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Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2525

Mr McARTHUR (10.55 a.m.) —I have pleasure in supporting the Antarctic (Environment Protection) Legislation Amendment Bill, but I draw to the attention of the House the incompetence of the Government and of the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories (Mrs Kelly). This is a very important Bill. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Throsby (Mr Hollis), indicated a degree of bipartisan support for the Bill, but the situation is that the Bill has been guillotined. Those honourable members on this side of the House who have some strong views to express are being restrained and we will cooperate to ensure that there is a broad range of views.

  The Bill ratifies the Madrid Protocol signed on 4 October 1991, particularly in relation to Antarctica, which is the last pristine area in the world. There are no people living there permanently. The natural fauna, flora and wildlife are able to exist in that climate, and all members of this House would be keen to protect that arrangement. However, we on this side of the chamber are concerned about the issue of the removal of the dogs.

  As all honourable members would be aware, since 1936 Australia has claimed about 42 per cent of the area and has had a presence in the Antarctic region by way of scientific survey and to make sure that the area Australia claims is identified, and also that we act in a responsible manner. Australia has had research stations there since 1947 and generally there has been a long tradition of involvement by the Australian Government in Antarctica for the benefit of science and to maintain that environment in the best possible order.

  I note that in this whole argument about the removal of the husky dogs, the protocol convention quite clearly states that there is no need to remove the dogs until April 1994. As the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), quite clearly indicated yesterday, and even today, there are moves afoot for the Aurora Australis to remove the dogs from the Australian bases but, as I understand it from information I received last night, bad weather is restraining this removal and the dogs may have to be flown out by helicopter to get them on to that boat. Great Britain has said that it does not regard the removal of its 20 dogs by April next year as an essential prerequisite for its operation in the Antarctica. On 20 October 1992, the London Times reported:

Britain refuses, on the grounds that Antarctica has been the home for four generations of huskies since 1945, and that they should be allowed to stay there until they die out from old age . . . This should be by 1998 at the latest.

I note in any case that the protocol may not have been ratified by all parties, and that is a matter which I think has been overlooked by the Minister. Sir Vivian Fuchs, who completed the first transpolar expedition in 1958, on 22 September 1991, in the Observer was reported to have said:

They say huskies spread disease. Rubbish. It's the other way round. You have to stop them from picking up germs from seals and other animals.

Robert Headland of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, England, on the same day in relation to the removal of huskies, said:

. . . the decision has no logic. Huskies are bred purely from Antarctic stock. No huskies have been introduced for decades. If there is a virus causing disease, we would have seen its effects.

As other members have said, the history of the dogs is very much part of the South Pole tradition, both in the Australian context and in the British context. The dog teams have been in economic operation, they have been environmentally friendly and, as I said, they have been very much part of the whole historic tradition of the way in which the South Pole has been explored and used in scientific surveys.

  I have discussed these matters in some detail with my brother, Alistair McArthur, who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had the privilege and honour of being a base commander in Antarctica under the direction of Sir Vivian Fuchs. We have discussed the very great impact of these dogs both personally and in terms of the way in which the dog teams were able to take part in scientific surveys in that continent under the direction of the British. The British maintained dog teams long after some of the other nations in the south brought in motorised operations.

  I have also discussed these matters in some depth with Mr Gary Poole of Derrinallum in western Victoria. He spent one winter and two summers down south and came to understand and appreciate the whole environment. He is one of the many people in Australia who support the argument that the dogs be allowed to see out their natural life in the South Pole and that some greater sense should be brought to the debate about this matter.

  Both my brother and Mr Poole confirmed that the dogs are very good on thin ice, and that they are able to detect that very dangerous situation on scientific surveys when it is possible to fall into a crevasse and disappear. I understand that there are about 30 dogs down there at the base. Those gentlemen have confirmed that the dog teams have been very much better for the environment than modern motorised transport. The dogs have a working life of some seven years and, as the British are saying, they are bred in a continuous program in that environment.

  I draw to the attention of the House the comparison between dog teams and motorised transport. I understand that two Haaglund transports worth $200,000 each have been destroyed during surveys. I wonder what the effect on the environment might be and, of course, what the maintenance and fuel costs of these particular items are.

  The shadow Minister drew the attention of the House to the Australian Veterinary Association and its comments about huskies. The Association has been actively involved in reviewing the protocols for the importation of Antarctic huskies to Australia and their subsequent export to Minnesota. The AVA now believes that the retaining of the huskies in Antarctica will be `in the best interests of their continued health and well-being'. Yet the Minister has refused to listen to the concerns of the AVA. In fact, this is not the first time the AVA has raised the issue. Earlier this year AVA News carried an article by Mr Moonie, President of the ACT branch of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions Club. Mr Moonie reminded readers that the then Federal environment Minister, Senator Graham Richardson, in 1988 agreed with the findings of the Antarctica environmental committee that there was no evidence to support the removal of the Mawson huskies. As Mr Moonie pointed out, the protocol does not come into force until all nations have ratified it and that the 28 consultative nations will probably take five years to do so. The Minister has said that so far only Spain has ratified this protocol. In a reply in the next issue of the AVA News the Minister said, in relation to the relocation of the dogs:

. . . factors being taken into account include climate.

How can the Minister take into account the climate of Minnesota, USA, when we are talking about relocating dogs? How could one equate a Minnesota summer to possibly better environmental conditions here in Victoria, or to in fact allowing the dogs to see out their natural lives in Antarctica?

  As I said, today helicopters are being used to implement the Minister's decision. These helicopters cost $1,000 per hour to operate. Because of bad weather the Minister is using the helicopters to move the dogs from their location so they can be put on a boat and shifted to America. What a remarkable situation!

  I understand that kennels are available in the territory of the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) and in Ballarat and that they would be happy to take these huskies. This would keep them in Australia, and they would be looked after in a humane and sensible way.

  Because of the pressures of time, I would like to conclude my remarks by saying that in my view the Minister has not listened to the sensible views of those people closest to Antarctica, of those people who have had some hands-on experience, of those people who have an emotional connection with the huskies and of those people who have had long experience in the way in which the huskies have operated. As I say, the huskies are part of our tradition, and the Minister's decision has forced the dogs to be moved to an unnatural environment in America for commercial purposes, so they can be exploited by some kennel operator in Minnesota rather than being allowed to see out the term of their natural lives in that southern region.

  I ask why in fact this has to be when, with a sensible, commonsense view, the Minister could agree to these huskies remaining in Antarctica until 1994. If sense prevailed, it could be argued quite strongly that 30 huskies on Mawson station in Australia's territory would be much more environmentally friendly than motorised transport. I ask the Minister to reconsider her position. I hope that she will answer in some detail the questions by the shadow Minister as to what decisions have been taken before. I understand that the Minister and the administration have not been forthcoming with answers to a great number of people with personal interest in the welfare of these dogs and the way in which Antarctica might operate.