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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13557

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (11:00): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Antarctica has a unique place in Australia’s national identity. We are tied to Antarctica through our history, our geology and our climate.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the departure of the first Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson. Mawson stands alongside other giants of Antarctic discovery, like Scott and Shackleton, for his remarkable endeavours to explore Antarctica and claim a sizeable portion of the continent on behalf of all Australians.

It was Mawson who established Australia’s first scientific research base at Cape Denison in Antarctica. Over the past century, Australia has built on that legacy, establishing a strong reputation for Antarctic science in areas such as climate change, conservation, astronomy and geoscience.

Antarctica’s unique environment offers major opportunities for this scientific research. The continent is recognised as a key indicator of global climate change. Better understanding of Antarctic ecosystems, weather and climate is crucial to environmental protection in the region as well as understanding global climate trends.

Australia has also become a world leader in Antarctic protection. We were one of the 12 original signatories to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which enshrines the principle of peaceful use of the Antarctic. Fifty years on, the Antarctic Treaty remains a model for global cooperation.

Australia actively engages in the international governance of the Antarctic. We played a key role in the development of the broader system of international arrangements for the region, known as the Antarctic Treaty system.

Just two decades ago, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke worked with former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard to prevent mining in Antarctica. For the first time, we recognised that the last pristine continent on earth should remain untouched. The opportunity was nearly missed but the decision changed the world’s way of thinking just in time.

Their efforts led to the Madrid protocol, which now protects the Antarctic environment, bans mining in Antarctica and designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.

In October this year, I was honoured to join Bob Hawke and Michel Rocard in Hobart to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that Madrid protocol.

We will continue to build on protections for this unique and special part of the world.

This Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 will amend the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980, which gives effect to our obligations under the Madrid protocol and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.

The bill will align the act with Australia’s new obligations in relation to three measures adopted under the Antarctic Treaty and Madrid protocol, namely:

1. Measure 4 relating to insurance and contingency planning for tourism and non-governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty area that was adopted in June 2004;

2. Measure 1 relating to liability arising from environmental emergencies that was adopted in June 2005; and

3. Measure 15 relating to the landing of people from passenger vessels in the Antarctic Treaty area that was adopted in April 2009.

These measures will establish more stringent arrangements to protect human and vessel safety in the Antarctic, and the Antarctic environment.

Key amendments in the bill include:

1. providing the ability for the minister to grant a safety approval, an environmental protection approval, and to impose conditions on such approvals;

2. implementing new offences and civil penalties regarding unapproved activities, activities carried on in contravention of the conditions imposed by an approval, and offences and civil penalties related to environmental emergencies;

3. establishing a liability regime for environmental emergencies that occur in the Antarctic;

4. establishing an Antarctic environmental liability special account to receive payments from operators for the costs of response action to an environmental emergency caused by their activities in the Antarctic;

5. implementing new offences and civil penalties applicable to tourist vessels operating in the Antarctic;

6. making minor and technical amendments to the act; and

7. amending the long title of the act to extend the scope of the legislation;

As Australia prepares to host the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart in June 2012, this bill marks another chapter in Australia’s history of involvement in Antarctica and maintains our commitments under the Antarctic Treaty and Madrid protocol.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.