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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3266


Senator RYAN (Minister for Education) —I present the Government's response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources on the natural resources of the Australian Antarctic Territory, and I seek leave to make a statement relating thereto.

Leave granted.


Senator RYAN —I seek leave to incorporate the statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

For the information of honourable senators, I present a schedule containing the Government's response to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources report on the Natural Resources of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

On 2 June 1983 the Senate resolved to refer the matter of exploitation of the natural resources of the Australian Antarctic Territory to the Standing Committee on National Resources. The terms of reference of the Committee were widened on 7 December 1983 to reflect the Committee's concerns regarding environmental issues in Antarctica. The wisdom of this is evident in the large proportion of the Committee's recommendations which deal with environmental matters.

The Committee, which tabled its report on 5 December 1985, is to be commended for its efforts. The Government has closely examined the report and its recommendations and it is with appreciation that we present our response to the Committee's 28 recommendations.

The Government welcomes the fact that many of the Committee's recommendations accord closely with the thrust of existing Government policy, in particular support for the maintenance of Australian sovereignty over the AAT, support for the Antarctic Treaty system and emphasis on the need for stringent environment protection in the Antarctic.

In the latter regard, I would draw honourable senators' attention to a number of important initiatives which Australian delegations have taken during the past year at the Thirteenth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting as well as in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources with the object of strengthening environment protection arrangements in the Antarctic. These are mentioned in the schedule accompanying this statement.

The Senate Standing Committee rightly drew attention to the need for Australia to ratify the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. Ratification will allow Australia to participate fully in any international negotiations on the conservation of Antarctic seals. I am pleased to be able to say that problems with the enabling legislation have now been overcome and the Seals Convention will be ratified in the very near future. Although the Seals Convention allows for harvesting of seals, the Government has decided that it will not permit the commercial harvesting of Antarctic seals by Australian nationals. The Government may permit the culling of seals for environmental purposes if recommended by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The Government also welcomes the Committee's support for active Australian involvement in the negotiations aimed at developing an Antarctic minerals regime. Australia hosted the eighth round of these negotiations in Hobart from 14-25 April this year. Protection of the Antarctic environment and its dependent ecosystems remains an important Australian objective in these negotiations.

The Government shares the Committee's views regarding the impracticability of establishing a `World Park' in which all resource development is prohibited. At the same time, it sees some merit-as a long-term goal-in the idea of an Antarctic Conservation Convention providing a more comprehensive framework in which environmental measures could be co-ordinated and strengthened. For the reasons set out in the schedule, however, the Government considers it premature to propose this idea to other Antarctic Treaty nations at this stage.

The Government also welcomes the Committee's recommendations relating to tourist and non-government expeditions to the Antarctic. We have repeatedly expressed our concern for the safety of such expeditions and the potential cost of disruption to national research programs as well as the risks to personnel in the event of the need to assist in an emergency. Our concerns have proven well founded and have been graphically illustrated in the 1985-86 season which saw the sinking of the vessel `Southern Quest' and the return of the Greenpeace expedition without establishing a base in Antarctica. The Government will continue to make every effort to ensure that tourist and non-governmental expeditions are properly prepared and that they adopt appropriate safety measures.

The Committee made a number of recommendations on the position Australia should take in relation to the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Australia has a record of achievement in this area, and indeed played a major role in the establishment of the Convention. This role was recognised by the selection of Hobart as the headquarters of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the only headquarters of an international organisation to be established in Australia.

Australia has continued to take an active role in the Commission. At the Commission meeting held in Hobart in September 1986 Australia drew attention to the need for a more scientifically based ecosystem approach to the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources. This picked up several of the Committee's recommendations.

The Government does not accept the Committee's recommendations calling for a review of Australia's Antarctic policy objectives, transport arrangements and expeditioner selection and training. Over recent years, and in some cases, in recent months, there have been a number of major reviews of these matters. In accordance with normal practice, these matters will be monitored and adopted or refined as required by developments in the Antarctic Treaty system, changing operational requirements or other relevant circumstances.

Lest there be any doubt, however, let me say that the Government is fully aware of the importance of the Antarctic to Australia. For reasons of history and geography, Australia has a major interest in our nearest continental neighbour. Australia needs to be sure that Antarctica continues to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, that the Antarctic environment is protected and that Australia is involved in all decisions on the future of the continent and its surrounding seas. In these respects, the Antarctic Treaty serves us well and the Government will continue to support it.

In conclusion, the Government wishes to express its appreciation of the work of the Committee. Its report will be of lasting value.

The recommendations and responses read as follows-

SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL RESOURCES

REPORT ON THE NATURAL RESOURCES OF THE AUSTRALIAN ANTARCTIC TERRITORY

Recommendations:

The Committee RECOMMENDS that:

(1) Australia maintain its claim to sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory; however, it believes that there is an urgent need for Australia to re-examine the purpose and objectives of its presence in Antarctica.

