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Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2520

Mr CARLTON (10.32 a.m.) —The Antarctic (Environment Protection) Legislation Amendment Bill 1992 enables Australia to meet its obligations under the 1991 Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty. The purpose of that protocol was to prevent mining in the Antarctic. As has become the practice of Ministers in the House, the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories (Mrs Kelly) tried to make out that the Government has a total monopoly on concern about the Antarctic, as indeed she tries to make out that the Government has a monopoly on concern about any aspect of the environment—and, of course, that Opposition members are rapists and pillagers of the environment, have no concern for it, and, if returned to office, would do disgraceful things to it.

  These are totally false accusations, as anybody with any objectivity would acknowledge. In listening to the Minister's second reading speech one would think she invented the Antarctic, but let us look back on the facts of Australia's relationship to Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which was a very important measure, was brought about during the period of the Menzies Government. The Cold War was a major factor. It was important to ensure peace and orderly management of this fragile territory, and the Antarctic Treaty was a great milestone internationally in doing that. It was certainly something that the Menzies Government was very proud of.

  The major legislation to protect the environment in the Antarctic was brought forward in 1980 by my then colleague Mr David Thomson, the Minister for Science and the Environment. I was delighted to go back to his second reading speech when he was introducing the Antarctic Treaty Environment Protection Bill of 1980, where he set out the very clear environmental objectives of the Fraser Government. Again, no objective reader of history could accuse that Government or its coalition successors of lacking concern for these matters. This was demonstrated in this area when the Opposition initially, before the Government, suggested that, instead of proceeding with negotiations on a regime for the exploration of mining in the Antarctic, we should go further and prevent mining altogether.

  We were delighted that the Government took this up and took the lead in that internationally—which we acknowledge—supported initially by the French and then subsequently by the other treaty parties. In 1991 the Madrid Protocol, as it came to be known, was signed, and today we have this legislation to bring into effect under Australian law the provisions of that protocol. These are basically to prevent mining, but there are other elements of it: to allow for environmental assessment in the Antarctic, to bring in a new system of protective areas there, to allow for greater protection for Antarctic fauna and flora and their habitats, and for the making of regulations providing for environmental impact procedures and for waste management and waste disposal. It tidies up a lot of legislation in this area in quite a sensible way, and the Opposition fully supports the Bill.

  It is most regrettable that on this, as on other measures—I notice that the endangered species protection legislation is being brought in this afternoon—the time allowed for debating these important matters is to be severely restricted by the guillotine. I regard it as being very unsatisfactory indeed. It seems to be commonly the case now under this Government that very important measures are simply not considered adequately by the House of Representatives. The endangered species legislation will probably get only about an hour's debate next week. For a measure of that importance, it is outrageous, and I would like to put that on the record.

  We do have some concern over one aspect of the Madrid Protocol and the Government's actions in relation to that—the matter of the sledge dogs, the huskies of the Mawson Base. I therefore move the following amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill:

  That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: "whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House expresses its grave concern over the decision of the Minister for Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories to remove the Mawson Base huskies from their long term environment and to give them to a resort operator in the USA, and calls on the Minister to reverse this decision and follow the British example of allowing the dogs to live out their lives in the Antarctic".

That motion will be seconded by the honourable member for Pearce (Mr Chaney).

  I cannot understand the Minister's actions on this matter. She agreed to this particular provision in the protocol that the dogs were to be removed by April 1994, and I will not go into the arguments as to whether that was absolutely essential in order to get the protocol signed. I doubt that it was, but we will pass over that. The question is: what is sensible in the situation? We have working dogs which have been in that particular environment for a very long time, and they are used to that environment. People who have worked with these animals have enormous affection for them. In speaking to people who have been in the Antarctic during the whole of the winter and carried out experiments during the summer months, one finds that they develop a bond with these animals which is very unusual. These animals in a number of cases have saved the lives of members of expeditions, and one hears quite moving stories of occasions when that has happened. So it is not surprising that people who have worked there feel passionately about the fate of these dogs.

  What is happening to them under the Minister's orders is that at this very moment, I understand, they are being transported by helicopter to the supply ship Aurora Australis to be brought back to Hobart and thence put on a plane to Minnesota to be given to a resort operator in the United States. This has outraged those who have worked with these dogs. The polar sledge dog support group that has been set up in Australia has been arguing against this treatment of the dogs. It believes, and I agree with it, that the British move to stop the dogs from breeding in the British base and to let them stay there for the rest of their lives in their normal environment is a humane way of dealing with the issue.

  The British do not believe that is in any way a breach of the Madrid Protocol. I see absolutely no reason why we cannot do that. But if it is not possible, surely the dogs could be brought back to Australia. There are apparently a couple of potential places where they might go. During the debate I understand that the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur) and the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) will be drawing attention to other potential sites where the dogs might go if they must leave the Antarctic.

  We simply cannot find out why these Victorian sites have not been selected by the Minister. We do not see why the dogs have to be given to a tour operator in the United States. People here regard that as a loss of part of Australia's Antarctic heritage. It is peculiar, given the Australian Veterinary Association's approval of the placing of the dogs in Victoria, that the Minister cannot, even at this late stage, change those arrangements. I have put a number of questions on notice to try to determine from the Minister whether she actually has a formal contract with these prospective USA owners, whether she has the approval of the Minister for Finance (Mr Willis) prior to disposing of what is effectively an Australian asset, and also why people in Victoria who were promised consideration as a venue for the dogs have apparently been bypassed. A whole lot of questions are unanswered.

  At this very late stage—I understand that the ship is virtually at the Mawson Base or just out from it—I understand that the weather is too bad for the dogs to be transported to the ship on the surface and they are being helicoptered out. The conditions under which they will travel on the ship are subject to some question as to whether they will be exposed to cold sea water and whether proper arrangements have been made with regard to their health on that voyage.

  But there is still time for the Minister—even if she persists in removing them from the Antarctic, which I think is disgraceful—to, at the very least, keep them on the Australian mainland. In Minnesota they certainly will not live in an environment anywhere near what they would have in the Antarctic. In parts of Victoria there might not be the winter snow of the kind that they get in Minnesota, but the summer temperatures would be very similar. This is just one of those very peculiar things that this Minister keeps doing. In every undertaking in which she is involved there is always some kind of bungle or peculiar or stubborn activity. I urge the Minister, even at this very late stage, to change that decision.

  But we support the Bill over all. We wish to divide on our second reading amendment to make our point about the fate of the huskies. But I make it clear that the Bill as a whole is in line with the policy which we suggested originally and which was taken up by the Government. It is in line with the actions of coalition governments in the past—for example, the Menzies Government in 1959 in entering into the treaty; and the Fraser Government in 1980 in bringing down the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

  Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Les Scott) —I take it that the honourable member for Pearce seconds the amendment?

Mr Chaney —Yes, that is correct.