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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2774


Senator SIBRAA —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Minister aware that France and the United States have joined a group of 19 South Pacific nations and territories in a new convention, the South Pacific Regional Environment Program, to outlaw sea dumping of nuclear wastes and other forms of pollution in the region? If so, what is the Government's reaction to the convention and what steps can Australia take further to promote at the international level co-operation for the protection of the environment in the South Pacific?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Yesterday was a very important day for the South Pacific region because yesterday representatives of the countries of the South Pacific region, France and the United States, meeting in Noumea, agreed to adopt the text of a Convention for the Protection and Development of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region, the so-called SPREP Convention. The conference also adopted two protocols relating to the prevention of sea dumping of radioactive wastes in the convention area and co-operation in combatting pollution emergencies. The area to which the convention will apply will generally comprise the 200-nautical mile zones off all South Pacific countries and territories of France and the United States of America in the region, together with all areas of the high seas enclosed by those 200-nautical mile zones.

The convention does provide a significant international regime for the protection of the marine environment in the South Pacific and a treaty guarantee that no sea dumping of radioactive wastes will take place in the region. The SPREP Convention will thus complement and reinforce the prohibition of the Treaty of Rarotonga on radioactive waste dumping at sea in the South Pacific nuclear free zone. Overall the result is a significant regional achievement to which Australia, it should be acknowledged, has made an important and sustained contribution. Important, and in some respects, conflicting national interests and policies were involved for all participants and the adoption of the text has widely and appropriately been hailed as a victory for good neighbourliness.

The Government intends to sign the convention as soon as Ministers have had a chance to examine the final adopted convention. The Minister for Foreign Affairs wishes to take this occasion to acknowledge the efforts of his colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, in successfully bringing Australia into the convention in terms of existing State and Federal legislation.

As to the very last part of Senator Sibraa's question, I add that the most immediate thing Australia could do to advance the causes so treated yesterday would be now to ratify, and fast, the Treaty of Rarotonga, and, by so doing, bring that Treaty into force to the great benefit of the whole Pacific region, and encourage the nuclear weapons states to sign the associated protocols. That ratification is presently awaiting, as honourable senators will know, the passage through this chamber of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Bill, and failure to meet our objective of passing that legislation within the next few days would stand very oddly with the strong support for the purposes of the Treaty which has been expressed by most honourable senators in this place.