Federal environment minister Ian Campbell says only a couple of votes will decide if the International Whaling Commission endorses the resumption of commercial whaling.

The minister has returned from a diplomatic mission to Europe where he tried to build support for Australia’s position on whale conservation – and left yesterday afternoon to continue his lobbying in the Pacific region. The commission is due to meet on the issue this month in Korea.

The ABC has him saying he’ll work hard to foster long-term partners in Solomon Islands, Tonga and Kiribati. “My foreign affairs officials and whaling officials tell me that there’s only one or two votes in this at Korea, so every country is going to count,” he said. “These Pacific nations – it really is a life and death count, we really need their support.”

So Campbell wants to stop commercial whaling being endorsed? Interesting. Why, then, is the government ducking taking legal action against Japan for whaling inside the Australian whale sanctuary? The Japanese publish the coordinates of their catches and many of them are inside the zone. The Protection of the Cetaceans in the zone is administered by Campbell’s own Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, so Japanese whalers could be facing fines or jail terms – if the minister actually had the strength of his own convictions and tested it in law.

The Federal Court just recently refused to allow the Humane Society International to take action against a Japanese company it claims kills whales inside Australia’s Antarctic whale sanctuary. The decision followed a federal government submission that claimed the court could take no action against whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd because Japan didn’t recognise Australia’s jurisdiction in the area.

The Humane Society says KSK kills around 440 minke whales inside Australia’s Antarctic Territory each year and has slaughtered whales within the sanctuary every summer since 1987. Its application, however, was dismissed. Justice James Allsop said legal action against the company could jeopardise Australia’s national interests.

The government, however, cited no cases or precedents to back up its argument. The learned judge had to go off and find his own to back his judgment. There doesn’t appear to be a wholesale exemption clause in the act for anyone to kill cetaceans if the government of the day is afraid of diplomatic consequences.

Instead of court action, Campbell prefers travel. First Europe, now the Pacific. He must have a good sized carpetbag. The Solomons, Kiribati and Tonga haven’t been bought by the Japanese yet – sorry, become aligned with the Japanese. But the Tongans must be a little bemused. Have a look at the official International Whaling Commission site. Tonga doesn’t appear to be a member. What does Campbell know – and just how big is that carpetbag?