Govt's hand may be forced on whaling

BY JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2010

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Legal action over Japanese whaling in the South Pacific is a "serious course of action" the Government may be forced to take, the Foreign Affairs Minister says.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had a "frank discussion" on whaling with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada at the weekend.

Ahead of the meeting, Rudd said "very bluntly and very clearly" that court action would be pursued if a diplomatic agreement to end whaling before November could not be agreed.

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, yesterday backed that call, brushing off criticism New Zealand was taking a back seat over the issue.

"The New Zealand Government has made it clear that if the diplomatic process does not produce the results we want, the International Court of Justice is a serious course of action for us to consider," he said. "We may have to go down that path, but before we choose it, we should exhaust the diplomatic process."

However, McCully said legal action would only be a last resort. He said there had been meaningful progress on talks at the International Whaling Commission, led by Sir Geoffrey Palmer. "We have for a long time as a country committed ourselves to a diplomatic process in good faith. We're continuing it in good faith until it's demonstrated to have failed."

He expected to have talks with Okada within the next few days after better progress had been achieved in recent weeks.

"But it remains a particularly challenging problem," he said.

Labour leader Phil Goff yesterday hit out over the Government's efforts to stop whaling.

"There was a time when it was New Zealand that was leading on the anti-whaling campaign with Australia lagging a bit behind and now we've gone into the reverse of that," he said.

The Government had not sent a Cabinet Minister to the International Whaling Commission meeting in Portugal last year, the first time such an absence had happened in 10 years. Goff said that on most things in foreign policy "the Government is too scared to speak out for fear that they might upset somebody."

McCully said he was "simply trying to make sure that we win friends and influence people."

"We've managed to see meaningful discussions with the parties that hold opposite views and that's very welcome," he said. The only way to quickly stop whaling was by diplomacy, he said. "All of the alternatives involve time, expense and frustration. We may have to go down that path [legal action], but before we choose it, we should exhaust the diplomatic process."

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McCully said Peter Bethune, the New Zealand captain of the Ady Gil, who is now on board the Shonan Maru II, was understood to be fine. Bethune climbed aboard the Shonan Maru II on February 15 demanding compensation for the sinking of the Ady Gil in a collision last month.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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