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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2215


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (20:42): I rise today to support the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011, which will codify into Australian law the multilateral agreements that our country has made regarding the further measures adopted under the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 and the Madrid protocol of 1998. These measures have an important global significance and have been negotiated under the Madrid protocol and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals to ensure that the Antarctic region is protected. It will provide the minister with the ability to grant safety approval and environmental approval for people operating in the Antarctic. This will ensure that tourism operators undertake their activities in an appropriate and sustainable way to protect the environment. The ability to 'impose, vary or revoke' conditions is also important for non-state tourism operators who are not complying with the original conditions under which they applied to visit Antarctic waters.

As it stands, the amendments contained in the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Bill are uncontroversial and the passing of this legislation is a measure the government must enact to ensure that we ratify international agreements and fulfil our international obligations. Australia has always been an important negotiator and indeed a leader in protecting and safeguarding this region. As such, the coalition is pleased to support measures which ensure better control and coordination of Australia's Antarctic waters. Most importantly, section 2 of this bill deals with the implementation of the treaty and outlines when the various provisions of the act will come into effect. The commencement of some of the provisions will be delayed until all 28 consultative parties to the treaty have improved their measures. In real terms, what this means is that many of the measures itemised will not be activated until the relevant minister proclaims the date when they do come into force. This is a reasonable arrangement and indeed one that provides a useful lesson for this government—that is, when one is seeking to introduce reforms which have implications for how we deal with other countries, in this case 28 of them, we must take the time to actually talk with the governments of those countries. We must take the time to work with the governments of those countries and come to an agreed position and arrangement with the governments of those countries before implementing the changes in Australia. Unfortunately, if we look at the Prime Minister's great big carbon tax, it is clear that this Labor government did not adopt that same consultative approach in relation to its implementation by any stretch of the imagination. Speaking of imagination, instead the Gillard government has tried to fool the Australian people—and, frankly, delude themselves—by claiming that developed countries such as the United States of America will have enacted a tax on carbon dioxide emissions by 2016. Forging ahead with a debilitating tax on the assumption that your world partners are right behind you would seem foolhardy at best.

It is indeed the case with this particular international treaty that it is in the best interests of all the consultative countries that we enforce the legislation that we are debating today in its entirety before proceeding. This is the only way we can be assured that all those countries will work together to protect the Antarctic region. According to our own government's advice, it is also in Australia's best interest that as a nation we wait to enact legislation if and only if it is the appropriate time to do so in conjunction with our partner countries.

The other relevant issue I wish to comment on in connection with this bill is that of the dispute in recent years regarding whaling in Australia's Antarctic waters. This country has suffered under tired and lazy Labor governments who have not supported other fundamental measures which would protect Australia's Antarctic waters and the whales which live in them. On 19 February 2010 the member for Griffith, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, told Australians that he would refer Japan to the International Court of Justice for their whaling activities. He specifically declared that he would take Japan to court by November of that year, 2010, if they refused to cease Antarctic whaling. However, the member for Griffith was himself harpooned by our current Prime Minister.

Mr Danby: Tony Abbott only won by one vote.

Mrs PRENTICE: Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, it will not surprise you or the rest of Australia to hear that when November 2010 came around Japanese research vessels were continuing their operations in Australian waters and no real action was taken—

Mr Danby: Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): Is the member for Ryan willing to give way?

Mrs PRENTICE: No, I would like to continue with my speech.

Mr Danby: In other words, you will not admit that Mr Abbott will not do the same.

Mrs PRENTICE: Listen to the speech. I will repeat this because of the interruption. However, the member for Griffith was himself—

Mr Danby interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The matter has been dealt with.

Mr Adams: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The honourable member is talking about leadership of the Labor Party and ex-prime ministers. We are dealing with a treaty dealing with the Antarctic. This is an important matter. The member should come back to the bill before the chamber.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The chair wishes to give the member for Ryan an opportunity to continue her speech.

Mrs PRENTICE: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I should point out that the previous speaker spoke at length about krill, which is not mentioned anywhere in this bill at all.

I will repeat: it will not surprise you or the rest of Australia to hear that when November 2010 came around, Japanese research vessels were continuing their operations in Australian waters and no real action was taken and no real action has been taken since. Although Japan does not recognise Australia's claim to approximately 42 per cent of Antarctica, this government must get serious about protecting the sovereignty of our nation's borders and enforce our law via the Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act 1933. The coalition warned the Gillard Labor government on three occasions that they should have sent an Australian Customs vessel to our waters in the Antarctic to monitor the situation between Japanese whalers and protesters on the Sea Shepherd. Once again, the government failed to listen to good advice. Then, after three anti-whaling protesters illegally boarded a Japanese ship, the government—or, should I say, the Australian taxpayer—was forced to pay the hefty bill to have them returned.

Australia needs to have a presence in these waters to ensure that the Japanese whaling fleet is reminded that we as a country do not approve of whaling in the Antarctic region and in order to monitor protesters who are putting lives at risk and potentially endangering the environment. Without this presence, the government is allowing the risk of further confrontations and the possibility of a serious collision between protestor and whaling boats which will risk lives and, should one of these vessels sink, endanger the environment.

This is the lesson that applies to the measures in today's bill. There is no point in signing treaties that implement changes of this kind if we do not have a practical way of enforcing them. For example, we have no real binding agreement regarding the question of possible mineral, oil and gas exploration and mining in the region. In the late 1980s, there was an attempt to come to such agreement, however the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities never came into force. In the original Madrid protocol, which Australia signed and ratified, consultative parties are completely prohibited from undertaking mining exploration. Australia itself has agreed to a 50-year moratorium.

We are facing similar concerns about Australia's ongoing challenge to manage whaling fleets in the region. We will in the future have to deal with some very serious issues about Antarctica, including the question of mining and mineral exploration in addition to questions about sovereignty. It is very important that all other stakeholder countries, including Russia, Argentina, Chile and the United States, understand that Australia is serious in its commitment to this region. This legislation provides that extra guarantee and signals to the rest of the world that Australia is committed to its obligations to care for this environment with which we have been so closely linked so long.

With this bill we fulfil our international obligations and ensure that the minister has the power not only to grant safety approvals and environmental protection approvals but also to impose conditions on those approvals. This will lay a proper foundation for the protection of humans and vessels travelling to this region and thereby facilitate the protection of the Antarctic environment itself. As such, I support this amendment bill in this the year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Australasian Antarctic expedition, led by Sir Douglas Mawson, and commend it to the House.