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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2397

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (10:00): The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 implements Australia's international obligations arising from three measures adopted under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which is known as the Madrid protocol. It contains amendments to the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980, amending it to extend the scope of the legislation; provide the ability for the minister to grant a safety approval and environmental protection approval and to impose conditions on such approvals; implement new offences and civil penalties regarding unapproved activities, activities carried on in contravention of the conditions imposed by an approval and offences and civil penalties related to environmental emergencies; establish a liability regime for environmental emergencies that occur in the Antarctic; establish an Antarctic environmental liability special account to receive payments from operators for the costs of response action to an environmental emergency caused by their activities in the Antarctic; implement new offences and civil penalties applicable to tourist vessels operating in the Antarctic; and make a number of minor and technical amendments to the act.

This is legislation consistent with Australia's strong support for the Antarctic Treaty and for the protection of Antarctica. The measures will enter into force when they have been approved by all 28 consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty, including us. People will be aware that Australia has been a world leader in Antarctic protection and research, and these amendments continue our commitment to protecting what is the last pristine continent on earth.

The environment minister—I am pleased that he is here—has advised the parliament that the amendments will ensure safer and more environmentally sound regulation of operators on the fragile continent. As he has said, Antarctica is the last great unspoiled continent. These changes will mean that we are better able to ensure operators respond to environmental emergencies and to regulate the number of tourists landing in Antarctica. We will also be able to take action against those who fail to comply with the environmental or safety regulations.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Madrid protocol, it is timely that Australia strengthens the framework for the environmental protection of Antarctica. Australia was one of 12 original signatories to the treaty and a principal architect of the Madrid protocol, which designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. One of the important achievements with regard to Antarctica in the past has been the bipartisan approach to its conservation. We have taken a leading role in its protection since former Prime Minister Bob Hawke joined forces with former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard to prevent the mining of Antarctica 20 years ago and to protect the continent from exploitation. In 1989 our government decided with France to veto the Antarctic Minerals Convention and instead to press for an environmental protocol, which is now known as the Madrid protocol. That happened back in 1991.

I notice that Bob Hawke has again joined forces with Michel Rocard to warn against mining in Antarctica. The two men were present in Hobart in October 2011 at an event hosted by the Australian Antarctic Division to commemorate the adoption of the Madrid protocol. Mr Rocard said:

Antarctica is the only place to be managed correctly … Antarctica has taken the rank of the only success of humanity in common management.

He believes that signatories need to work together now to protect the integrity of the Madrid protocol. He says:

National egotism is still the behavioural rule in the world … The Antarctic Treaty is a good start to begin to say, 'Stop it, and let us be reasonable together'. We can be reasonable, only if we are together.

It is noteworthy that the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is in Hobart later on this year. Bob Hawke has described it as an opportunity for all parties to strengthen the foundations of the Madrid protocol, particularly the 16 countries who have signed but not yet ratified. I also note that Rory Medcalf, who is the Director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, says some powerful countries are taking more interest in Antarctica's resource potential. He says:

… we've seen activity in the Arctic in recent years, particularly from Russia, China, Canada and others, and the question is beginning to rise: what about the resource potential of Antarctica? This is many years off in terms of exploitation, but preparations seem to be beginning to get underway now.

Mr Medcalf says that there are signs that Russia, China and the US are expressing an interest in Antarctica. He says:

The question is that countries like Australia, that established claims a long time ago, over much of this territory, do not actually have much presence in Antarctica. We have three stations that are beginning to get out of date in certain ways … we don't have year-round to territory that we claim.

It is his view that we should start sending more ships and researchers to Antarctica. He says:

Australia needs to invest more in logistics.

…   …   …

If we don't establish a clearer scientific and surveying presence in Antarctica then, by 2048, when the Madrid Protocol is up for review, Australia's claim—

will not be as strong as it might be.

I, and I dare say many others, have been contacted by Dr Geoff Mosley, who is a convenor of People for an Antarctic World Park. Dr Mosley is the author of the book Antarctica, Securing Its Heritage for the Whole World: The Case for World Heritage Listing and How Listing CanBe Achieved. He is a very energetic campaigner for Antarctica and he has urged upon us all that Antarctica be considered for inclusion in the World Heritage List. He says:

At present this is not possible because of the way to Convention is written. Currently it applies only to areas where there is sovereign jurisdiction. … the Antarctic Treaty which came into force in 1961 froze the claims including that of Australia to 42% of the Antarctic continent.

