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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Speech to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Hawke Government initiative to prevent mining in Antarctica

Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney
14 December 2009

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First let me acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land the on which we meet: the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

I would like to extend my very warm welcome to the Honourable Bob Hawke AC and Blanche d'Alpuget, it's nice to see you both here. And also to distinguished guests, former ACF Presidents Hal Wootten QC and Justice Murray Wilcox QC, a very warm welcome. Lyn Goldsworthy AM, Denise Boyd from ACF, and some of my former colleagues, and to Phillip Toyne, Michael Kennedy and others.

It is an immense pleasure to gather here today to mark the twentieth anniversary of a perhaps less well-known achievement in our history of engagement with Antarctica, but nevertheless an anniversary of considerable importance.

An achievement in which Bob Hawke as Prime Minister, played a principal role, assisted by a number of NGOs and community groups, including some considerable efforts by a number of individuals and we want to recognise that today.

This was our instigation for Australia of a world wide push to prevent mining in Antarctica.

Let me reprise the history briefly and you'll hear more of it in the course of today's commemoration. It was in 1989, that the Hawke Cabinet made the momentous decision that Australia should pull out of the process of ratifying the proposed Minerals Convention. We thus started down the path of securing an environmental protection regime for the Antarctic- a journey which, at the time, Bob, you dubbed "Mission Impossible". Nevertheless it was the beginning of that journey.

The idea was that there should be an international agreement that would ban mining in Antarctica, promote the continent as a reserve devoted to peace and science. Initially we had the support of only one other nation, France, but ultimately gained agreement from the governments of all Antarctic Nations, including Britain and the United States. It was comprehensive and considerable foreign policy.

There were many people and organisations made important contributions to this remarkable achievement. Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace who are here today, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition and the Australian Conservation Foundation mounted a grassroots campaign which saw my predecessors as Minister for the Environment receive more than 12,000 individual letters and postcards calling for a permanent ban on mining in Antarctica.

I am really pleased to know that some of the key leaders of that grassroots campaign have been able to join us this afternoon, and I would particularly like to acknowledge Lyn Goldsworthy AM amongst you.

Individual Ministers and backbenchers in the Hawke Government also played an important role. The then Treasurer Paul Keating and the Minister for Resources, the late Peter Cook, were among those who voiced early concerns about the proposed Minerals Convention. And, a number of histories of Antarctica celebrate the epiphany experienced that Labor MP Bob Chynoweth had while visiting Antarctica in the late 1980's as part of a parliamentary delegation. Sitting on a rock in the Vestfold Hills, which surround our Davis Station, watching the midnight sun set over the pristine environment before him and, in his own words saying, "how lucky we are to have places like this that haven't been spoilt. That's why we've got to hang on to them".

And on returning to Australia - supported by another member of the delegation, the then member for La Trobe Peter Milton. He started to lobby senior Ministers like Gareth Evans and Graham Richardson for a reversal of Australia's policy to ratify the Convention.

This campaign gained momentum and eventually won the support of the Prime Minister and one of his key advisers, Craig Emerson, who serves alongside me in the Federal Ministry. And Bob I'll divert from my notes to recall an occasion when I arrived at Kirribilli House to meet with you and Craig, and I think I took a cassette out of a cassette holder, and we put it in a cassette player, and we listened to a song by a band called Midnight Oil. The track was called Antarctica, and the line was that "there must be one place left in the world."

In any event it was the case that in May 1989, the Hawke Cabinet agreed that Australia would not sign the Mining Convention and would seek to persuade the rest of the world to ban mining in Antarctica.

The Government's approach was ultimately supported by the Opposition under John Howard and the Australian Democrats and Senate Independents. The long and loud and difficult process of convincing other nations to support Australia's stance eventually bore fruit.

As I have already mentioned, we were joined by France from the outset, urged on by the famous environmental scientist Jacques Cousteau and of course, a relationship which developed between French Prime Minister Michel Rocard and Prime Minister Hawke was particularly important at the period in time. And - as I have said to Bob previously having seen Monsieur Rocard quite recently - a relationship and an achievement that he still values greatly.

It's worth remembering that the campaign to protect Antarctica from mining initially met with significant and strong opposition from influential scientists and government officials from around the world and from other major Antarctic nations. Australia, they said, was not playing by the rules of Antarctic treaty negotiations. But eventually we did get there.

A crucial event was a conversation between Bob Hawke and then President Bush, and I understand, Bob was able to use the negative example of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska to persuade the US President to back our cause. In any event, on 4 July 1991, President Bush announced that the US would agree to a new Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty which would ban mining in Antarctica.

This major breakthrough allowed the successful conclusion of negotiations of a new Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty which banned mining on the continent indefinitely.

Negotiations were completed in October 1991 at Madrid, and hence the agreement became known as the Madrid Protocol. Australia was one of the first nations to sign, and it has legislative backing for the Australian Antarctic Territories by the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act.

A number of important measures flowed from the signing of the Protocol. Including, that all planned activities must first be scrutinised for their environmental effects, Antarctic plants and animals are afforded high levels of protection from harm, and a system of protected areas safeguards the most sensitive and ‘at risk' locations.

The Antarctic Treaty was a first - with cooperation and protection of the environment at its core- it remains one of the most successful disarmament treaties that we have, and a great exemplar of what we can achieve multilaterally.

It is my great pleasure to announce two initiatives on this particular day, recognising the contribution not only that the Prime Minister made, but the significant participation by Australia in that treaty.

Firstly, as part of the Australian Antarctic Science Program, the establishment of the RJL Hawke Fellowship in Antarctic Environmental Science. This postdoctoral award will be managed by the Australian Antarctic Division and awarded on the basis of ‘excellence' for policy-relevant science. And it will start in 2010, and I am delighted Bob that there will be a fellowship that's named after you.

I am also very pleased to also announce that the new living quarters at Wilkins Runway in Antarctica will be named the Hon R J L Hawke, AC, Living Quarters. As some of you will know there is major work being undertaken at the Wilkins runway - some $2 million is being spent to upgrade the facilities there - including the provision of temporary accommodation.

The living quarters to be constructed this season will house mess, kitchen, laundry and bathroom facilities for the runway crew during the flying season. It's mounted on a sled ensuring minimal footprint and is fully demountable. And these living quarters are designed to have zero disturbance on the environment; a fitting physical symbol for the Antarctic engagement that you, Bob, envisaged. And, I suspect that they will be known informally as 'Hawke's Huts'.

We can be enormously thankful for the efforts of all those who have campaigned at that time, and it was an extraordinary bringing together of community, conservation NGOs, and Government; look what has been achieved.

But there are many pressures that still face the Antarctic. We know that there is a changing geopolitical environment that's at play, rising demands on global fish stocks, the growth of tourism in the region and impact on the Antarctic environment of climate change.

Recognising that this Government has given a high priority to the Antarctic. We have allocated an additional $25 million to the Australian Antarctic program in the 2009 Budget and additional funding to host the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in 2012.

I'm very proud as the Minister for the Environment in the Rudd Government, to stand alongside the distinguished leader of a previous Labor Government which achieved so much for the Antarctic environment two decades ago when Australia took the lead in protecting this unique environment from the potentially destructive effects of commercial exploitation.

It's worth remembering the words of the treaty....

"Recognising that it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord."

So today we pay tribute to the initiative of the Hawke Government, and to those organisations that helped drive to protect the environment of this extraordinary place, Antarctica.

Thankyou very much.


Commonwealth of Australia