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Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2522


Mr HOLLIS (10.44 a.m.) —The Antarctic (Environment Protection) Legislation Amendment Bill will amend the Antarctic Treaty Act 1980 to give the force of law in Australia to obligations arising from the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The protocol provides for comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and includes a prohibition on mining. The opportunity is also being taken to make a number of other minor amendments.

  One of the most recent significant developments in the Antarctic Treaty system was the adoption in 1991 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Negotiation of the protocol was a consequence of the Government's decision in May 1989 that Australia would not sign the Antarctic Minerals Convention, but would instead propose a comprehensive environment protection regime which prohibited mining.

  Adoption of the protocol shows that nations are prepared to protect the Antarctic environment. Implementing the protocol's provisions will involve additional costs and effort on the part of those active in Antarctica, including effort directed at monitoring changes in the global environment as indicated by changes in the Antarctic atmosphere and ice sheet and monitoring of the effects of activities in the Antarctic itself.

  Why, we may ask, are we in Australia concerned about Antarctica? We are concerned because in this very exploited world one part should be left in its pristine state, not only for this generation but also for future generations. As someone who has visited Antarctica and seen it and our Australian Antarctic operations at first-hand, I believe that efforts to protect Antarctica are important for both the continent itself and for mankind. I am particularly pleased that this legislation prohibits mining in Antarctica. There are many arguments against mining in Antarctica, not least the economic argument. I do not believe that the economics would stand close scrutiny. One has only to consider the tremendous infrastructure that would be required, the harsh and changeable weather, and transport difficulties.

  In 1991, prior to completion of the negotiations, Australia introduced legislation to prohibit mining in the Antarctic and was among the first countries to do so. It was also among the first countries to sign the Madrid Protocol on 4 October 1991—the day it was opened for signature. Australia already has in place stringent environmental protection measures. This legislation provides for additional measures which are required under the protocol. Passage of this legislation and the making of regulations will enable Australia to ratify the protocol. Once again, we will be one of the first countries to do so.

  Not only are we protecting Antarctica, but also we are seeking to understand it. Australia has a long and proud record in Antarctic research and currently has in place a wide range of scientific programs which include glaciology, space and atmospheric physics, and marine biology programs. The marine science program is conducted from one of the world's most advanced polar research ships, the Aurora Australis. Australia's concern for the environmental aspects of the Antarctic is reflected in its current science program.

  It is interesting that, in a world dominated by conflicts and of competing and conflicting ideologies and philosophies, long before there was international cooperation in other spheres there was cooperation on Antarctica. Antarctica is the last clean place of any size left on earth. How long it can stay that way is questionable because there will most likely be increasing numbers of tourists, ships, garbage and pollution in general. Already there are elements of pollution there. I pay tribute to the clean-up measures of the Australian Government at our Mawson, Davis, Casey and Law bases in Antarctica. I believe our record in Antarctica is second to none. When I was in Antarctica, as well as visiting the Australian bases, I visited the Chinese and Soviet bases. Our protection of the Antarctic environment was better than that practised at these bases.

  I believe future generations will look on this legislation as one of the most important—if not the most important—environmental legislation that this Labor Government has put in place. I thought the honourable member for Mr Mackellar (Mr Carlton) was a little unkind. I think in every debate about Antarctica in this chamber in which I have participated we have had very wide ranging support. Most of the people who speak in these debates have been to Antarctica and, regardless of our political affiliations, we come back committed to Antarctica and its protection. I do not think this Government has ever claimed the monopoly on Antarctica. We happened to be in power when some of this legislation was brought forward. Like in Antarctica itself, there is tremendous bipartisan support in this chamber for the protection of the environment.

  Australia has had a proud record in Antarctica. It has not always been a stand which has been supported by other countries, and for some time Australia and France stood isolated on the question of protection of Antarctica. But our stand has been vindicated, as over the last few years we have seen support from other countries. Antarctic science is of global importance in describing, understanding, monitoring and predicting changes affecting the entire globe. It is also vital in analysing and modelling a variety of processes and systems which can be studied better in the Antarctic than in other regions, and in providing the basic knowledge necessary for conservation and management of our global resources.

  Before I came into the chamber today I was preparing my speech and I was unaware of the speech made earlier by the honourable member for Mackellar. I had written: I welcome this legislation, but one aspect of it saddens me, and that is clause 2(2), which relates to the keeping of dogs in Antarctica. Whilst I fully understand that the keeping of the dogs is prohibited by the Madrid Protocol, the Australian huskies have served Australia well. They have been only at Mawson and for many years have been an integral part of that base. For anyone who has visited Mawson base, a visit to the dogline is one of the highlights of the time spent there.

  I spoke to the winterers there and they have told me that often, when they are out of sorts with all the other members of the team at that base, one place where they can always find a friend is at the dogline. As I say, a visit to the dogline is always one of the highlights even if one is only a short time visitor at Mawson.

  A lot of the work that the dogs have done over the past few years has now been replaced by sophisticated motorised vehicles, but I suggest that no motorised vehicle can show the affection, or indeed admiration, of a Mawson husky. Like thousands of other Australians, I am sad that we are to lose this rich part of our Antarctic history. The huskies of Mawson played their part in Australia's involvement in Antarctica and I think that all of us should remember that.

  The Antarctic region is valuable to the people on earth because of its ecological role and as a mine of information useful to science. In addition, we have a responsibility to try to protect and preserve in as pristine a state as possible one of the few areas on earth not spoilt by man. This, I suggest, is not too high a price to pay, and the scientific and environmental integrity of the Antarctic is infinitely too valuable to lose through inactivity or in the name of dubious short term enrichment.

  As I said earlier, Antarctica is without doubt the world's greatest wilderness. This vast land and its surrounding seas are dominated by nature, by cold and wind, ice and snow. The continent itself is barren. In fact, it is the driest continent on earth and Antarctic wildlife depends for its survival on food from the oceans. Human beings can exist there, but only with outside support.

  In such a place, many countries have decided to establish bases from which people can live and work. They have done this for many reasons, but the predominant reason is the desire for understanding. Antarctic research has brought new life to great questions about the earth, about its geophysics, its geologies, its ecosystems, its atmosphere and its place in the universe. It has also provided the world with an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation between the people of many nations in the peaceful pursuit of knowledge. The Antarctic region is valuable because of its ecological role and as a mine of information useful to scientists.

  In addition, we have a responsibility to try to protect and preserve the Antarctic in as pristine a state as possible. This is not too high a price to pay. The scientific and environmental integrity of Antarctica is infinitely too valuable to lose through inactivity.

  There has been some criticism that the Madrid Protocol lasts for only 50 years and will then be renegotiated but, given the difficulty that has been experienced in reaching that agreement, the fact that it does last for 50 years and will be re-examined at the end of that period is a significant step forward. I think the wonderful thing about Antarctica is that, whatever nations the scientists come from, they always work together and cooperate. This shows that, when there is an overriding purpose, people can cooperate. If only we had the example of cooperation that we see in Antarctica in other spheres of life, maybe it would be a better world in which we live.

  We on earth have mined, farmed and raped much of the world. We have done tremendous damage to this planet. Surely there is one place on earth that can be left in its pristine state for the benefit of everyone and for future generations. That place is Antarctica. I commend the legislation to the House.