So we have the unacceptable situation in which an area with arguably the best claim for World Heritage recognition for its physical environment and for the example that has been set there in banning all military (including nuclear) activity and providing for scientific cooperation is outside the scope of this pre-eminent conservation treaty.

Inclusion of Antarctica in the World Heritage List would help increase public understanding of the important role the continent and its ice plays in the processes of the biosphere and provide inspiration for other international environmental goals and agreements. It would also create an additional 139 nations with a stake in the area's future.

He argues that the Antarctic treaty system on its own does not provide adequate environmental protection for Antarctica, even though it needs to be noted that the Madrid protocol in particular has led to a moratorium there on mining. He says that a majority of nations—the ones that are not signatories to the Antarctic treaty—are not bound by the mining moratorium and that World Heritage listing would bring additional countries, as state parties to the World Heritage convention, to commit to the complete protection of the Antarctic region. He further says that, should Antarctica be placed on the World Heritage List, it should also be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of the 'serious and specific danger' forced on the region by climate change.

I mentioned earlier that 2012 has the potential to be a very important year in terms of Antarctica because the 33rd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting will take place in Hobart in June, and it is also the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage convention. Dr Mosley has made contact with the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which it is my honour to chair, about this issue, and we have had a briefing from departmental officials about the issues at stake. At present, Antarctica's inclusion on the World Heritage List is not possible because the World Heritage convention, as it is written, can only apply to areas over which there is sovereign jurisdiction, and claims to sovereignty over Antarctic territory are by agreement held in abeyance under the Antarctic Treaty. Instead, activities in Antarctica are administered jointly by a number of countries under the Antarctic Treaty system, that framework of agreements and multinational administrative bodies under the auspices of the Antarctic Treaty. The Australian government has the view that, because of the complexities of Antarctic sovereignty, World Heritage listing: (a) is not possible without having a sovereign nation or a number of sovereign nations bringing a proposal forward and; (b) causes diplomatic difficulties of a kind which could turn out to be counterproductive.

The Antarctic Treaty itself was signed in 1959 by 12 nations, including Australia. It now has 49 state party signatories. Among other things, the treaty stipulates that Antarctica should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and that military activities such as the establishment of military bases or weapons testing are specifically prohibited. It guarantees continued freedom to conduct scientific research and promotes international scientific cooperation. It sets aside the potential for sovereignty disputes between treaty parties by providing that no activities will enhance or diminish previously asserted positions with respect to territorial claims; it provides that no new or enlarged claims can be made; and it makes rules relating to jurisdiction. The treaty prohibits nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste. It provides for inspections by observers to ensure treaty compliance. It requires the parties to give advance notice of their expeditions and provides for the parties to meet periodically to discuss measures to further the objectives of the treaty.

According to the WWF and based on a 2009 census of marine life, Antarctica is a cradle of life for polar species. In particular, the research shows that it is an evolutionary garden for octopus, sea spiders and other bizarre deep sea creatures. The fact that scientists have found a number of species common to both Antarctica and the Arctic indicates that the polar oceans are effective safe havens for species that arrive by chance. The 2009 census of marine life also found that the warming of the oceans due to climate change was forcing cold ocean species to move towards the poles. The remarkable range of species has been hidden for so long because many assumed that the polar seas were like marine deserts. However, it now appears that the harsh environment has been an engine of evolution, offering the right ingredients of isolation and a wide range of habitats. The WWF believes that these isolated habitats are threatened by climate change, which is driving ocean acidification and increasing temperatures around the poles.

The threat of climate change comes on top of other threats to the Antarctic's marine biodiversity from invasive species, from oil spills and pollution through shipping activities and from the actions of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing vessels that flout international rules. So there are certain serious threats there, and serious work needs to be done. I am very supportive of the work done by our Antarctic Division and others in protecting Antarctica. I think it is work that we can really be proud of. It is a great thing to see the action being taken and the steps that are proposed for later this year. This bill continues the Labor tradition of leadership in protecting areas of environmental significance, and I commend the bill to the House.