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NZ Decides Not To Join Australia's Whaling Court Action

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Fuseworks Media
Murray McCully
Murray McCully

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, Dec 15 NZPA - New Zealand won't join in Australian court action over Japanese whaling for tactical reasons and will continue to push diplomacy, Foreign Minister Murray McCully says.

But little progress is likely in coming months as whalers and protesters head to the Southern Ocean, in what Mr McCully described today as an "explosive cocktail".

Mr McCully and his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd today issued a joint statement explaining why New Zealand was not backing the action.

In June, Australia launched a complaint against Japanese whaling at the court in The Hague.

Commercial whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, but Japan set up the non-profit Institute of Cetacean Research a year later and has since culled hundreds of the ocean mammals annually for what it describes as scientific research.

Japan argues its scientific activity is permitted under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, but Australia says it is a commercial activity.

Mr McCully said Cabinet had agreed to his recommendation to intervene in the case but not to file as a party.

"Australia has indicated that they would prefer New Zealand not to file as a party," he said.

"Because New Zealand has a judge on the ICJ, Sir Kenneth Keith, the joining of the two actions would result in Australia losing its entitlement to appoint a judge for the case. New Zealand's decision to intervene will allow the case to proceed without delay."

Mr Rudd backed the decision and said he New Zealand was a "strong partner" in the fight to end whaling.

"By intervening in the case, New Zealand will be able to make both written and oral submissions to the court that Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean is contrary to its obligations under applicable international conventions to which Australia and New Zealand are also Parties," he said.

Mr McCully told reporters New Zealand was committed to seeing an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean and not being part of the court action left diplomatic paths open -- last week he met his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara for talks.

Mr McCully said he had raised the issue with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and would continue to be a strong voice against whaling.

The minister was optimistic that, eventually, whaling would be phased out because there was no economic benefit for Japan in subsidising a dying industry.

While International Whaling Commission talks had struggled to make progress Mr McCully said there were signs that phasing out could happen.

In the past New Zealand has argued court action could be counterproductive if Australia lost the case, but Mr McCully said at least the Government would have ongoing diplomatic dialogue to fall back on if that was the result.

Any short term progress was unlikely to be made during the whaling season, when tensions were high.

Mr McCully was "apprehensive" about the situation in the Southern Ocean where three protest vessels were stationed and Japanese vessels were carrying armed coast guards.

He urged both sides to respect the law and human life.

Last year during the whaling season the protest ship Ady Gil and a Japanese whaling ship collided. The Ady Gil was sunk and its captain, New Zealander Pete Bethune, illegally boarded the Japanese vessel and was arrested and put on trial. He was given a two-year suspended sentence and is now back in New Zealand.

Labour leader Phil Goff supported the Government's decision.

"They need to make a very strong submission against whaling," he said.

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes agreed and said New Zealand would still be able to put its views forward.

He said a Navy boat should be sent to act as an independent observer and to make sure international law was observed.

McCully said New Zealand was not sending offshore patrol vessels as they had not yet completed cold weather trials and early use could affect warranties.

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