We Can All Be Proud Of This Victory

After a long legal battle with Japan over its ongoing whaling program, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week delivered a historic and resounding decision in favour of Australia. The ICJ upheld Australia's arguments that Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean is in breach of Japan's international legal obligations, and must be brought to an end.

After a long legal battle with Japan over its ongoing whaling program, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week delivered a historic and resounding decision in favour of Australia. The ICJ upheld Australia's arguments that Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean is in breach of Japan's international legal obligations, and must be brought to an end.

In 1986 a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling was negotiated and agreed under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Although Japan agreed to be bound by the moratorium, it then continued to hunt whales in the Antarctic, claiming that it was doing so under a legal exception to the moratorium that permits whaling for "scientific purposes".

Australia has never accepted that Japan's whaling program was for scientific purposes. We have maintained in the decades since the moratorium came into effect that Japan has in fact been continuing its commercial whaling program, cloaked in the lab-coat of science. This has not only resulted in the ongoing slaughter of thousands of whales by Japan, but it has made a mockery of international law.

For more than 20 years Australia engaged in diplomacy to convince Japan to end its whaling program, while protest groups like Sea Shepherd engaged in a long-running and at times dangerous campaign to convince Japan to cease its unlawful slaughter. Yet Japan continued with its whaling programs.

So on 31 May 2010, the Rudd Government initiated legal action against Japan in the International Court of Justice.

It was a great honour to represent Australia before the International Court at The Hague last year, while I was Attorney-General. I worked with an incredibly capable and committed legal team, supported by outstanding scientists, who were invaluable in us making our case.

I have been to many diplomatic events, and our legal battle with Japan in The Hague was certainly not one of them. The case was hard fought by both sides, but it is clear now that Australia's arguments prevailed.

In its decision this week, the Court decided that Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean was not being carried out for scientific purposes, and must be halted.

Japan has already indicated that it will abide by the Court's binding judgment, and I have no reason to doubt that commitment.

This week's court decision is historic for a number reasons. It is only the second time Australia has taken a case to the ICJ - the highest court in the world - that was created to resolve disputes between nations. The last time Australia took a case to the ICJ was in 1974, when Labor Attorney-General Lionel Murphy took legal action against France to bring their nuclear testing program in the Pacific Ocean to an end.

The decision is also historic because it is the first time that an international environmental convention has been litigated and enforced in this way. I hope that Australia's bold and pioneering legal action opens the way for other nations to hold to account states that are trying to avoid or subvert their legal responsibilities for our shared environment and resources.

Australians believe strongly in the rule of law, and in this case we argued for the rule of law to be upheld on the international stage.

And finally, this decision is historic because although Australia won convincingly against Japan in the courtroom, it is my hope that the resolution of this long-running dispute between our nations will now open the way to an even stronger friendship and closer cooperation in the future.

The decision to take Japan to the international court was not one that was taken lightly. But just as we came to the ICJ as friends to resolve this long-standing difference, it is as friends that Australia and Japan may now enter a new era in cooperation on conservation, particularly of whale species.

Japan has great scientific expertise, and I hope that in future Japanese scientists will be working side by side with Australian scientists to better understand the ecosystems of the Antarctic, and to protect the magnificent animals that live there.

Australians from all sides of politics should be proud of the principled position our nation has taken against commercial whaling, a position we have fought for since the time of Prime Ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke. And Australians from all sides of politics should be proud that with this legal victory we have brought an end to Japan's whaling program - a program that has killed over 10,000 whales under the guise of scientific research.

I hope that the Prime Minister will recognise that this week's historic win provides an opportunity to strengthen the framework for the regulation of whaling, and that the Australian Government re-commits to working constructively with all nations, including Japan, for the conservation of whale species and our precious natural environment.

This article was first published in the Herald Sun on Thursday, 3 April 2014.

After a long legal battle with Japan over its ongoing whaling program, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week delivered a historic and resounding decision in favour of Australia. The ICJ upheld Australia's arguments that Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean is in breach of Japan's international legal obligations, and must be brought to an end.

In 1986 a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling was negotiated and agreed under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Although Japan agreed to be bound by the moratorium, it then continued to hunt whales in the Antarctic, claiming that it was doing so under a legal exception to the moratorium that permits whaling for "scientific purposes".

Australia has never accepted that Japan's whaling program was for scientific purposes. We have maintained in the decades since the moratorium came into effect that Japan has in fact been continuing its commercial whaling program, cloaked in the lab-coat of science. This has not only resulted in the ongoing slaughter of thousands of whales by Japan, but it has made a mockery of international law.

For more than 20 years Australia engaged in diplomacy to convince Japan to end its whaling program, while protest groups like Sea Shepherd engaged in a long-running and at times dangerous campaign to convince Japan to cease its unlawful slaughter. Yet Japan continued with its whaling programs.

So on 31 May 2010, the Rudd Government initiated legal action against Japan in the International Court of Justice.

It was a great honour to represent Australia before the International Court at The Hague last year, while I was Attorney-General. I worked with an incredibly capable and committed legal team, supported by outstanding scientists, who were invaluable in us making our case.

I have been to many diplomatic events, and our legal battle with Japan in The Hague was certainly not one of them. The case was hard fought by both sides, but it is clear now that Australia's arguments prevailed.

In its decision this week, the Court decided that Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean was not being carried out for scientific purposes, and must be halted.

Japan has already indicated that it will abide by the Court's binding judgment, and I have no reason to doubt that commitment.

This week's court decision is historic for a number reasons. It is only the second time Australia has taken a case to the ICJ - the highest court in the world - that was created to resolve disputes between nations. The last time Australia took a case to the ICJ was in 1974, when Labor Attorney-General Lionel Murphy took legal action against France to bring their nuclear testing program in the Pacific Ocean to an end.

The decision is also historic because it is the first time that an international environmental convention has been litigated and enforced in this way. I hope that Australia's bold and pioneering legal action opens the way for other nations to hold to account states that are trying to avoid or subvert their legal responsibilities for our shared environment and resources.

Australians believe strongly in the rule of law, and in this case we argued for the rule of law to be upheld on the international stage.

And finally, this decision is historic because although Australia won convincingly against Japan in the courtroom, it is my hope that the resolution of this long-running dispute between our nations will now open the way to an even stronger friendship and closer cooperation in the future.

The decision to take Japan to the international court was not one that was taken lightly. But just as we came to the ICJ as friends to resolve this long-standing difference, it is as friends that Australia and Japan may now enter a new era in cooperation on conservation, particularly of whale species.

Japan has great scientific expertise, and I hope that in future Japanese scientists will be working side by side with Australian scientists to better understand the ecosystems of the Antarctic, and to protect the magnificent animals that live there.

Australians from all sides of politics should be proud of the principled position our nation has taken against commercial whaling, a position we have fought for since the time of Prime Ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke. And Australians from all sides of politics should be proud that with this legal victory we have brought an end to Japan's whaling program - a program that has killed over 10,000 whales under the guise of scientific research.

I hope that the Prime Minister will recognise that this week's historic win provides an opportunity to strengthen the framework for the regulation of whaling, and that the Australian Government re-commits to working constructively with all nations, including Japan, for the conservation of whale species and our precious natural environment.

This article was first published in the Herald Sun on Thursday, 3 April 2014.