Animals In Print
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26 January 2011 Issue

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'Ministers Opposed Whaling Legal Action'

The controversy surrounding Australia's legal action against Japan's whaling program has deepened, with revelations that senior Labor ministers were against the idea.

But Australian diplomatic officials said a long international court case would at least take public pressure off the government for a few years.

The WikiLeaks scandal for Australia has deepened after more secret communications between the US and Australia have reached the public domain.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) warned that the case against Japan's "scientific" whaling would "either fail completely or, at best, set up the Japanese to simply make changes to their program to improve the science".

The leaked US diplomatic cables were obtained by WikiLeaks and provided to Fairfax newspapers.

According to the cables, Australian officials told US diplomats that any successful legal action against Japan would be "unlikely to stop the whale hunt entirely".

They added that "equally importantly, such action would probably take a long time, removing some of the pressure on the government for the next few years".

The cables also show that a senior DFAT official told the Americans that both then foreign minister Stephen Smith and trade minister Simon Crean had made clear their opposition to the international legal action.

The revelations follow other US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks that show that as late as February 2010, Australia was willing to compromise with Japan if the deal resulted in a reduced level of whaling.

The Australian Greens say the government should seek an immediate injunction in the International Court of Justice to stop whaling until the case is finalised.

"This would show Tokyo that Canberra means business," leader Senator Bob Brown said in a statement on Wednesday.

"A successful injunction would send the Japanese whaling fleet home with empty hulls."

Senator Brown repeated his party's call for a naval surveillance vessel to be sent to the Southern Ocean. .

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