Whaling footage ordered to be released – a win for public interest law!

After years of fighting for transparency, EDO NSW and our clients - Sea Shepherd and HSI - announce that the Information Commissioner has agreed that Australians have the right to see publicly-funded whaling footage.

BY EDO NSW Solicitor Stacey Ella

24 May 2017

In 2008 the Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking filmed Japan’s whaling fleet chasing, harpooning and killing whales inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary off the coast of Antarctica. 

In March 2012, on behalf of our client, Humane Society International, we sought access to this important footage. Our client was intending to use this footage to prove that Japanese whaling company, Kyodo, was continuing to whale in the Australian Whaling Sanctuary, despite the Federal Court ruling in 2008 that the whaling was illegal under Australian law and also issuing an injunction to prevent it.

Access to the footage was denied by the Australian Government which claimed to release the footage would affect Australia’s relations with Japan.  We received the same response to a further FOI application made in 2013. Despite this, in November 2015 the Federal Court ultimately found Kyodo to be in breach of the 2008 injunction and ordered that it pay a $1M fine for being in contempt of Court.

In 2015, on behalf of Sea Shepherd, we made a further FOI application for the footage, again the Government claimed that releasing the footage would affect relations with Japan. 

On 23 May 2016, we appealed to the Information Commissioner to review the refusal. 

On 23 May 2017, the Information Commissioner made a decision that release of the footage would not affect international relations, and ordered that it be released.

Sue Higginson, EDO NSW CEO:

“The Information Commissioner’s decision is a significant win for transparency and accountability as to how the Australian Government has dealt with Japanese whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica. Whales are protected from harm under Australian law, so any evidence showing harm is a matter of significant public interest.” 

Sea Shepherd Australia’s Managing Director Jeff Hansen:

“Sea Shepherd would like to thank the great team at EDO NSW, and also acknowledge the good people at Humane Society International for kicking this process off back in 2012. It should not be up to not for profit groups to fight for many years in bringing transparency to the public, something that is rightfully theirs.”

This process shows that defending the environment can take years – and a whole lot of tenacity and legal expertise.

The Australian Government has 28 days to appeal this decision, if there is no appeal the footage will be released.

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