Australia will attend an international meeting in the United Kingdom this month to work to stop a push to reopen commercial whaling.

Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell said Australia’s position would be forcefully argued by the Government’s International Whaling Commissioner — effectively Australia’s Whale Conservation Commissioner — Mr Howard Bamsey.

Mr Bamsey will depart next week for the meeting in Cambridge to prosecute Australia’s case for a global ban on all forms of scientific and commercial whaling.

The meeting will be held under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to discuss what is called a ‘Revised Management Scheme’ within which pro-whaling nations will push for a return to commercial whaling.

There is currently a moratorium on commercial whaling, however a significant number of members of the IWC have sided with Japan to try to lift this moratorium by negotiating a Revised Management Scheme.

“Australia will continue to oppose any moves to reintroduce commercial whaling,” Senator Campbell said.

“Mr Bamsey has been tasked with working alongside other pro-conservation nations to gain the support necessary to continue the moratorium on whaling with the eventual aim of leading to a permanent ban.”

Japan will this year more than double the number of Antarctic minke whales it has targeted in the past to 935. It also plans to take threatened humpback whales and endangered fin whales, ramping up to 50 of each in 2007/08. Norway and Iceland also continue to undertake whaling in defiance of world opinion.

“Australia strongly objects to all forms of scientific and commercial whaling and will continue to work hard to strengthen and build on the coalition of countries opposed to whaling in the lead up to the next IWC meeting in June,” Senator Campbell said.

“While we continue to review all options to bring about an end to commercial whaling, we believe the most effective way to do this is through international diplomatic effort.

“Some will claim that the Australian Government should pursue legal action, but I can assure Australians that if I believed that legal action could put an end to scientific whaling, I would have taken that path.”

This is a view shared by New Zealand’s International Whaling Commissioner and former NZ Labour Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who said: “We have been looking at the legal theories that are available against the Japanese for some months … and there is no legal theory that is available that can prevent, in our view, the Japanese from doing what they are doing … A sovereign government cannot undertake legal action unless it has a good chance of success.” (The Australian newspaper, 16 Jan 2006)

“I do not pretend that our task is an easy one. Nor do I deny that there is a very real possibility that Japan may gain support for its scientific whaling program and other pro-whaling proposals at the next International Whaling Commission meeting in the Caribbean in June,” Senator Campbell said.

“However, I will continue to strongly protest nonetheless and Australians can be assured that I will be working as hard as I can to see that this does not happen.”