Does the Japan Times have the whaling solution? Australia’s international talk-fest about the evils of whaling has a new voice. Environment Minister Peter Garrett has given former diplomat and Sydney Olympic Games boss Sandy Holloway the role as our official spruiker for the cause of ending harpooning whales for commercial and so-called scientific purposes. With the grand official title of Australia’s Special Envoy for Whale Conservation, Mr Holloway will build, said the Minister in making the announcement:

On the intensive diplomatic engagement the Rudd Labor Government has undertaken to date and will see Australia deepen our dialogue with leaders in Japan and other countries ahead of the southern summer.

What that means, I think, is that the Government has decided it had better pretend to be doing something because it made such a fuss before the last election about its determination to stop the Japanese whalers in the South Pacific. Neither Mr Rudd nor Mr Garrett wants to admit that Australia is actually not prepared to risk upsetting its Japanese ally by taking legal action in the international court. Instead they have chosen to have Mr Holloway keep talking the talk to try and hide the fact that we will not be walking the walk.

Perhaps the first recommendation from the new Special Envoy for Whale Conservation should be to get his political masters to read the article headlined “Let them eat whales!” which appeared this week in the Japan Times. That piece argued that had conservation lobbying organizations played different cards back in the 1980s, Japan’s whaling days would now be long over.

Instead, the confrontations and demands in the decades since have completely failed to stop Japanese whaling, and have only actually achieved a name-change in the purpose of the killing from “commercial” to “research” whaling. International condemnation, and the international media, have similarly failed to alter Japan’s behavior.

But what has Japan succeeded in upholding? In fact it is a profligate use of taxpayers’ money to support an outdated industry collecting meat that is not required on the home market and is unsalable internationally due to its toxicity.

The author went on to argue that the quickest way of ending Japan’s whaling is, paradoxically, to support it – with the single proviso that Japan’s whaling industry should be verifiably and transparently commercial, and not supported by any government subsidies. If consumers were made aware of the high concentrations of mercury contained in whale meat even fewer Japanese than now would want to eat it and whaling would have to end because it was no longer economic to continue.

What’s it got to do with the Government. It is a very sad thing that a young Australian woman on her grand tour of Europe died while visiting the Croatian town of Dubrovnik. Every death in suspicious circumstances is a very sad thing for someone. What I fail to understand is why this particular death is so special that the Australian Government got involved in the investigation in the first place. Even harder to understand is why the Opposition has decided to give Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty a hard time over his force’s minor role.

Now I know we have consular officers in embassies around the world and that one of their functions is to help travelling Australians in trouble but they are not meant to be some kind of super nanny. Yet increasingly the politicians are reacting to every slightest bit of public pressure to make them so. The Lapthorne family is clearly very skilled at the public pressure business and have attracted considerable media attention as they try and find out what happened to Britt. Good luck to them and I hope they eventually find out the cause of death and that a villain, if there is one, is brought to justice.

But I must say I find some of their comments quite over the top. I don’t think our Government should have even sent a Federal policeman to Croatia just to appease a grieving family and to give the television networks another angle for a story that attracted them. I certainly would not regard playing grief counsellor to family members as one of that policeman’s duties as Liberal Senator George Brandis by his questions at a Senate committee last night seemed to be suggesting. And as for Senator Steve Fielding trying to get the Commissioner to pass a long distance judgment on the merits of the investigation by the Croatian police — what a way to ensure that international police forces never try to cooperate with the Australian Federal Police in future.

That being said, I did find it odd that when the silly decision to send an officer was made that the man chosen had a Serbian heritage. We in Australia might be multi cultural in these matters involving the former Yugoslavia but Serbs and Croats in their home lands are not.

Making the welcoming gesture. The Prime Minister might not yet have asked Senator Nick Xenophon to drop by the Lodge for a welcome-to-Canberra dinner but the Independent whose vote is vital to the balance of power has clearly been on his mind. Yesterday’s joint announcement by Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Mackllin and Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs Chris Bowen is evidence of that.

Senator Xenophon was first elected to Parliament as an upper house member in South Australia on a No Pokies ticket and his concern about gambling continues now he is on the federal scene. What better way to welcome him to Canberra than by giving him an inquiry by the Productivity Commission to update its 1999 inquiry into Australia’s gambling industries?

Minister Macklin put it this way:

Problem gambling wrecks lives. For people who are addicted, gambling is a dangerous, damaging drug that hurts, not just gamblers, but also family, friends and workplaces.The Government is determined to tackle problem gambling. That’s why the Government has re-convened the Ministerial Council on Gambling and requested an update to the Productivity Commission’s 1999 gambling inquiry.

And said Assistant Treasurer Bowen:

The inquiry will help shape government action to tackle problem gambling. It will inform policy responses to minimise the prevalence of problem gambling in Australia.The Commission will have the scope to provide additional research into the impacts of harm minimisation measures and how effective they are in countering problem gambling.

With those statements out of the way the groundwork for a first chat between Rudd and Xenophon has clearly been laid.

An amazing recovery needed. If John McCain can win the presidential election from here it will be a victory to rank alongside Harry Truman’s. Probably not since Lyndon Baines Johnson beat Barry Goldwater has a US election looked so lop sided two weeks out from polling day. Barack Obama’s lead on the average of all the major polls is 5.8 percentage points which the markets are currently translating into an 87% probability of victory on the Crikey election indicator. The following graph bsed on the market at Betfair shows the widening gap:

Peter Fray

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