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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2223

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (21:17): The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 continues the proud traditions of the Labor Party in protecting Antarctic science. In 1991 the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, with the French Prime Minister worked to secure the future of this pristine continent. The Madrid protocol bans mining in Antarctica and requires that all proposed activities be subjected to prior environmental impact assessment. On 21 August 1990, the then Minister for the Environment, Mrs Kelly, stated in response to a question on notice:

This landmark legislation demonstrates that the Hawke Labor Government is committed to fully protecting the Antarctic environment which we hold in trust for future generations.

This government, 20 years later, continues to build on that landmark legislation. It is worth going back to the second reading speech of the minister, on 14 October 1992:

This Bill gives effect to Australia's obligations arising from the Protocol of Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, known as the Madrid Protocol. The Madrid Protocol designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science, and puts in place a legally binding and comprehensive regime for the protection of its environment. The Government has shown leadership in Antarctic environmental matters and already has made significant progress in implementing the requirements of the protocol. This Bill will enable Australia to move forward to ratification of the protocol.

The Madrid Protocol stands amongst the world's most significant environmental agreements. It is unique in setting out to ensure the protection of the environment of an entire continent. It is an outstanding demonstration of countries working together on environmental protection. Australia thus takes great pride in its role in leading its treaty partners to adoption of the protocol in October 1991.

I was proud member of the government at that time. I remember it quite well. It was something that we were all very proud of at the time and are still proud of. Negotiation of the protocol commenced with a decision in 1989 that Australia could not support the mining of minerals in the Antarctic. When the protocol was adopted on 4 October 1991, four annexes were agreed. These provided detailed measures relating to environmental impact assessment, conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, waste disposal and waste management, and the prevention of marine pollution.

The treaty parties later adopted a fifth annex relating to area protection and management. Twenty years later, former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Michel Rocard celebrated their achievement by attending a symposium of Antarctic policy experts in Hobart, hosted by the Australian Antarctic Division and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Mr Hawke said:

There can be no slipping back on this … There are signs that some countries, in a situation of decreasing oil and resources, have their eyes on the prize down there in Antarctica. They have to be set back. There can be no letting up on the commitment we made 20 years ago … to ensure that generation after generation after generation will have that pristine continent as a nature reserve, preserved only for scientific research.

The bill before the House today builds on those environmental credentials. It amends the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 to further improve the rules around protecting the Antarctic environment. These measures will align the act with our obligations in the act. These include measure 4, relating to insurance and contingency planning for tourism and non-governmental activities in the Antarctic treaty area, which was adopted in June 2004; measure 1 relating to liability arising from environmental emergencies, which was adopted in June 2005; and measure 15 relating to the landing of people from passenger vessels in the Antarctic treaty area, which was adopted in April 2009.

Overall, these measures will further protect human and vessel safety in the Antarctic and its environment. Measure 4 is designed to ensure that tourism operators take all reasonable care in their activities, part of which is to provide contingency plans together with appropriate insurance. Measure 1 provides that, should an environmental emergency arise, there is a prompt and effective response. It also includes a provision to ensure that operators take adequate preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of such emergencies. A liability regime is also to be established if an operator fails to take measures in the event of an emergency. Subsection 13BJ provides the applicable criminal and civil penalties for non-compliance.

An operator contravenes this subsection if (a) the operator holds an environmental protection approval in relation to an activity; (b) the person carries on the activity; and (c) the conditions imposed on the approval are not complied with. An operator commits an offence if the operator contravenes subsection 1. The physical elements of the offence are set out in that subsection. The penalties are imprisonment for two years or 120 penalty units, or both. We should note:

The defendant bears an evidential burden in relation to the matters in subsection (2). See subsection 13.3(3) of the Criminal Code.

With respect to the civil penalty provision:

(4) … operator is liable to a civil penalty if the operator contravenes subsection (1).

The civil penalty is 500 penalty units. The penalties are designed to ensure that the inherent dangers involved in carrying out activities in the Antarctic are minimised and are carried out safely.

Measure 15 regulates the procedures for landing passengers: the number of passengers allowed on any one vessel, the number of those passengers allowed on shore at any one time and provides a specified guide to passenger ratios. Few international agreements have operated more effectively for such a period of time than this treaty. It has continued to promote its objectives of multilateral cooperation. Because of this cooperation, Antarctic research and monitoring has allowed the international scientific community to see and anticipate specific atmospheric and climate trends. The ozone layer deterioration is an example and our response to that problem would not have been as timely and effective without that science. The Antarctic remains a fundamentally pristine natural environment and an environment generally free of conflict. This bill continues its protection and I commend the bill to the House.