to build that evidence and mount this case?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, good afternoon, Greg. Look, there’s been a long and bipartisan record of opposition to whaling by Governments of all stripes. Of course, the Howard Government under different Environment ministers took a strong stand, sent down observer vessels where required, the Rudd and Gillard Governments equally took a strong stand and that’s continued under the Abbott Government and this has been universally welcomed, as a verdict. We are pleased that the Court has found in Australia’s favour and we hope that it will see an end to whaling in the Antarctic waters.
GREG JENNETT: So, Southern Ocean scientific whaling is out but does Australia harbour any concerns that Japan shifts its focus now to other oceans?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, we’ll take one step at a time in this. Japan are reflecting on the ruling that’s been made and it’s right and proper for them to do so. We, of course, have a wonderful relationship with Japan at a diplomatic level, at an economic level, a lot of social and cultural ties as well nowadays too. This has been one area of dispute. We are pleased that the Court has found in Australia’s favour. We hope that it will see an end to whaling in our waters in particular. Ultimately, we’ll have to see exactly how Japan responds to it. They deserve the opportunity to be able to respond after they’ve given the judgment due consideration.
GREG JENNETT: I will ask about the state of the broader relationship in a moment but, just picking up on that point, if Australia believed that scientific whaling was a front for commercial-style whaling in the southern oceans, would it take the same approach philosophically to activities in, say, the North Pacific?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, there’s no doubt that Australia’s position, particularly through international for a like the International Whaling Commission, will of course remain a consistent position, which is that we stand against whaling; we stand against, in particular, so-called scientific whaling when there are questions as to whether that is its true intent; we have, of course, invested as a nation significant sums in demonstrating that a lot of scientific research around whales can be taken without the need to cull the species or the animals in that regard, so we’ve demonstrated the alternatives; we’ll maintain, of course, a consistent policy on the international level but this case, of course, relates to the Southern Ocean and they’re important waters close to Australia, it’s close to our territory – both our territory of mainland Australia and the territory of Antarctic waters – and we want to make sure that, of course, we’ve seen an end, hopefully, to whaling in those waters.
GREG JENNETT: Now, why is it that Australia’s so confident that fallout from this dispute, now settled, won’t infect other areas of our relationship with Japan, particularly the trade front?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s an incredibly strong relationship we have with Japan and, as a country and a Government, we are full of respect and admiration for the Japanese people and what Japan has, of course, achieved, particularly in the post-war era in terms of rebuilding their country as an open and democratic nation, as an enterprise nation, as a country that, of course, is a trading nation and has been for a very long period of time an important trading partner of Australia’s. We are working very hard as a Government to secure a free-trade agreement with Japan at present and I’m sure that Australia’s relationship with Japan will continue to go from strength to strength. This really has been an important issue in terms of national debate in Australia but it is not such an issue that should get in the way of any of the other aspects of our relationship with Japan.
GREG JENNETT: As you’ve flagged, the free-trade talks could be progressed or not when the Prime Minister goes to Tokyo next week. If there’s no sign of retaliation there, is there any concern that they might find an outlet for wounded pride in some other way to retaliate?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think both parties have conducted this court case and this debate between nations with appropriate respect and both parties had indicated that we would respect the finding of the International Court of Justice, so I can’t see any circumstance where there would be harm to Australia’s relationship with Japan, can’t see any circumstance where Japan would have cause to be upset with Australia in relation to any other matter. We’ve conducted this, I think, in a most mature and sensible way and we really do value and want to make sure that the relationship does continue to go from strength to strength.
GREG JENNETT: So, onwards and upwards? Parliamentary Secretary Simon Birmingham, thank you. We’ll leave it there.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, pleasure, Greg.