NZ may join anti-whaling lawsuit

Foreign Minister Murray McCully says New Zealand will consider joining any legal action to force Japan to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean if diplomatic channels fail.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last week put a deadline of November on his warnings to Japan that Australia would go to the International Court of Justice if it did not halt whaling.

Mr McCully said he remained hopeful of some success through diplomatic channels, a process he expected to end in “weeks not months”.

“If that’s successful we’ll be delighted. If there is failure then obviously the ICJ proposition [Mr Rudd] has spoken of is one New Zealand has always been open to considering.”

Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman Chris Carter and anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd have both called for Mr McCully to pledge to join any ICJ action.

However, Mr McCully said it was not a straightforward decision whether New Zealand became a party to the ICJ action, despite it holding the same views on whaling as Australia.

He was getting “extensive advice” on the issue and was in touch with Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

“New Zealand and Australia have never had identical policies, but we have policies that are the same in substance. We both want to achieve an elimination of whaling in the Southern Ocean at the earliest possible date.”

Mr Rudd gave the deadline after meeting with Japan’s Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in Australia. Mr Okada has asked for Australia’s co-operation in dealing with the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd. The Sea Shepherd’s captain, Peter Bethune, was still on the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru 2 after he boarded on Monday to attempt a “civil arrest”.

Mr McCully arrived back in New Zealand at the weekend after meeting Fijian Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in Suva.

The two confirmed the diplomatic appointments of Mere Tora as Fiji’s acting head of mission in Wellington and Phillip Taula, who will represent New Zealand in Suva from March. The appointments follow an agreement to rebuild reciprocal diplomatic representation after Fiji expelled three New Zealand diplomats and New Zealand retaliated in kind.

Mr McCully said he had not sought assurances that further expulsions would not occur. “But it would be completely incompatible with the spirit of our discussions for those positions to be under threat at this point. Being realistic, the issue of durability of appointments will require further discussion if we get to the point of discussing High Commissioner appointments, but we are not in that zone at this stage.”