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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2209

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (20:17): As the only member of parliament currently to have held a master mariner's commercial licence and as a former adventure tourism operator in the diving and fishing industry, I have spent a lot of time on our waterways. Therefore it is with good reason that I support the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011.

Our minds are cast back to mid-January when the world witnessed again that unfortunate things can and do go wrong in the cruise industry. Holiday-makers from Australia, France, Italy, Germany and Britain were forced to flee the 1,500-cabin Costa Concordia in lifeboats when it hit a reef less than two hours after leaving port. Media reports say that some leapt overboard and swam ashore as the brightly lit ship started to sink into the black waters near the islands of Giglio off the Tuscan coast. Italian media reported that a number of people died aboard the luxury liner and others may have been injured as the coastguard struggled to rescue the few remaining passengers. Pregnant women and children were among the 3,200 passengers and the 1,000 crew who made it to safety. The climate and proximity to land were two fortunate aspects of that disaster. Other naval tourism disasters in colder climates, such as the Titanic, hold much graver lessons about the importance of preparedness.

There is no doubt that the Antarctic holds a special place in the hearts of Australians and in the imagination of tourists to the region. Changes outlined in this bill are to improve environmental and safety standards, and that will benefit tourism. Clearly tourists that take the Orion Expedition Cruises, OEC, journey to the Antarctic would want to be certain that they could be rescued if need be and that the environment is being protected for future generations. That is certainly the approach of this tourism operator. As the website rightly states, OEC is the only Australian owned international cruise operator, launched in 2004, that is becoming the leading expedition cruise operator in the Asia-Pacific. Introduction of the Orion II in June 2011 doubles their capacity and doubles their opportunity to introduce their guests to new and in many cases unique experiences and amazing destinations while enjoying the comfort and safety of their 100-guest ship and five-star on-board service.

I had the pleasure of inspecting the Orion vessel in Brisbane last year at the invitation of their CEO, Sarina Braddon. I was pleased also to accept the submission from Orion to the coalition's Industries for Australia's Future tourism review. It is certainly true that the experience of the sector in recent years bucks the trend of tourism's performance under this Labor government, with the sector recording strong growth. Nonetheless, there are several Labor policies hampering Orion's growth which I will expand on at another time in this House. Orion ventures into locations where larger ships cannot gain access, nor could they bring their guests ashore. During the peak of the Southern Hemisphere summer, Orion offers travellers a unique opportunity to venture to the continent of Antarctica. Orion sails from Australia and New Zealand, crossing the Antarctic Circle and places brimming with history and adventure.

This Friday, I will be launching a digital marketing campaign to promote Australian tourism to coincide with the national tourism award in Cairns. This promotion highlights the attractions that nature holds for tourists. For example, how they can interact with fairy penguins or colonies of sea lions at some of Australia's most southern regions. Nature is a significant drawcard for tourists and it underscores the importance of responsible tourism practices to protect these natural resources for the sake of our long-term tourism potential. Certainly, tourists taking an Orion trip to the Subantarctic islands can see firsthand penguin breeding colonies, numbering in the millions, as well as elephant seals, Hooker's sea lions and the endangered wandering albatross—not forgetting, of course, the whales that migrate from Antarctica through Port Stephens in my home electorate.

Thanks to OEC, the wonders of the Antarctic are now accessible to tourists and not limited to wealthy expedition record seekers or government scientists. Over the next year, OEC will operate two such trips. From 20 December to 7 January they will take tourists to their Mawson's Antarctica Commonwealth Bay cruise. I would recommend to anyone who has been captivated by David Attenborough documentaries to visit Orion's website and see what is on offer. As it states:

For many, the highlight of the voyage is the visit to Cape Denison, the sight of Sir Douglas Mawson's hut from the historic 1911-1913 addition; a time capsule from a great era of exploration. This is one of the most exclusive places on earth—more people have stood at the top of Mt Everest than have stood inside this historic hut.

The voyage also takes passengers to Port Martin, the site of 100 grounded icebergs, allowing OEC's guests to get up close and view these amazing sites; and Dumont d'Urville, the French base renowned for its rich local wildlife, including colonies of Adelie and emperor penguins.

OEC's second cruise to the region takes in Scott and Shackleton's Antarctica—Ross Sea, and will operate from 25 January 2013.

This voyage covers some of the polar regions famously charted during the first race to the South Pole by pioneering explorers Scott and Shackleton exactly 100 years ago. The Ross Sea coast extends from the iceshelf northwards until it reaches the very tip of Victoria Land and Cape Adare. During their time in the Ross Sea region Orion will attempt a variety of opportunistic landings, subject to weather conditions.

Although Orion's itinerary to the extreme sub-Antarctic and Antarctic regions is based on many years of collective experience, prevailing weather and ice conditions in this area of the world are unpredictable, mother nature dictates their course. These are not cruises they are truly expeditions to what can be the most inhospitable region on earth, and tourists should bring with them a spirit of adventure and flexibility.

As a tourist operator that brings passengers to dangerous and breathtaking locations, it's hardly surprising that Orion endorses this bill.

OEC has reviewed this bill and there is nothing of particular concern or out of alignment with New Zealand's policies. This is mainly some of the final rubber-stamping of issues discussed at length over the years. There are no surprises for OEC and, in fact, all parts of this legislation are currently used by Orion in assessing their permits to operate now, even though they are not yet truly Australian law.

This bill amends a number of sections. Firstly, it amends the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980, the ATEP Act, a Commonwealth act that provides rules for protecting the Antarctic environment. The bill amends Australia's international obligations under three measures adopted under article XIV of the Antarctic Treaty 1961 and article 9 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty 1998. Three primary measures adopted under the treaty and Madrid protocol are being implemented through this bill: Measure 4 (2004), Insurance and contingency planning for tourism and non government activities in the Antarctic Treaty area; Measure 1 (2005), Annex VI to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty: liability arising from environment emergencies; and Measure 15 (2009), Landing of persons from passenger vessels in Antarctic Treaty area. Measure 4 (2004) outlines procedures for non-state operators, such as tourism operators—and that is the point I am alluding to today—to ensure that they are prepared for the inherent dangers of carrying on activities in the Antarctic region and that their activities are carried on in a safe and self-sufficient manner. The measures require the preparation of contingency plans and adequate insurance.

This is perhaps one of the last true frontiers in the world, and it is in a pristine environmental state. Having these measures in place puts the onus on tourism operators, as it says in the bill, to make sure that they have contingency plans in place and that they leave the place as good as they found it. But it is also good that we are having tourists visit the area. This not only brings great economic benefit to our country but also opens up a greater understanding of the environment down there. It is no longer just this white wonderland to the south of Australia. People will be able to explore and enjoy it and make sure that they benefit from the experience. Through knowledge and understanding we can increase the effort applied to make sure that we preserve it for generations to come. This bill, in great part, goes a great way towards that. I am particularly impressed by one of the proposed sections, which establishes the Antarctic environmental liability special account to receive payments from operators for the costs of response actions to an environmental emergency caused by their activities in the Antarctic. There is also the issue of penalties that will be applied if any operator should create a breach of the act or indeed an environmental disaster.

We cannot just open up these areas to tourism willy-nilly. It must be appropriately controlled and properly measured. We are doing this as part of an international agreement, and Australia will honour that agreement. Indeed, the tourism operator's licence to operate from Australia will uphold those. I wish passengers a safe and valuable experience and I commend this bill to the House.