Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, Environment Minister Peter Garrett, and Attorney General Robert McClelland said in a joint statement, "The Government has always been firm in our resolve that if we could not find a diplomatic resolution to our differences over this issue, we would pursue legal action. The Government's action fulfils that commitment."
A formal application will be lodged in The Hague early next week, they said.
The ministers said the decision underlines the government's commitment to bring Japan's whaling program to an end and "demonstrates our commitment to do what it takes to end whaling globally."
A minke whale is taken by a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean. January 2006. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The Australian government has not taken this decision lightly, the ministers said. "We have been patient and committed in our efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to this issue. We have engaged in intensive discussions in the International Whaling Commission and bilaterally with Japan."
But to date, the ministers said, "the response of the whaling countries has not been positive."
"Recent statements by whaling countries in the Commission have provided Australia with little cause for hope that our serious commitment to conservation of the world's whales will be reflected in any potential IWC compromise agreement," the ministers said.
On April 27, the International Whaling Commission released a draft compromise proposal resulting from several years of discussions about changing the IWC's whaling management regime by a Small Working Group that includes the whaling nations.
Under the proposal, the world's only three whaling nations - Japan, Norway and Iceland - could continue whaling for another 10 years, even while the current global whaling moratorium is retained.
The proposal will come before the 88 IWC member countries at their annual meeting in June in Agadir, Morocco.
The Australian ministers commended other IWC member countries who share Australia's concerns and goals, in particular countries of the European Union and the Buenos Aires group of Latin American countries, who have joined with Australia in highlighting the necessity for phasing out whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.
Crewmembers on a Japanese whaling vessel dismember a whale. (Photo credit unknown)
The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is an area of 50 million square kilometers surrounding the continent of Antarctica where the International Whaling Commission has banned commercial whaling since 1994.
Japan has continued to hunt whales inside the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary because its whaling is done under a provision in the IWC charter that permits whaling for the purposes of scientific research.
The Humane Society International, based in Australia and the United States, applauded the Rudd Government for moving forward with an international court case against Japan.
"HSI lawyers first put forward the idea for this case over 10 years ago and we will be very pleased to see it finally launched in court," the group said in a statement today.
Nicola Beynon, HSI Senior Program Manager, said, "We assert that Japan has been abusing their rights under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling since 1987 when they first embarked on 'scientific whaling' to circumvent the global moratorium on commercial whaling that came into force in 1986. The Japanese Government now issues itself 'scientific permits' to kill up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary every year and up to 220 minke whales, 100 sei whales and 10 sperm whales in the North Pacific.
"With the future for whales looking grim at the International Whaling Commission, HSI is very pleased the Australian Government is prepared to argue for an end to commercial whale hunts conducted through the scientific loophole in the International Court of Justice at The Hague,” said Beynon.
Japan says that the killing of thousands of minke whales and hundreds of larger whales in the Southern Ocean is necessary to determine scientific facts about what the whales eat and how they behave.
The Australian government, on the other hand, maintains it is not necessary to kill whales to obtain scientific information. In cooperation with New Zealand, Australia is supporting a new five-year long Antarctic Whale Expedition to conduct non-lethal research on large whales in the Ross Sea area and the adjacent Southern Ocean.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Japanese Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Yoshitaka Akamatsu meet in Tokyo. May 20, 2010. (Photo courtesy Office of Minister Smith)
The first expedition of this Southern Ocean Research Partnership left Wellington, New Zealand on February 1 and returned on March 15, 2010. The partnership's aim is to develop a multi-lateral, non-lethal scientific research program that will improve the coordinated and cooperative delivery of science to the International Whaling Commission.
The ministers said that Australia will remain "closely engaged" in the IWC process. "While an outcome at that meeting which meets Australia's fundamental conservation objectives is slim, the government will continue to engage constructively in the diplomatic effort," they said.
Australia-Japan Joint Foreign and Defence Ministers' Consultations. From left: Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith, Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Katsuya Okada, Australian Defence Minister John Faulkner, Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, Tokyo, May 19, 2010. (Photo courtesy Office of Minister Smith)
Australia and Japan share a comprehensive strategic, security and economic partnership, the ministers said. Japan is the largest export market for Australia.
They said the government's action today reflects a disagreement in one element of a relationship that is deep, broad and multi-dimensional. "We share a substantial commercial relationship built over many decades, growing strategic and security linkages, and work together closely in key international forums such as the G20, the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and APEC, the ministers pointed out.
"Both Australia and Japan have agreed that, whatever our differences on whaling, this issue should not be allowed to jeopardize the strength and the growth of our bilateral relationship," the ministers said.
At the same time, they said, "the Australian government will keep working tirelessly to achieve an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean, and we will use all legal and diplomatic avenues to achieve our goal."
While not responding directly to the legal action, the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday released the results of a public opinion poll on the image of Japan in Australia. The poll was conducted by a Japanese private research agency from November 10 to 14, 2009 and compilation of the results was completed in March 2010.
Approximately 50 percent of those surveyed rated Japan-Australia relations as "excellent" or "good." Twenty-five percent answered that Japan and Australia should be closer in every respect, 37 percent answered that the current relationship should be maintained, and 30 percent answered that there should be more distance between the two countries.
Regarding the whaling issue, 59 percent of those polled either disagreed or strongly disagreed to whaling off Japan. No question was asked about whaling in the Southern Ocean.
Regarding the fields in which Japan and Australia should develop their future relationship, "the environment" was the top response.
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