(2) The Australian Government continue to support the Antarctic Treaty. It also RECOMMENDS that Australia encourage the adaptation of the Antarctic Treaty system to meet changing circumstances, such as the increasing emphasis on environmental protection and the need for greater participation in Antarctic decision-making processes, without prejudice to Australia's sovereignty claim.

(3) The fish resources of the Australian Fishing Zone surrounding Heard Island and the McDonald Islands should be determined as a matter of urgency.

(4) Australia propose to the Antarctic Treaty nations that a scientific study be undertaken to determine the impact on whale and krill populations if an Antarctic seal culling program were to be carried out.

(5) Australia ratify the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals without delay.

(6) The Antarctic Division undertake a feasibility study to assess the resource potential including economic viability of icebergs, particularly as an alternative source of freshwater.

(7) During the Minerals Regime negotiations, Australia continue to maintain its sovereignty claim while supporting minerals negotiations within the Antarctic Treaty system.

(8) A basic objective of Australia during the Minerals Regime negotiations be the protection of the unique Antarctic environment and its dependent ecosystems.

(9) The Antarctic Division be provided with the necessary human and financial resources to enable it to continue its program of collecting and returning waste to Australia from its Antarctic bases.

(10) Australia propose to the Antarctic Treaty nations that procedures be adopted to minimise the potentially significant environmental impact of Antarctic research expeditions.

(11) The Antarctic Division finalise its proposals to reserve areas of the Vestfold Hills without delay to enable consideration by the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in 1987.

(12) Tourist activities in Antarctica continue to be monitored by the Antarctic Division and that tourism in the Australian Antarctic Territory be strictly controlled to ensure minimal environmental damage.

(13) Australia propose to the Antarctic Treaty nations that all private expeditions, including tourist expeditions, be subject to stringent safety regulations.

(14) Australia propose to the Antarctic Treaty nations that a review be undertaken of the scope and purpose of the present system of Specially Protected Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

(15) Australia propose to the Antarctic Treaty nations that the Antarctic environment be given the same level of protection as is presently afforded to Antarctic fauna and flora.

(16) Australia propose to CCAMLR that a study of the possible impact of krill harvesting on the Antarctic ecosystem be undertaken prior to any expansion of current utilisation levels.

(17) Australia propose to CCAMLR that CCAMLR Convention be amended to prohibit the introduction of alien species to the region covered by the Convention.

(18) Australia propose to CCAMLR that its Scientific Committee be provided with the resources necessary for it to conduct research into the impact of the exploitation of Antarctic marine resources.

(19) Australia propose to CCAMLR that a high priority be given to a study of the feeding ecology of whales in Antarctic waters.

(20) Australia propose to CCAMLR that the necessity of establishing permanent marine reserves and sanctuaries to protect potentially endangered species be examined.

(21) The Antarctic Division give high priority to a study of the environmental impact of mineral exploitation in the Australian Antarctic Territory.

(22) Australia propose that the international environmental impact assessment procedures be adopted as part of the decision-making processes of the Antarctic Treaty system.

(23) Australia propose to the Antarctic Treaty nations that a Conservation Convention for Antarctica be adopted which would strengthen existing environmental measures but permit resource exploitation under stringent environmental controls.

(24) The Antarctic Science Advisory Committee give high priority to determining the level of funding necessary to enable a major Antarctic science program to proceed.

(25) If a station is established in the eastern sector of the AAT, it should not inhibit the substantial increase in scientific research funding recommended by the Committee.

(26) The Antarctic Science Advisory Committee should as soon as possible determine priority areas for Australia's Antarctic science program including the need for research in the social sciences.

(27) A comprehensive study of Australia's Antarctic transport options, including possible environmental impacts, be undertaken by an external agency in conjunction with the review of Australia's Antarctic policy. Such a study should also examine the need for long-term planning in the provision of transport facilities, particularly shipping.

(28) An external agency review the adequacy of the Antarctic Division's expeditioner selection and training procedures.

Responses:

(1) The Government will continue to maintain Australia's sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT). The purpose and objectives of Australia's presence in Antarctica are regularly reviewed by the Government, most recently in 1984.

(2) The Government strongly supports the Antarctic Treaty system as the best means of preserving Australian interests in the Antarctic while at the same time ensuring peaceful international co- operation in the area. The Treaty system has demonstrated a remarkable capacity for evolution and adaptation over the past 26 years and, no doubt, will continue to do so in the future. The treaty system already gives major emphasis to environment protection.

During the past two years, Antarctic Treaty parties which are not Consultative Parties have been invited to attend Consultative Meetings as well as meetings of the Antarctic minerals negotiations as observers, and have played an active role. Any proposal for even greater participation in decision-making would need to be examined very carefully for its possible effect on Australia's ability to protect its interests in the area.

