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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



IWC 2005: Australian Labor - cunning politicians

Am I giving the Australian Labor party way too much credit?

With Aussie PM John Howard having admitted that legal action to prevent Japan exercising it's right to scientific whaling was likely to fail the opposition Labor party have come out firing again, demanding Australia take a case to the International Court of Justice.

The Labor party is publicly pretending to be much more confident that a case against Japan would be likely of success than John Howard's incumbent government:

"The case is, Japan's adherence to this practice of so-called scientific whaling for scientific purposes, can be proven to be, underlying it all, false, because the whales in question are then used for commercial purposes."

This is where I start to wonder whether the Labor party is extremely cunning, or extremely ignorant.

First, lets consider the Labor argument. It's a fairly simple one, and often bandied about in the western media as evidence of Japan's scientific whaling being "commerical whaling in disguise": Whale meat taken for the purpose of scientific whaling ends up on sushi plates around Japan. On the surface this is a simple argument and seems to make sense, which is no doubt why it has been so popular with the western media.

However, now lets consider the part of the ICRW
relevant to scientific whaling - Article VIII (and keep in mind that anti-whaling governments are all signatory to this).

It has four parts - the 1st part states:

Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention.

Thus Japan and every other signatory to the ICRW clearly have the right to carry out whaling for scientific purposes.
The 2nd part of Article VIII, and the part often incorrectly described as a "loophole" reads:

Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.

Thus, any whales taken by Japan for scientific purposes are required by the Convention to be utilised to the fullest. There's obviously a lot of meat on just a single whale, and what better use for whale meat is there than eating? So ironically, while Japan is endlessly abused by anti-whaling nations for putting whale meat on the market, Japan is in fact required to make the best use of the remains as possible, and would be in breach of the ICRW if they failed to do so.

Now let's go back to Australian Labor's argument. They say that since whale meat goes on the market, scientific whaling is a hoax. We haven't even had to examine the validity of the research that the Japanese do on the whales taken to realise that the argument is a nonsense - Japan is legally required to make good use of the whale remains by the ICRW - a document which both Australia and Japan have put their signature to.

Clearly, the Japanese would have to have a very very bad lawyer in order to lose a case at the International Court of Justice. This isn't a case the Australians could ever win.

So where does this leave us with respect to the Australian Labor party? There are two possibilities:
1) The incumbent government has conceeded that court action against Japan would be a loser. Taking the case would be bad for the government for several reasons: The case would be a financial loss - Japan's whaling stance would be vindicated in front of the whole world once and for all - and this miscalculation would be a huge political embarassment for the Howard government to explain to the Australian public.
The Australian Labor party honchos have possibly observed this themselves. But the Australian public at large probably don't have a clue about this - and why would they? Whales and whaling have little to do with the average Westerner's daily life.
Thus, the Australian Labor party has come up with a great political position - "take this to the International Court of Justice to try to stop Japan". At the superficial level, where the average Australian voter's knowledge of whales and whaling is, this sounds like a wonderful positive action to take.
But in the other corner, the Howard government is now in a lose-lose position politically:
Action I: Take the case to the ICJ - certain to lose, resulting in a wave of criticism by the opposition parties and the public for incompetance of losing what at the superficial level seems like and open and shut case...
Action II: Don't take the case to the ICJ - by heaped with criticism by the opposition anyway, for inaction against the evil Japanese whalers.

Given the options, clearly Action II, although a loser, isn't going to result in a KO victory to the Labor party as would Action I, and is thus the option the Howard government is taking.

The Australian Labor party advisors are to be commended for their political nouse.

2) Or, as I asked at the top of this blog - am I giving the Labor party way too much credit? Perhaps they are just a bunch of chumps with useless advisors who can't understand the plain English of the ICRW?


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