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Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Page: 3966

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (19:19): I rise in tonight's adjournment debate to make a contribution about an event I attended on Sunday on behalf of the federal government and the environment minister, Mr Tony Burke. The forum on Antarctica, held in Hobart, was organised by the People for an Antarctic World Park and coincided with the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart. I want to thank Dr Geoff Mosley not only for organising the forum but also in acknowledgment of the leading and influential role he has played in the environmental protection of Antarctica. At the forum I spoke on and covered a number of issues relating to Australia's involvement in Antarctica and the importance of Antarctica to Tasmania. It is important, I believe, to also put that on record here today.

At the forum I said that Australia has a long and close association with the frozen continent to our south. Nowhere is that connection felt more deeply than in Hobart, which has for more than 100 years been a gateway to the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic continent beyond. The Antarctic sector is vitally important to Tasmania. In fact, it contributes at least $182.5 million to the Tasmanian economy every year and employs over 830 Tasmanians in research institutions and businesses. The majority of Australian research scientists in the Antarctic field are based in Tasmania, and the work they do is internationally recognised.

The federal Labor government remains strongly committed to investing in Antarctica, and as part of the 2011-12 budget we announced $28.3 million to ensure that Australia maintains its position as a world leader in Antarctic research. This investment will ensure that we continue to equip our scientists and expeditioners with the tools they need to pursue cutting-edge research in Antarctica. The investment of $28.3 million for research in Antarctica will address critical issues such as climate change and the human footprint on Antarctica. It also includes scientific research programs at research stations at Mawson, Davis, Casey and Macquarie and shipping support for the Australian Airlink, which provides direct air links for scientists and other expeditioners from Hobart to Antarctica. Australia is responsible for 42 per cent and the Australian government has led a scientific research program for 60 years, so our commitment to Antarctica remains strong.

Our commitment to Antarctic research is also good news for Tasmania, which is recognised as Australia's gateway to the Antarctic and enjoys the flow-on benefits of jobs and investments related to our significant Antarctic research program. As well as being an internationally renowned hub of Antarctic operations, Hobart is also host to the secretariats of two related international agreements—the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. Hobart is also home to some of the world's leading Antarctic and Southern Ocean research and educational facilities, including the Australian Antarctic Division; the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, both within the University of Tasmania; and the headquarters of the Marine and Atmospheric Research Division of our Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The presence of these organisations in Hobart boosts Tasmania's international Antarctic profile and is critical for maintaining the status and reputation of Hobart as an Antarctic gateway. These institutions also bring together a formidable body of world-class researchers from across the country and across the globe to work together on Antarctic research of national and international significance. They conduct unique research focused on questions of global significance, including the role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in global climate and the impacts of climate change on Australia and the world.

The Australian government is honoured to have hosted the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart. All nations with an active interest in Antarctica are part of the Antarctic Treaty. The gathering of governments, experts, non-government groups and industry representatives makes it clear that the spirit of cooperation and understanding embedded in the Antarctic Treaty is alive and well. Parties to the treaty have much to be proud of—the achievements arising out of the Antarctic Treaty are indeed impressive. At the most fundamental level, the preservation of an entire unspoiled continent as a natural reserve free of conflict and devoted to peace and science is an incredible achievement.

The Australian government also has a long and distinguished record as a leading advocate for environmental protection of Antarctica. We have worked very actively through the Antarctic Treaty system to achieve strong environmental outcomes through this unique international system. The Australian government has long seen the Antarctic Treaty system as the most effective way to maintain and improve environmental protection standards in Antarctica.

Only last week at the opening of the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart, the federal Minister for Sustain¬≠ability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, applauded the role played by former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke in taking on the world—defying a global move to enable mining in Antarctica. Mr Hawke and his colleagues from France and Spain led an international push which culminated in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, often called the Madrid protocol. This agreement imposes an indefinite prohibition on mining in Antarctica. It also sets in place a comprehensive and effective range of environmental protections for the frozen continent. It is a living arrangement which continues to adapt to changing circumstances through the work of the Committee for Environmental Protection.

The Antarctic Treaty includes prohibitions on military and nuclear activities. The Madrid protocol designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted, as I have said, to peace and science, and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources protects the Southern Ocean ecosystems. The Committee for Environmental Protection has undertaken its ongoing and important work in Hobart to establish and enforce contemporary and appropriate rules of environmental engagement for parties active in Antarctica.

As the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, or ATCM, finishes up, Australia and other Antarctic nations have only today reaffirmed their commitment to protect and preserve Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. The communique released by the ATCM has set out key outcomes, including measures to further reduce the risk posed by non-native species, further develop the Antarctic protected areas system, promote repair of past environmental damage, enhance understanding of global climate change scientific research and promote the safe and environmentally sensitive conduct of tourism activities.

Australia has also signed three new international agreements with the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, the French Polar Institute and the Russian Federation. These new agreements will cover science, logistics and environmental management and are aimed at deepening bilateral collaboration and cooperation on the ground in Antarctica.

The environment minister, Tony Burke, has welcomed the positive outcomes from the meeting. He said:

Antarctica is one of the world's great wildernesses and Australia is a world leader in ensuring that we protect this unique continent for the future. Importantly, we will continue to work to build the number of parties to the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty.

Australia pursued outcomes at the ATCM focused on ensuring that the ATCM becomes an even more effective institution, responsive to the priorities of the Antarctic Treaty parties and capable of tackling the challenges faced by Antarctica in the 21st century. I would like to echo what Senator Bob Carr said, which was:

I am proud that Australia, as a leading Antarctic nation, drove outcomes at the meeting which will have a lasting legacy for Antarctica.