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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2116

Mr HUNT (Flinders) (19:55): It gives me great pleasure to provide the opposition's support to the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011. We do this for two very simple reasons: (1), we have long been advocates of Australia having a role, a place, a presence in the Antarctic and, (2), for us to do so in a way which helps preserve and maintain for generations hence the pristine environmental conditions which represent and are embodied in the Antarctic. It is a unique gem which will survive long beyond all of us here and it is our task to maintain it in as perfect a condition as possible.

I want to deal very briefly with three things: firstly, the history and the background; secondly, the elements of the bill; and, thirdly, whaling in Australian Antarctic waters. I turn first to the background. Australia has played a leading role in protecting the Antarctic environment, including in the banning of mining—a ban incorporated in the Madrid protocol, which protects the Antarctic environment. In particular, the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 gives effect to Australia's obligations under the Madrid protocol and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. I specifically want to acknowledge the work of a former coalition environment spokesperson, former Senator Ian Campbell. At the time he was Minister for the Environment and Heritage, he advocated for, and he oversaw the push for and the creation of, the Antarctic runway. The runway allowed for a permanent arrangement where, during summer months, flights to Antarctica could land in the Australian Antarctic Territory and operate in such a way as to help with research and the presence of Australian officials and scientists on the ground in Antarctica. This has been critical to Antarctic research. My understanding is that there are some issues with the runway under the current regime. I hope they will be resolved on a bipartisan basis. The role played by Ian Campbell was, I believe, fundamental to taking what was a presence in the Antarctic and expanding it to give it a much greater future and a much greater research capacity. There has been long-term bipartisan support for this role.

Moving to the next stage, the coalition are very happy to support this bill because it brings into play our obligations under the latest changes to the Madrid protocol. There are two primary changes. Firstly, the bill enables and empowers the minister to issue safety approvals for operations within the Antarctic. If operations are proposed, either on the shelf or in Antarctic waters, this bill will allow the minister of the day to support them. They could include tourism. Indeed, we have spoken with the Tourism and Transport Forum who, far from seeing this as a set of onerous conditions, see it as an opportunity to present the Antarctic and its waters to many more Australians than would otherwise be the case.

The second element of the bill's changes is specifically in relation to the minister's ability to grant an operating licence subject to an environmental approval for those operations. It is a complement to the safety approvals. I am pleased to be able to offer our support. That combination of safety and environmental approval opens up the scope of non-mining activities which can take place. There are cautious conditions placed around these, but if the range of activities can increase in such a way that the environment is protected and there are no undue risks, that is an incremental step forward in opening up Antarctica and its waters to many people who might otherwise not have the chance, be they researchers, those who are concerned with the environment or those who view it from a personal development experience. On all fronts these are positives.

The third thing I wish to turn to is the broader implications. We have a great issue in terms of the Antarctic waters, and that is the protection of the Southern Ocean whale protection zone. It was created under the Howard government, driven by Minister Hill and carried through by subsequent ministers David Kemp and Senator Ian Campbell. The Australian government has talked large and delivered little when it comes to whaling in Antarctic waters, in particular Australia's waters.

It was pledged that a Customs ship would be sent. It was pledged that the practice would be stopped. In reality there was a Customs ship for three short weeks in year one, and beyond that nothing, nix, nada. There is no simpler example in the environment space, beyond the carbon tax of course, than the failure to deliver on the protection of Australia's Antarctic waters. We have said we would have a Customs presence, above all else for safety and security reasons, because the risk of conflict, of loss of life and of environmental damage from oil spills in conflicts is real, present and germane. It is practical, simple and real. We are not going to grandstand and overpromise, but we will do what we say and we will be express about delivery and about not overpromising. That is our task and our responsibility. Against that background I am delighted to offer bipartisan support for the amendments contained within the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 and the prospect they hold of not only helping to protect Antarctic waters and the Antarctic Shelf for future generations but also giving greater access to those who wish to visit the area on a cautious, careful basis to view one of the great natural majesties of the world.

Debate adjourned.