(3) The Government accepts the need to obtain additional information about the fish resources of the Australian Fishing Zone surrounding Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. To determine fish resources, a commercial-scale trawling capability is required. Accordingly, the Government has accepted in principle an offer by the USSR to undertake a fisheries research cruise in waters adjacent to Heard Island and McDonald Islands using a Soviet fisheries research vessel. Details of the cruise, including the timing, are still to be finalised. Information on the research will be made available to the Australian fishing industry.

(4) It has been stated that Crabeater seals are a major predator of krill, and thus may have a large effect on krill and whale populations. The latest information from the 1985-86 research season suggests the need for a reassessment of the status of Crabeater seals in Antarctica. There may be fewer of these seals than was previously thought. More research is required. It is therefore not appropriate to put forward a proposal along the lines suggested at this stage.

(5) The Government has decided to ratify the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. There were difficulties in determining whether the Convention should be implemented by means of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980, the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981 or the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. This question has now been resolved and the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act was amended in 1985 to allow the proclamation of regulations implementing the Seals Convention. Draft regulations have been prepared. The instrument of ratification will be lodged with the UK, which is the depository nation for the Convention, simultaneously with the promulgation of the regulations. Although the Seals Convention provides for harvesting of seals, the Government has decided that it will not permit the commercial harvesting of Antarctic seals by Australian nationals. The Government may permit the culling of seals for environmental purposes if recommended by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

(6) The Antarctic Division, through its glaciology program, will continue to obtain data relevant to the resource potential of Antarctic icebergs, and will continue to monitor overseas research. At the request of the thirteenth Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting in October 1985, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) will seek to identify relevant scientific or technical information on the use of Antarctic ice, with a view to a possible inter-disciplinary study of this matter.

(7) See response to Recommendation 1 above. Australia continues to play an active role in the Antarctic minerals negotiations and hosted a session of the Special Consultative Meeting on Antarctic Minerals in Hobart from 14-25 April 1986.

(8) The protection of the Antarctic environment and its dependent ecosystems has been and will continue to be an important Australian objective in the minerals negotiations.

(9) Continuation of existing policy. Funding will be considered in the normal Budgetary process. At Australia's initiative, the Thirteenth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting agreed to call upon the Scientific disposal in the context of a revision of the Code of Conduct for Antarctic Expeditions and Station Activities. The Antarctic Division, through its Environment Committee, regularly reviews its waste disposal procedures and is currently examining the selection and packaging of stores with a view to reducing the amount of waste generated at stations.

(10) Antarctic Treaty nations have already agreed to guidelines for Antarctic operating organisations planning major Antarctic projects. These provide that in the planning of major operations in the Antarctic Treaty area an evaluation of the environmental impact of the proposed activity should be carried out by the Antarctic operating organisations concerned (Recommendations VIII-11 and XII-3). At the Thirteenth Consultative Meeting, the question of procedural guidelines for environmental impact assessments was considered on the basis of proposals put forward by the United Kingdom. Australia strongly supported the adoption of such guidelines and, together with a number of other delegations, indicated its readiness to use the proposed guidelines in the interim in planning future scientific and logistic activities in Antarctica. The matter will be considered again at the Fourteenth Consultative Meeting.

(11) The Antarctic Division is working to meet this timetable.

(12) Tourist activities and non-governmental expeditions are monitored continuously by both the Antarctic Division of the Department of Science and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Expeditions departing from Australia to the Antarctic are provided with information setting out the range of measures applying under the Antarctic Treaty system, particularly those applicable to non-governmental expeditions, which are designed to ensure stringent protection of the Antarctic environment. They are also supplied with a special booklet for visitors to the Antarctic prepared by SCAR. Antarctic Treaty parties have this matter under continuing examination.

(13) Private expeditions, including tourist expeditions, have been considered at numerous Antarctic Treaty Consultative meetings. A variety of recommendations governing their activities in Antarctica have been adopted over the years. The Government is concerned at the dangers facing private expeditions in Antarctica and at the potential cost and disruption to national programs as well as the risks to personnel in the event of the need to come to the assistance of such expeditions in an emergency. The loss of a private expedition vessel, the `Southern Quest', in January 1986 amply demonstrates these dangers. The Government will continue to make every effort to ensure that non-governmental expeditions organised in or departing from Australia are properly planned and equipped and that they adopt appropriate safety measures. it will also consider the scope for further measures under the Antarctic Treaty.

(14) and (15) At the Thirteenth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Party Meeting in October 1985, Australia successfully proposed a recommendation which calls for SCAR to offer advice on `the system of protected areas in the Antarctic including Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Specially Protected Areas and the question of a possible additional category of area under a different form of protection'. This recommendation is a first step towards the improvement of environment protection measures in Antarctica.

