20 June 2005

Early win for anti-whalers

Australia and other anti-whaling countries today won an important battle against pro-whaling nations led by Japan.

The anti-whaling or "conservation" lobby beat by a single vote Japan's attempt to slash the agenda of this week's annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in South Korea.

The test of strength between the two sides was brought on by Australia's federal Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, after the Japanese Government outlined plans to cut a series of items from the agenda, including debate over whale sanctuaries.

In the first vote of the meeting, New Zealand won a point of order against Japan, which then moved to change the meeting's agenda, potentially ending anti-whaling nations' aims to broaden the IWC's mandate away from whaling.

Conservationists won a vote on the agenda 29-28.

New IWC members Nauru and Togo, which were expected to vote on Japan's side, were unable to vote because their finances had not yet cleared.

The vote suggests the IWC will remain dominated by the anti-whaling lobby, as it has been for 23 years.

Pro-whaling nations led by Japan and Norway are hoping to be able to swing control of the 66-nation body for the first time since 1982.

The result what was seen as a test of whether whaling advocates have built a majority among the 66 members of the International Whaling Commission.

A majority would give pro-whaling countries broad authority to set the commision's agenda. However, it would still fall far short of the three-quarters vote required to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling.

The British-based commission regulates whaling. It banned commercial hunts in 1986, handing environmentalists a major victory in protecting species that were near extinction after centuries of hunting.

Norway holds the world's only commercial whaling season in defiance of the ban.

Japan kills whales for what it describes as scientific research, but sells the meat. Japan, Norway and other nations this year are expected to take more than 1550 whales.

New Zealand, Australia and conservationist groups such as Greenpeace oppose any expansion of whaling.

Japan is against new whale sanctuaries and proposed that this issue - and others opposed by pro-whaling countries - be pushed off the agenda at the opening of the commission's annual general assembly in South Korea.

The commission voted 29-28 to end debate on the Japanese motion, prompting IWC Commissioner Henrik Fischer of Denmark to rule that the agenda was to be adopted as is.

"That was a defeat for Japan," said New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter.

Joji Morishita, Japan's chief negotiator on whaling issues, said there were remaining questions about whether the agenda was properly adopted, adding that his country was putting up a "good fight".

A simple majority of pro-whaling nations would be able to pass resolutions favouring their stance, including ones that express support for Japan's research program or voice backing for the resumption of limited kills.

The next vote at the meeting was likely to be on whether to adopt secret ballots, a move the pro-whaling countries favour.

The United States earlier this month urged against any expansion in what Tokyo calls its research hunt, with its research agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration saying any increase in the "number or type of whales killed and marketed under the guise of science is unacceptable".

"The world today will either be stepping forward into an era where conservation and the environment really matter, or it will be stepping back into the Dark Ages, where the people of the world think that slaughter of whales using grenades, electric lances and shooting them with rifles is something that we should accept," said Senator Campbell.

Last year's whaling panel meeting ended with a resolution for Japan to halt its research program. That generated angry calls in Tokyo for the country to retaliate by quitting the group, or at least withholding funding.

"More and more people are starting to say: 'Why do you stay in the IWC?'" Japanese ruling party lawmaker Yoshimasa Hayashi, a member of Japan's 82-member delegation to the conference, told reporters just before this year's meeting began.

Source: www.smh.com.au


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