Canberra renewed the threat after Japan's foreign minister dashed hopes that the country's new, centre-left government might review its whaling policy. As the Japanese fleet prepared to set sail for the Southern Ocean, aiming to catch 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales, it became clear the issue remains a significant diplomatic irritant in the otherwise robust Australia-Japan relationship.
Presenter: Linda Mottram, Canberra Correspondent
Kevin Rudd, Australian Prime Minister; Greg Hunt, Australian Opposition Environment spokesman; Peter Garrett, Australian Environment minister
MOTTRAM: When the Democratic Party of Japan was swept into power in August, its radical credentials fuelled hope and fear all at once. One area though where it hadn't called for radical change was whaling and what Japan calls its scientific whaling program. But it did promise that it would stop government corruption. And that gave anti-whaling activists hope, after groups like Greenpeace had exposed alleged mass waste of taxpayers money through the system of subsidies for the whaling industry. But hope was dashed when Japan's Foreign minister told the ABC in Tokyo that he sees no need for a whaling policy review at this time, and that eating whalemeat is a Japanese tradition that should be respected by others.
Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Australia is working through evidence it could use in a court case against Japan on the issue.
RUDD: If we can't get there diplomatically let me be absolutely clear cut, that we will use the resources of the Australian government to deploy an international legal action through the appropriate international judicial forum.
MOTTRAM: The Australian opposition though says that after two years of issuing the same threat, the Australian government should act now. The opposition's Environment spokesman is Greg Hunt.
HUNT: They must set a deadline for japan to cease whaling or carry through their prommise. The government has waved the white flag, they've given the green light to Japan on whaling, Australian humpbacks are about to face the harpoon.
Mr Rudd's Environment minister, Peter Garrett, denies the claim that Australia is stalling.
GARRETT: We're not writing a blank cheque for discussions but we do believe that continuing the discussions that are underway constructively is absolutely essential to try and resolve some of these issues. But the fact of the matter is that if we can't resolve this matter diplomatically, and we'll certainly continue to bring our best efforts to bear in order to do that, then international legal action is retained as an option.
MOTTRAM: Mr Garrett says he hasn't lost faith in the diplomatic route, but with two full whaling seasons now passed since the Rudd Labor government first threatened legal action against Japan, the minister says the government expects to have a sense of what's possible diplomatically by the time of the next International Whaling Commission meeting mid-year. And as environmental opponents head for another clash on the high seas with Japan's whalers, Mr Garrett says Australia is very disappointed that Japan has set the whaling targets it has for this year.