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NZ government preparing a U-Turn over its commercial whaling policy


Japanese whalers process a whale onboard the Yushin Maru in the Southern Ocean. (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace)

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By the PMC News Desk.

UPDATED: The New Zealand government is in retreat over its controversial commercial whaling policy. Its delegat to the International Whaling Commission, Sir Geoffrey Palmer admitted Thursday that he is struggling to get international support for NZ’s capped-commercial-whaling plan.

At a joint meeting, NZ’s foreign minister Murray McCully also sought alternative ideas, adding that he understood “the symbolism” of a categorical no-commercial whaling plan.

On Wednesday, the Labour opposition cited Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade sources as indicating the National-led Government had failed to attract support for its policy from Australia and other close partners on the International Whaling Commission.

New Zealand had floated an idea to scrap a moratorium that banned commercial whaling in favour of limited commercial whaling. New Zealand argued that loopholes in the moratorium arrangement saw Japan, Norway, and Iceland flaunt the rules and hunt whales supposedly for scientific research.

UPDATE: See also, Scoop audio report with NZ’s International Whaling Commission delegat, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and NZ foreign minister Murray McCully [2].

New Zealand’s National-led Government’s preference was to allow limited commercial whaling, with a cap on the number of whales that could be slaughtered. That cap, under the New Zealand plan, would reduce over time.

But the plan failed to gain support from Australia and other Pacific islands states. The Stuff online news site reported: “Australia rejected the draft proposal and reiterated a threat to take legal action at the International Court of Justice if a diplomatic solution is not agreed by November. Mr McCully [NZ’s foreign minister] said yesterday that the two countries were taking a different approach toward the same ends. ‘It’s fair enough, I think, to observe that in Australia it’s an election year and this is a hot political topic in Australia.’,” the report stated.

The New Zealand public also appeared to be firmly against the plan, and organisations like Greenpeace and Project Jonah said the National-led Government’s plan was an affront to New Zealand’s conservation culture and the New Zealand way.

Under the previous Labour-led government, New Zealand was a staunch driver behind moves to keep the moratorium against commercial whaling in place. Its diplomatic efforts staved off moves by Japan in recent years to ‘buy’ support from smaller island states. Japan has long argued that it has a right to hunt whales for commercial purposes, and Iceland and Norway both share a view that it is culturally appropriate for them to hunt whales.

The New Zealand Labour Party’s conservation spokesperson, Chris Carter, said the Government had planned to make a policy U-Turn, but suddenly cancelled a Parliamentary briefing on the matter.

Chris Carter said: “The reason given by Murray McCully’s office was that the Minister was ‘very upset’ about my blog of yesterday, where I revealed from undisclosed sources within DOC and MFAT, that the National Government was about to quietly dump its initiative proposing a return to limited commercial whaling. The Minister had decided to cancel the briefing to ‘punish’ me!

“Yesterday I revealed that MFAT and DOC staff were concerned that traditional allies at the IWC don’t support New Zealand’s policy proposal. This is hardly surprising as domestic polling seems to confirm that a majority of New Zealanders don’t either,” Chris Carter said.

Within 24 hours, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Murray McCully called a joint press conference.

Sir Geoffrey told journalists on Thursday that he wanted to see whaling quotas halved from 3000 at present and added: “and even that may not be enough at some times, in some places, in some stocks”.

He said the Commission needed to agree on starting figures before they could discuss the proposal in Morocco in June. The effective deadline for the Morocco meeting would be April 22. Sir Geoffrey said he “was not” confident of getting the right numbers.

New Zealand’s National-led Government has faced public pressure to back off its capped commercial whaling policy since Sir Geoffrey floated the idea on TVNZ’s Q&A programme in March. With New Zealand’s close diplo-partners failing to subscribe to the Palmer-plan, the Government is searching for wiggle-room on this issue.

At the same briefing, foreign affairs minister Murray McCully said he understood the symbolism of “opposing all commercial whaling” and would share any proposals with the public as soon as possible.