Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:21): I too support the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 and endorse the reasons very clearly and succinctly put my colleague Senator Birmingham, who leads for the coalition on this issue. The Antarctic continent has always been acknowledged as a 'continent of peace and science', which one might say has been the by-line of Antarctica since the early days of the Antarctic Treaty, if not before. I do sometimes wonder, though, whether we are not, in this legislation as with much other legislation, using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The continent of Antarctica is vast and, quite frankly, whilst it is important to keep an eye on the increasing tourist traffic there, when we consider the extent of the tourist 'invasion' of Antarctica we must also keep in mind the huge expanse of that continent.

Australia does have a claim to a section of the continent, but, as I think everyone recognises, Australia's claim and those of other countries are only honoured by other countries that have a claim. The major powers do not respect any territorial claims by any individual nation and simply retain the view that the Antarctic continent is a continent that is there for peace and science for all nations of the world. Notwithstanding that Australia does claim a section of the Antarctic continent, we of course do not deny others the use of it. In fact, Australia's three bases down there offer assistance to anyone who might need it, and our scientists coordinate very well with other scientists around the world.

I entered this debate to pay my respects to Australia's Antarctic Division, which for years has done a great deal of work in the Antarctic. In my perhaps biased opinion, it has some of the leading Antarctic research scientists in the world doing good work constantly on the Antarctic continent. I also want to pay my respects to the ANARE organisation, which is comprised of all the fine people who over many years have involved themselves in Australia's Antarctic research, both in the research itself and in getting to Antarctica and maintaining the bases down there. The ANARE people maintain their enthusiasm for the continent and regularly meet around Australia to do what they can to support Australia's work in Antarctica.

I will also mention in passing the Mawson's Huts Foundation, an entirely privately funded group, although I have to say that in the Howard years, due to the influence of Peter Costello, the government was always very generous towards the foundation with grants. Principally, though, their funds come from philanthropic private enterprise contributions. I am not sure if the current government are continuing that support; I have not been as closely involved with it as I once was. I have a suspicion they are not, and if I am wrong in that I apologise. If I am right, though, I would urge the minister to relook at additional support for the Mawson's Huts Foundation, because what they do is restore and maintain those very early of huts of Australia's premier Antarctic pioneer and explorer, Douglas Mawson. It is important that that part of our heritage be retained, preserved and promoted. It is a big job for a private foundation. Whilst I think things done by private people are always done better than if done by governments, I do think governments should be as generous as they possibly can in supporting groups like the Mawson's Huts Foundation.

I smile to myself when the whaling issue comes up and people get hairy-chested and say what Australia should be doing with Australia's sovereign waters around the Antarctic continent. I always smile when I hear that because I and, I think, anyone who follows this realises that 'Australia's waters' around Antarctica are in fact nonexistent. Very few people recognise Australia as having any sovereign interest in the waters around Antarctica. So in terms of our ability to 'police' whaling by various nations or, I might say, the activities of those who would foolishly put their own lives and the lives of others at risk in opposing whaling, I do not know that Australia constitutionally or legally has any great jurisdiction in those areas.

I do want to refer to some Antarctic waters where Australia does have responsibility, but before I do that I want to complete my good wishes and thanks for those who look after the pristine Antarctic environment by mentioning the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an international fisheries management organisation which has its headquarters in Hobart. CCAMLR, as it is called, has over many years been doing a great deal of very good work in supporting science in the waters around Antarctica and contributing substantially to the continuation of the pristine environment in that area.

I want to mention, as I said, the Australian islands down in the great Southern Ocean, the Heard and McDonald Islands, around which Australia does have legally recognised responsibility for the waters. In fact, it is in the Heard and McDonald Islands exclusive economic zone that Australia has done very good work in protecting those seas from rape and pillage by those who do not have any interest in the sustainability of the fish stocks and the very rare and unique fish stocks in that area. There is a Patagonian toothfish fishery

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Cameron ): Order! The time for this debate has expired.

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