Australia won't go to war with Japan over whaling

21:38, Feb 17 2009
DON'T WORRY, IT'S SCIENTIFIC: A file photo showing Japanese whaling workers preparing a Baird's Beaked Whale's carcass. The Japanese whaling fleet recently left to harvest about 1000 whales from the Southern Ocean.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has ruled out using the Australian military to stop Japan's scientific whaling program, as its fleet leaves for waters off Antarctica.

Japanese whalers plan to slaughter more than 1,000 whales in an expedition that runs until April.

For the first time in decades they will include humpbacks

Mr Downer today ordered Australia's Ambassador to Japan, Murray McLean, to register Australia's protest with the impending "inhumane" harvest under Japan's scientific whaling program.

Mr Downer said even with international condemnation of whaling, it had been hard to convince the Japanese to stop the scientific program.

But he said starting a war with Japan was "absurd" and an option he "wouldn't even contemplate".

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"The reason that we're not proposing to use defence resources is that we are not proposing to go to war with Japan over the issue of whaling," he told reporters in Adelaide.

"Let me make that absolutely clear, this government will not be going to war with Japan over whaling.

"We will use diplomacy to the best of out ability."

Japan takes whales, sometimes from within the Australian-declared whale sanctuary, for so-called scientific purposes under a loophole in International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules.

A moratorium on commercial whaling has been in place since the 1970s but Japan has been fighting hard at IWC meetings to remove the ban.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland today called for stronger action against the whalers by undertaking military surveillance of the whale hunt to gather evidence to take the whalers to international courts.

"We really need to rattle the cage here," Mr McClelland said.

"It's unacceptable that it's not only going on but getting worse.

"One of the reasons we're planning to use naval vessels for monitoring, rather than interdiction or interception, is to obtain evidence, both to provide to the international community (and) also the Japanese community, on what is involved and the extent of the kill, but also to obtain evidence that can be used both in Australian domestic courts and the international courts."

But Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government did not believe a legal case would be successful and in fact would be counter-productive.

Mr Downer said he did not support a boycott of Japanese goods, and he hosed down suggestions of trade or economic sanctions with one of Australia's biggest trading partners.

"At the end of the day, the Australian Government is on Australia's side so we'll take measures that are not only in the interests of trying to discourage the Japanese from whaling but we'll take measures that don't undermine our own interests," he said.

"There is no point in Australia cutting off its own nose to spite its face."

AAP