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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2220

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (21:07): I rise to speak on the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011, and I support the comments of my colleagues the member for Flinders and the member for Ryan. This bill in part seeks to implement Australia's obligations under the Antarctic Treaty, the Madrid protocol and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. I note, however, that this bill has been referred to the House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves debating this bill without time to consider the recommendations of the committee.

Nonetheless, Australia has played a long and leading role in the protection of the Antarctic, and this international leadership has been driven by the coalition. It was the Menzies government that first established Australia's permanent research station in the Antarctic. In 1954 the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions sailed the Kista Dan to MacRobertson Land, establishing the Mawson Station at Horseshoe Harbour. The station plays an important role in long-term meteorological and geomagnetic studies as well as ongoing conservation biology studies of both the emperor penguin and the Adelie penguin. Mawson Station, named after the famous explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, is the oldest continuously inhabited Antarctic station south of the Antarctic Circle. It was in 1960 that the Menzies government, which was one of the original 12 signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, passed the Antarctic Treaty Act, which specifically prohibited mining, military bases and weapons testing, among other things, in Antarctica and ensured that the continent remains a place for peaceful research purposes in perpetuity.

Mawson Station was joined by the Davis permanent research station in 1957, and Casey Station, which was named after Sir Robert Menzies's Minister for External Affairs and the CSIRO, Richard Casey, was established in 1969. The leading role of Liberal governments in protecting the Antarctic for future generations also led to the naming of Menzies Mountain after former Prime Minister Sir Robert Gordon Menzies. The prominent mountain, which is approximately 3,228 metres high, is fittingly exactly 1,000 metres higher than Mount Kosciuszko and is situated on the southern side of Fisher Glacier in Mac. Robertson Land.

The Fraser government built on the strong legacy of protecting the Antarctic, overseeing the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 to protect Antarctic wildlife and preserve areas of ecological and scientific importance. That Act applies to the Australian Antarctic territory and addresses three key issues: the conservation of flora and fauna, including the establishment of species protected areas; environmental impact statements; and inspectors and offences. The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act was followed up by the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Conservation Act 1981, which gave effect to the international Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Importantly, this convention ensures that in any actions in the Antarctic consideration must be given to the whole ecosystem rather than just using a single-species fisheries sustainable yield approach.

The Liberal Party's leadership in the protection of the Antarctic occurred not only in government but also in opposition. In 1989, international consideration for allowing mining on the frozen continent was seriously threatening the pristine character of the Antarctic. Back then, the Hawke Labor government was an active participant in the Antarctic mining convention. It was only after the intervention by then opposition leader John Howard and shadow minister for the environment Chris Puplick calling on Australia to oppose any convention that allowed mining in the Antarctic that the then Hawke government reversed its position and instead worked with the other signatories of the Antarctic Treaty to establish the Madrid protocol, a binding protocol that prohibited mining on the continent by any signatory of the Antarctic Treaty. In 2006, the Howard government passed into law the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment (Antarctic Seals and Other Measures) Act 2006. The coalition's record on the Antarctic is proud.

But, notwithstanding the bill we have before us and given that only cold-adapted organisms can survive there, the Antarctic may provide the solution to this government's current problems. Seven countries maintain claims on eight territories on the Antarctic continent, yet the entire continent is devoid of any diplomatic representative. We know that the Prime Minister and several of her senior colleagues may wish to send the member for Griffith to a cold, dark and remote place, so why not offer him the position as our first ambassador to the Antarctic territories? If we were to have an ambassador to the Antarctic territories, perhaps he could be actively involved in climate change studies, as we repeatedly hear of the moral challenge of preventing the ice caps from melting and how new taxes will have the remarkable ability to stop this ice from melting. Our first ambassador to the Antarctic territories may be able to report on the scientific fact that the sea ice in the Antarctic is actually increasing at a trend of 100,000 square kilometres per decade, and currently the Antarctic sea ice is at record levels.

As previously stated, the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill seeks to implement Australia's obligations under the Antarctic Treaty, the Madrid protocol for the protection of Antarctica and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. A significant change to the existing legislation is the transfer of approval processes to a minister of the government. The approval process applies to activity in the Antarctic. The explanatory memorandum says:

An activity in the Antarctic includes, but is not limited to, scientific activities, tourist vessels entering the Antarctic (whether making landings or not), construction of facilities or overflights by tourist aircraft that are made for the purpose of visiting the Antarctic.

However, the explanatory memorandum indicates that this will not apply to passenger flights crossing the Antarctic Zone. It states:

The provision is not intended to have application to shipping and aviation passage over or around the Antarctic, or en route to or from Australia to a third country destination outside of the Antarctic.

As indicated in the explanatory memorandum, the approval process will apply to tourist overflights of the Antarctic. This is a potential growth area and tourist opportunity that Australia is uniquely and well placed to capitalise on. However, it is not clear if tourist flights across the Antarctic will be subject to the world's largest carbon tax—the one the Prime Minister promised would never happen under a government she leads but that she is now imposing upon the nation under the government that she leads. Under Labor's planned carbon tax, domestic flights within Australia will pay the carbon tax but international flights departing and arriving Australia will not. So if you are going on holidays and flying from Sydney to—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): I draw the member for Hughes back to the bill before the chamber.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: I will come back to tourist flights, and the tax implications for them, to the Antarctic, which are the flights that this bill addresses. Now, if you take the effect of the world's largest carbon tax on Virgin airlines, an airline that could consider—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member will return to the bill. This is not a free-for-all; it is a piece of legislation. You will either address it or sit down.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: It is an airline that could consider starting tourist flights across the Antarctic.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Hughes is defying my call.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: Madam Speaker, I am talking about airlines that fly across the Antarctic.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member was talking about the bill, and he can get back to the bill. If you have to ditch half your speech—

Mr Melham: Then ditch it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Banks is not assisting, but the member for Hughes will be relevant to the bill.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: We need to look at what we can do to improve our tourist sector, and that is what this bill refers to. This bill affects tourist flights over the Antarctic—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes, tourist flights over the Antarctic. If you get to those, fine.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: Therefore, flights and relevant flights across the Antarctic are a relevant subject to this bill. These flights across the Antarctic do provide a unique opportunity for our struggling tourist sector, but we have to be aware how this will be affected by the carbon tax. We know that tourism is not the—

Mr Melham: This is absolute defiance of the chair.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Hughes will get back to the bill.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: The final point I would like to touch on in my contribution to this debate on the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill is the positive step to incorporate recommendations under annex 1 of the Madrid protocol requiring operators to undertake reasonable preventive measures to reduce the risk of environmental emergencies and potential adverse impacts by establishing contingency plans for responding to incidents of potential adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment and to maintain adequate insurance. We have seen examples of rogue operators, and even those that have attempted to do the right thing come into difficulty. I think back to the troubles with a particular cruise ship with a damaged propeller during a voyage deep into the southern oceans. As interest grows in such ventures, we must be sure to mitigate potential harm to the Antarctic environment. I recognise this measure as an important inclusion under the legislation before us.

The coalition supports this legislation. However, we eagerly await the report from the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts, and will consider any recommendations that are forthcoming.