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Wednesday, 3 May 1989
Page: 1660


Senator VALLENTINE(11.28) —I am delighted to be able to support a `green' motion from the Liberal Party of Australia as it stands. But I agree with Senator Sanders that it does not go far enough. I believe that the second part of my original urgency motion should be added to it.


Senator Newman —The coalition. It is a coalition matter.


Senator VALLENTINE —I beg your pardon; it is not just the Liberal Party but the coalition.


Senator Hill —It is important because the Nationals are part of this `green' decision.


Senator VALLENTINE —It is wonderful that the National Party of Australia is in on it as well. Part of my original urgency motion that came before the Senate on 12 April was to promote the formulation of a comprehensive conservation convention for the Antarctic based on the concept of a world park.

This matter was subject to debate on 12 April when Senator Puplick moved an amendment to my motion which called on the Government not to sign the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA). Senator Puplick's amendment, in effect, called only for more discussions. Although I agree that more discussion in the community has been necessary, it was very obvious at that stage that the Liberal Party was not willing to vote against and not sign CRAMRA. I am very glad that the Liberal Party has come to that position in the past few weeks.

Obviously, the Liberal and National parties are responding to community concern on this subject. I would say that they have been lobbied very conscientiously. A lot of that lobbying has probably come from their own members who are genuinely concerned about this very important environmental issue and also they have no doubt been successfully lobbied by the Australian Conservation Foundation, which is doing a sterling job to preserve this unique wilderness for the world community.

Of course there are votes in this issue and perhaps the Australian Labor Party will recognise this soon, as the coalition has. Let me remind Senator Puplick, the coalition and the people of Australia of what was said here on 12 April by one of the Liberal Party spokespersons who entered the debate. That was Senator Crichton-Browne. He said:

. . . if Senator Richardson thought there were any greenie votes to be got out of not signing this thing, he certainly would not be signing it.

A little later he accused the Australian Democrats and me of having drawn ourselves together `in pursuit of whatever irresponsible leftover greenie vote there is'. That comment was made only a few weeks ago and he has obviously been proved wrong. I am very glad that the parties are bigger than the person in this case.

It is not an irresponsible vote. It is very sensible and very sane. It is certainly not a leftover greenie vote. It is a growing greenie vote. I am very glad that the coalition parties are responding to that. Senator Crichton-Browne also said that Australia's signature of CRAMRA was irrelevant. He said:

Whether or not the regime is signed by Australia will in no way affect whether or not there is mining in Antarctica.

That is a totally illogical statement. He also said:

The truth of the matter is that Australia will be able to make no contribution if it is not a signatory of the treaty.

I am very glad that his Party's more carefully considered position has shown his judgment to be wrong.

When we look at the Government's position we find that Senator Evans this morning has reiterated the Government line that CRAMRA will limit and monitor mining and that this is not based on an assumption that mining will occur. Whom is he kidding? It is not based on any logic at all. One does not stop something by regulating it. The Government is opening the door for mining to occur, albeit under scrutiny. The fact is that enormous pressure would be applied, once CRAMRA was in place, for the scramble for minerals in Antarctica as soon as it was seen to be economically viable, which Senator Sanders has already pointed out.

We can stop mining by not allowing any opportunities for that to occur by putting in place a creative alternative like the world park. The current moratorium on mining should be extended while a comprehensive conservation convention is worked out. Obviously, that will take quite some time. Senator Evans doubts whether a moratorium would stick while those discussions were in place. In other words, he has contradicted his own argument because what he was saying by implication was that as soon as CRAMRA is signed the countries and companies that have been waiting patiently all this time will immediately move ahead with their plans for mining. He knows that that is what will happen. I do not believe that we should be giving miners that chance. We should let them know now that Antarctica is off limits. We should let them psychologically adapt to that reality.

What the people of the world want is a world park to preserve the wilderness and the species which are at immediate risk if development is allowed to interfere with their lifestyles. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Senator Gareth Evans) has publicly dubbed conservationists speaking on this issue as pixies and elves. It shows how out of touch the Minister is with the breadth and depth of feeling about the Antarctica. There must be millions and millions of pixies and elves who would like to see this last vestige of nature's magnificence relatively unspoilt by human activity.

There are not many untouched places on earth, which is why so many people are rallying to the sensible and popular cause of keeping Antarctica free and absolutely free of mining. It is not only mining that puts Antarctica's fragile environment at risk. Tourism is also a concern. That was mentioned, but not in any great detail, in the debate on 12 April. Limits to the kinds of tourism that would be allowed there should also be worked out in the context of a world park. If CRAMRA were signed the international cooperation of scientific teams also would be jeopardised. It has been a success story in research opportunities which are not limited by political considerations. That would disappear, too, because CRAMRA would turn Antarctica, like the rest of the world, into a competitive arena rather than a cooperative one, which it is, by and large, at the moment.

Australia has a special opportunity to make a stand on this issue. It would be a welcome change to be in the company of France. But it would be a great tragedy if the present Government squandered this special opportunity. I know that many Government members will not be happy about having to vote on party lines against this motion. I strongly encourage the Government to have the guts to do what the Opposition has done, which is to respond to popular opinion on this subject-to preserve Antarctica free from the ravages of mining.