The anti-whaling ship of fools

Shame on Labour spokesperson Chris Carter and partisan blog The Standard for using anti-whaling diplomacy for short-term political gain

Never has the right-wing sobriquet “The Stranded” seemed more appropriate.

I am truly loathe to diss a friendly fellow blog, and I apologise for it already. But they asked for it. It stems from this hysterical politicisation of New Zealand’s IWC negotiating stance, here and here, by The Standard blogger Eddie, which even one of their own readers characterised as “partisan hackery”. “I’m not sure what I think of this [wrote Neil] but using it as an excuse for more partisan hackery is tedious”. That didn’t stop Labour spokesperson Chris Carter wading in:

“It is now clear that this National-Act Government simply doesn’t care about marine mammal conservation or other conservation issues,” Mr Carter has said.
“This is the same Government that is prepared to mine our national parks, as well as support the resumption of commercial whaling.”

As if two posts weren’t enough, Eddie followed it up with a third, trying to get the Greens to rise to the bait. I logged on dreading the sort of rote response we had heard previously from the Greens, in defence of the Ady Gil. I take it from their silence today that there is internal dissent which, again, shows how much smarter they are sometimes than the Labour Party. These aren’t easy issues, nor are they issues to exploit politically. Anyone who thinks so completely fails to appreciate the intricacy of the diplomatic task before the IWC, and the size of the stakes.

Everyone, including, for the record, the government, has the objective here of killing the fewest whales, preferably none, and achieving that objective with utmost urgency:

Mr McCully said the New Zealand Government wanted whaling in the Southern Ocean eliminated and he thought the best way of getting substantial reductions was through the diplomatic process.

The issue is what means to adopt to that end. I wrote about the throes of the IWC here on Pundit, nearly a year ago, last May. The issues are the same now as I canvassed then. It incenses me to see this fraught issue jeopardised, for the worst possible reason: short-term political self interest.

Yes, there has been a change in New Zealand's policy since last May; and yes, this might be marshalled by The Standard as further evidence (if they were interested in evidence) in support of their position. When Geoffrey Palmer spoke to Pundit then, it was me putting to him the arguments in favour of cautious sanction of some whaling, and him setting out a list of reasons why not:

I put it to him that New Zealand is trying to defend the legally indefensible—hypocritically accusing the Japanese of intractability, blaming them for inability to reach consensus when fault can be found on both sides. Given what’s at stake, mightn’t the cautious sanction of some whaling, where sustainable, pour some oil (pardon the pun) and smooth the way long term?
Yes, he agreed, New Zealand’s position is indefensible on sustainability grounds for some types of whales. But … [and he went on, to list six counter-arguments].

I found aspects of this unconvincing then, and I do still. So of course, I’m bound to have some sympathy for the revised position as it emerged today, as best I can understand it, from the scanty time I was able to give it. [I did check the IWC website; the minutes of the Florida intersessional meeting seem not yet to be posted.] These are some key points, as I run to catch my train:

  • “Permits” for scientific whaling are issued at the sole discretion of the government wishing to use them, numbers have dramatically increased, and everyone knows it is a farce. It would be progress to bring that under control by the IWC, which is going to take a quid pro quo.
  • The IWC itself recognises that there are some non-threatened species, such as the little minkes; whaling them might be abhorrent, but it is not a conservation issue.
  • What is proposed would bring the IWC back on a sounder footing, closer to its original mandate.
  • The Japanese have much right on their side, perhaps not as regards whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, but more generally in their beef with the IWC, which might be a risky factor in legal proceedings risky.
  • Whales don’t care what whaling is called -- “commercial” or “scientific”. The question is how many, and the fewer the better.

Even more offensive than Eddie’s posts was colleague Marty G’s comments, excoriating anyone who might disagree on the comments thread, evidently mistaking ad hominem for wit: “I don’t give a crap about Palmer … have you suffered a head injury? … follow the link in the post, genius” … and so on. I have no idea who “Neil” might be, but I am grateful to him for his, presumably independent, views:

“Palmer has been in this role for a while and these negotiations have been going on for a while. It’s not like Key came up with this idea. I’m not sure what I think of this but using it as an excuse for more partisan hackery is tedious. ... Is this about whales or is this about another flimsy pretext to call political opponents liars.”

“I’d say that Palmer has done far more to advance anti-whaling than any leftie activist and I really doubt he’d be implementing a plan that he personally objected to on the orders of a politician which is what you’re implying.

“Since the lead negotiator has been in the role since 2002 and is a person of known integrity then I’d say his views might well be worth paying attention to. … But then calling Key a liar and Palmer a puppet is much easier and much more emotionally reassuring it seems.”

“Palmer was appointed by Labour, he’s not one to be told what to say, he doesn’t need the money. If he disagreed with what the SWG were recommending he could easily walk away. I really really doubt he’s mouthing Key’s words against his will.”

Using dead whales as pawns in a political game is no less sickening than their original butchery. Carter says the Labour Party stands for their conservation. What I take from the past two day's performance is that it stands for ill advised unnuanced politicking, over substantive hard policy choices.