Whale fail for Abbott as NZ PM shows him how to raise whaling with Japan

Prime Minister Abe of Japan and Australian Prime Minister, Abbott met earlier this week, where Abbott avoided bringing up Japan's "scientific whaling," an issue the Australian people care deeply about.

Earlier this week, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visited our region in a whistle-stop tour that took him to New Zealand and Australia.

Here to push trade deals and closer security ties between nations, Mr Abe was reminded once again that the issue of whaling will continue to dog Japan’s diplomatic efforts.

Although sadly not by Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

IFAW and fellow Australian whale NGOs wrote a letter to Mr Abbott ahead of Mr Abe’s visit, highlighting how important it was for an Australian Prime Minister to voice concerns about Japan’s plans to resume ‘scientific’ whaling in the wake of the historic International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision to strike down Japan’s current Antarctic whaling programme.

But as long-time whale commentator and journalist Andrew Darby succinctly summarised, the Prime Minister’s caution has let Japanese whaling off the hook.

Government advisers alleged prior to Mr Abe’s visit that if the issue came up Mr Abbott’s language would be “robust”.   But apparently Mr Abbott had no intention of raising it.

We all understand that trade and security are vitally important issues but they are not mutually exclusive to raising the issue of whaling and Japan’s determination to snub its nose at the highest Court on the planet.

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Mr Abbott should have used the situation to capitalise on Australia’s spectacular victory at the ICJ and called Mr Abe out on his pledge to return to ‘scientific’ whaling in the Southern Ocean, a point reiterated by Labor leader Bill Shorten, who did raise the issue in his discussions with Mr Abe, as did Greens spokesperson, Senator Whish-Wilson.

But Mr Abbott remained silent, which he must have known would be futile, because Australian media were always going to ask a question about whaling. And when they did, Mr Abbott’s response was about as far from “robust” as you can possibly get, simply stating that Australia and Japan “respectfully differ on the question of whaling”.

In contrast, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, in his joint press conference with Mr Abe, made it clear to Mr Abe how New Zealanders feel about whaling, explicitly stating that "New Zealand's view is there's no place for whaling scientific or otherwise."

It should not have been beyond Mr Abbott to make a similar statement on behalf of the people of Australia he represents. The New Zealand Green Party described Mr Key’s response as “soft”. If they want to see soft, they just need to look across the ditch.

Fortunately, IFAW wasn’t holding our breath for a strong statement from Mr Abbott.

We used the opportunity to send our own respectful message to Mr Abe directly, by placing the first ever Japanese language advert in the Canberra Times to coincide with Mr Abe’s visit. We also had an advert to Mr Abbott.

Perhaps our Prime Minister missed it. Hopefully Mr Abe is a more attentive reader.

Our point to Mr Abe was simple, insisting on a return to so-called ‘scientific’ whaling would undermine Japan’s reputation as a good international citizen and upholder of international law. It would also irreparably damage Japan’s international standing and hinder Mr Abe’s policies to promote Japan’s cultural superpower status to the rest of the world.

It won’t be lost on exasperated diplomats in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who are tasked with improving the world’s view of Japan, that what should have been a visit to promote closer ties between great nations and emphasise everything that is good about Japan and its culture, has instead seen Mr Abe’s visit dominated by headlines about whaling.

In his speech to the Australian Parliament, Prime Minister Abe used the occasion to urge China to ''share and accept international norms'' in reference to territorial disputes and said ''in everything we say and do, we must follow the law”. In reference to Japan’s economic recovery, Mr Abe claimed he would “become like a drill bit … breaking through the vested interests”.

Mr Abe could start by applying his own advice on international law to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean and apply a similar determination to break through vested interests on whaling in Japan.

As for Mr Abbott, he would do well to remember that his failure to raise the issue of whaling and to represent the views of the Australian people is also a failure to his colleagues in the Coalition in Parliament who will face further dissatisfaction from an electorate that is deeply committed to seeing an end to Antarctic whaling.

--MC

For more information about IFAW efforts to help protect whales, visit our campaign page.

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