(16) Australia chairs the CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring and Management Working Group, which is developing a scientifically based ecosystem approach to the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources. This Working Group has identified krill as a key component of the Antarctic ecosystem. Australia has taken the lead in proposing an international research program in the Prydz Bay priority area centring on the impact of krill harvesting on the ecosystem.

(17) The Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora prohibit the introduction of alien species to the area south of 60*s except in accordance with a permit. The CAMLR Convention would not need to be amended to extend this protection to the Convention area. The CAMLR Commission may adopt measures directed towards the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources, which could include measures to control the introduction of alien species. As a result of the recommendation, the Government has requested the relevant Departments to examine the specific matters raised in evidence (para 3.72).

(18) For political and financial reasons it is highly unlikely that international agreement would be obtained to a proposal that the Scientific committee be provided with resources for the conduct of research. The Government believes that the present arrangements, whereby governments fund national programs and the results are made available to all interested nations and the Scientific Committee, is an effective way of promoting coordinated research into the Antarctic marine ecosystem. At the same time, Australia has lent support to efforts to develop a long-term plan for the Scientific Committee's activities so as to enhance its effectiveness. Australia has also supported proposals for joint programs between Commission members and has proposed a multinational program in ecosystem monitoring in the Prydz Bay region of the Antarctic.

(19) The feeding ecology of the major consumers of krill, including whales, is being investigated through the CCAMLR Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management. On the basis of available scientific advice, however, the Government does not think the feeding ecology of whales should be give a higher priority than research directed to the direct conservation needs of CCAMLR.

(20) The proposal to establish permanent marine reserves and sanctuaries raises a number of complex issues. The question of permanent reserves will be considered as one of the options for conservation measures.

(21) The Government accepts that such studies will be essential in the context of Australia's participation in a future Antarctic minerals regime. If studies of this type were to be conducted by the Antarctic Division, there would need to be a substantial increase in its program unless other elements of the program were cut back. At the present time the Government does not view this as a high priority because the possibility of mineral exploitation in the area is extremely remote. However, part of the Antarctic Division's scientific research program provides information which is of value in understanding the Antarctic en- vironment. This information will contribute to Australia's capacity to assess the environmental impact of any specific proposals for minerals activity which might be put forward in the future, and to the determination of appropriate environment protection measures.

(22) The XIII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting received a report on environmental impact assessment procedures for evaluating the effects of scientific and logistic activities. Delegates agreed to give further consideration to this question. Australia will continue to support the introduction of assessment procedures.

(23) While the idea of a Conservation Convention may have merit, it is unlikely to gain support until the environmental protection measures to apply under an Antarctic minerals regime are decided. The overall pattern of major measures and possible gaps will then be clearer. In any case, proposals for a more comprehensive approach to environment protection in the Antarctic in recent years, including by Australia at the Twelfth Consultative Meeting in 1983, have not enjoyed much support. Australia has, therefore, been working to strengthen existing protective arrangements and to fill perceived gaps. At the Thirteenth Consultative Meeting Australia advanced proposals for additional protective arrangements which have now been referred to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) for further examination. Australia is also supporting proposals to ensure that the proposed Antarctic minerals regime provides that minerals activity will only occur under strict environmental safeguards.

(24) The Antarctic Science Advisory Committee has noted this recommendation and proposes to provide detailed advice on it to the Minister for Science.

(25) The Government notes the recommendation and will consider the relative funding of scientific research and logistic support within the budget context. The establishment of a station in the eastern sector of the AAT would enhance the opportunity for scientific research.

(26) The Antarctic Science Advisory Committee has noted this recommendation and proposes to provide detailed advice on it to the Minister for Science.

(27) A number of studies of Australia's transport options have recently been undertaken. An external review of the besetment of the Nella Dan was carried out by a committee headed by Professor John Lovering. The recommendations of the Committee, which included a recommendation that long-range helicopters be obtained, is currently being examined. A review of air transport options was undertaken in July 1985, by the National Materials Handling Bureau. The Antarctic Division has also set up a Projects Section to comprehensively review and plan future Antarctic transport systems. An initial task is the preparation of specifications for a possible replacement vessel for the Nella Dan which will go out of service in 1988. Specialist external consultants are used to support the work of the Projects Section. The Antarctic Division has been requested to report to Government before the end of 1986. The question of Australia's Antarctic transport options falls within the terms of reference of the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee and the Committee's advice will be sought on this issue.

(28) A Joint Management Review, which included an external consultant, reported in December 1983. This review examined expeditioner recruitment and made a number of recommendations which have subsequently been adopted. The recruitment processes conform with departmental and Public Service Board guidelines for the selection of staff. The feasibility of psychological assessment of applicants' environmental attitudes is being examined. Training procedures are continually under review. Several of the Committee suggestions have been implemented during the 1985-86 season, including environment protection training and training on-board ship.


Senator Ryan —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.