The Politics of Pretending to Save the Whales
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
How can you sleep Peter Garrett when the whales are dying?
When is the Australian government going to get serious about saving the whales?
The Labor government of Kevin Rudd came into power a year ago on the crest of numerous promises to the people of Australia. One of those promises was to get tough with the illegal activities of the Japanese whaling fleet.
As someone who has spent a lifetime defending whales, I have to say that the performance of the Australian government in regard to the defense of the whales has been dismal and impotent. There has been plenty of posturing and posing, meetings and diplomatic ping pong but the plain simple truth is that the government has done nothing at all.
The Japanese whaling fleet is at sea, steaming south with the intent to slaughter the same number of whales as they targeted last year. 935 threatened Minke whales and 50 endangered Fin whales.
The verdict is plain - Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett have failed to convince the Japanese whalers to budge an inch on their illegal activities.
The Japanese intend to kill endangered whales in an established whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling and in direct contempt of an Australian Federal Court ruling specifically barring Japanese whalers from killing whales in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
They are giving a finger to Australia as they pass by on their way south. They arrogantly view Australians and New Zealanders with contempt. They know that the elected officials of both nations lack the courage, the passion, the motivation and the desire to do anything that might harm trade relations with Japan.
But the politicians have a problem. Australians and New Zealanders deeply love the great whales. Aussies and Kiwis have both the passion and the desire to protect the whales. In Australia last November they voted for a government that would take an aggressive stance against the whalers.
What they got has been appeasement, excuses, and the politics of retreat.
And they have made it clear that as defenders of the whales, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is no longer welcome in Australia.
Since October of 2005, Sea Shepherd has been based in Australia in our campaign to intervene against illegal Japanese whaling activities. From 2005 until December 2007, we were able to enjoy support and encouragement from the authorities.
All that changed with the election of Kevin Rudd and the appointment of Peter Garrett as Minister of the Environment.
Over the last year, it has become quite evident that using a passive aggressive approach, the government is working to force Sea Shepherd to take our ship elsewhere.
We continue to enjoy the overwhelming support of Australian citizens and it is only because of that that we believe Sea Shepherd has not been directly ordered to leave Australian shores.
Why do we believe this?
From 2005 until May 2008, we were given a free berth in Melbourne. We were then told that the berth would no longer be available and the only place we could go would be the commercial docks at $59,000 per month. The decision was made to move the ship to Brisbane where another dock was secured.
This was after Sydney harbor made it very clear we were not welcome.
We have also been told that we could not dock in Fremantle in Western Australia.
Upon arrival in Brisbane we were told we could not use the dock we had arranged because we were too large, despite the fact that larger ships than ours had used the berth. In fact the vessel that had just left was much larger. We were forced into a commercial dock at $500 per day. This means we have to pay some $80,000 dollars for a berth at the same time we delivered nearly a million dollars worth of business to port by hiring local contractors to construct a helicopter deck, install a new hydraulic crane and to outfit the ship with new boats.
It is frustrating to be fighting to protect and defend the whales and Australia's multi-million dollar whale watching industry and having to pay $80,000 just to have the ship stay at a berth that would otherwise be unoccupied.
In March of this year, I was struck by a bullet fired from the Japanese whaling ship. I was saved by the Kevlar vest I was wearing. Because of the threat of gunfire, I decided to provide my crew with Kevlar vests and requested permission to have them sent to Australian Customs to be brought onto the ship at departure. The request was refused thus directly endangering the lives of my crew.
When I landed last week at Sydney Airport, I was detained upon arrival and questioned for an hour and a half. They wanted to know what my agenda was, who I would be seeing, what I would be doing, where and when. They had a file on the desk of media clippings on Sea Shepherd, yet they said it was just a routine questioning.
The police have visited the ship to question the crew about our activities.
The Federal police last week sent a message to Australian Director Jeff Hansen in our Perth office requesting he come in for questioning. He did so and was asked what our plans were.
We have been told that should we return to Australia after the campaign we may have to pay "duty" on the ship for staying in Australian waters despite our Dutch registry. This would be in the area of $300,000 to $400,000 dollars.
Our application for charitable status has been in limbo for more than two years. This has cost us a great deal in loss donations.
At the IWC meeting in Santiago, Chile when I attempted on a few occasion to speak with Peter Garrett, he turned and walked away and refused to speak with me.
One of his aides told a member of the Australian delegation that they considered Sea Shepherd to be "an enemy" to the interests of Australia.
It looks like we will have no choice but not to return to Australia after this campaign.
Almost half of our crew will be Australian this year.
It seems to me that if the government of Australia is not willing to honour it's promise to the people who elected them then they should at least allow the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to do the job the government should be doing, but refuses to do.
Whales are being killed, international law is being broken, whale defenders are being assaulted and shot at and the best that Peter Garrett has to offer is to allocate $6 million dollars for non-lethal whale research to show the Japanese that such research can be done without killing whales.
Of course the Japanese know this but what Mr. Garrett does not seem to understand is that the whales are not and never have been slaughtered for "research." They have been killed for commercial profit - plain and simple. The Japanese are not interested in research that does not turn a profit.
It would have been better if the $6 million had been allocated to save the diminishing populations of Tasmanian devils. This allocation of funds is not going to save a single whale.
Or better yet, Mr. Garrett should have allocated some of that money to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Steve Irwin to allow us to be even more effective in our interventions against illegal Japanese whaling activities.
Of course that would never do - to provide support for a group that is actually protecting and defending whales instead of hanging banners and talking about saving whales.
The Australian government needs to get serious about protecting the whales and honouring their pre-election promises to do so.