Trading on our reputation as the greatest of all whale-loving nations, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has seriously let the people of Australia down this week, not to mention the whales. The long-awaited talks between Mr. Rudd and his Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukudo concluded over the weekend with Mr. Rudd effectively conceding defeat in his efforts to stop Japanese whaling in the southern ocean whale sanctuary. Both leaders said the Japan-Australia relationship was too important to be disrupted by their disagreement over whaling.
One of Rudd’s strongest and most consistent election promises to the people of Australia last year was to take Japan to the international court on the whaling issue, vowing to do more than the previous Howard Government, which was ineffective diplomacy. He also agreed that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) could not stop the hunt and that firm action was needed.
Upon election, Rudd spent $1 million sending the Australian customs vessel Oceanic Viking on an audacious mission to pursue the Japanese whaling fleet and collect evidence of the hunt in Australian Territorial waters. Evidence was collected, including a Minke adult and calf being hauled up the slipway of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru. The Australian public were outraged, but felt confident the Rudd Government now had the evidence needed to act.
Now, a mere 6 months after promising to take up the fight against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, riding on a wave of support, and with a determination not seen in decades, Rudd left Tokyo exulting the need for diplomacy on the issue. Using the same failed rhetoric of his predecessor, Rudd said simply, “the two countries agree to disagree’ and emphasized the importance of the IWC reform process.
For the whales, and for the people of Australia this means that absolutely nothing has changed, increasing fears that the Rudd Government has toned down its campaign and shied away from offending the business attached to Australia’s largest export customer.
For Australian’s, opinion polls consistently show that action against whaling is a ‘no-brainer’. In the most recent Essential Research poll quoted in Melbourne’s newspaper THE AGE this week, 91% of respondents said we should take international legal action, even if it meant compromising our relationship with Japan.
Australian’s will not take this turn around lying down. We love our whales and look forward to their regular and delightful presence along our coastline every year. This feeling of national pride was evident on Saturday with the nations first National Whale Day when 25 events were celebrated in all states across the nation.