It might be drawing a long harpoon, but it’s worth making some comparisons between the lengths the Howard government is going to protect whales and the extent of its mealy-mouthed rhetoric and actions in the Singapore Nguyen case.

There is a degree of puzzlement in the business and diplomatic community at the strength of the government’s campaign against Japan and other whaling nations, to the extent that there is genuine worry that this will damage one of our most important trading relationships. The Japanese themselves are rather taken aback at the massive public attacks from a country they regard as a friend.

There is serious concern that this will damage trade with Japan – and Australia has a lot more to lose than either Japan or Korea. Within the bureaucracy and sections of the government, Ian Campbell is regarded as a loose cannon, but he seems to act with either the support or tacit approval of both Howard and Downer. Have a look at the ramped-up rhetoric in some of his media releases earlier this year (April, May, June especially) on whaling.

Sure, this is an iconic and not unimportant issue. But if this level of effort and rhetoric had been put in over the past three years to putting pressure on Singapore to save a human life, and perhaps many lives by getting them to re-consider capital punishment, the outcome might have been a lot happier.

There’s little doubt John Howard was genuinely rattled by his meeting with the poor kid’s mum. But it seems he and most of his party room think more like Wilson Tuckey than Bruce Baird on this life-or-death issue.