Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

E&OE

8 March 2008

Press Conference, Perth

Subjects: Incidents in the Southern Ocean

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. We've got two issues today. Firstly whaling. The Australian Government absolutely condemns any conduct or activity on the high seas, which either causes injury or has the potential to cause injury or risk the safety of people at sea.

So we condemn absolutely any conduct which is either unsafe or puts people at risk. We have consistently, and I again call on all the parties to show restraint. What is required here even in the face of great provocation is calm and restraint.

Last night, on my instructions, officials from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo made the point to the Japanese Government that they regarded the most recent incident as an unwelcome development, and that even in the face of great provocation, restraint is required.

People should understand that as I have declared, in the Great Southern Ocean, many thousands of miles away, it's very hard to assess the veracity or the credibility of claim and counterclaim, that people cannot engage in unsafe activity with impunity, and despite all the evidentiary and jurisdictional difficulties, people should understand that the Australian Federal Police and Japanese authorities are cooperating in the evaluation of incidences in the Southern Oceans.

So it's very important that even in the face of great provocation people here exercise restraint and show calm. I've made the point on many occasions and I do again today. We're dealing with potentially very grave circumstances, very many thousands of miles away. The capacity of the Australian Government to intervene quickly to assist is limited.

The second issue today. You'd of course be aware of reports in, in some newspapers of, suggesting inappropriate conduct by an Australian industry association, in respect of the mulesing issue.

My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, will be making detailed comments about this matter later today.

But one of the suggestions is that in the photo which appears in some newspapers today, that in the photo is a DFAT official or a mission or industry official. This is not true. The advice I have from my Department this morning is that the person suggested to be a DFAT official in the photo which appears in today's papers is not a DFAT official.

Secondly, my preliminary advice today is that any contact between either our mission or DFAT officials with the wool industry association is the sort of usual and appropriate assistance that would be given by the Department or our mission to any industry association engaged in any form of export industry.

And, finally, I've seen the suggestion that, that people were suggesting that people from overseas that come to Australia to inspect the industry, but on condition that they not make any adverse comments.

Well this of course is inappropriate, and I note that the wool industry association yesterday describing that conduct or that suggestion as inappropriate, and I certainly share that view. Such conduct, is inappropriate.

I'm happy to respond to your questions.

QUESTION: The whaling issue - [indistinct] any response to [indistinct] flashbangs [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: The advice we have from the Japanese Government is that no guns were fired, and no gunshot. So, that's the advice we have from the Japanese Government.

The advice we have from the Japanese Government is, that in response to a number of, of incidents where liquid substances and powder were thrown onboard, they responded with a number of so-called flashbangs, which they very strongly say are designed to create noise, but not to injure.

So, the advice that we have from the Japanese government is that no gunshots were fired.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] the Japanese that [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: As I say, they have indicated to us, through our officials in Japan, that no gunshots were fired.

In response to the most recent incidents, where flashbangs were used, I spoke with our officials in Tokyo yesterday evening, last night, and they indicated to the Japanese authorities that, even in the face of great provocation, their actions are an unwelcome development, and that all parties, all parties have to show restraint, and have to show calm.

And, even in the face of great provocation, this was an unwelcome development, and we urge restraint and calm in all parties. I have said that consistently from day one.

QUESTION: This is a highly emotive issue though isn't it, because, [indistinct] escalation, using flashbangs, and [indistinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: It is a very emotional issue, which is why the Australian Government has consistently said, firstly, that our policy objective is to persuade the Japanese to cease whaling in the Southern Oceans.

Secondly, that where you have vessels which usually come into close contact in the Great Southern Oceans, calm and restraint has to be shown on all sides.

And people have to be responsible for their own conduct and their own actions.

And I absolutely condemn any conduct which has the potential to cause injury, or the potential to cause risk on the high seas.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] flashbangs [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well they have indicated, they will take whatever action they believe is appropriate in the circumstances.

We have urged them, through our officials last night, to show restraint and calm; just as we urge all parties to show restraint and calm. We've also made the point, they understand, the great provocation that, that existed so far as the recent incidents were concerned.

QUESTION: [Indistinct], could you [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well of course the government understands all too well the very significant pressure that seniors and Australians on low incomes are under. We understand that all too well.

And these issues are always dealt with in the budget context, and that's the way in which we're approaching this and other issues.

Of course we understand the pressure that seniors are under. Of course we understand the great work that carers do.

It is a matter that will be considered and dealt with in the budget.

[Indistinct] decisions will be announced in that manner.

QUESTION: [Indistinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we certainly understand that so far as carers are concerned, they do great work under enormous pressure. We certainly understand so far as seniors are concerned, that any adverse impacts on their income has the capacity to add enormous pressure to their, to their quality of life.

But these issues are always dealt with in the budget context, and that's how we're approaching them today.

QUESTION: [Indistinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: Well because, they'll be dealt with in the budget.

QUESTION: [Indistinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: The budget is in May, and all these matters will be dealt with in the budget plans.

Ends

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