Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Official opening of the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting

11 June 2012

Speaker: The Honourable Minster Tony Burke

Thank you very much. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are meeting on today, their elders past and present.

I would like to acknowledge my federal parliamentary colleges Minister Julie Collins, Senator Lisa Singh, my state parliamentary colleague Minister David O’Byrne, representatives from all around the world and in particular our former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

So much of the story of how we understand the world today and the best of what the world can achieve forms the reason for our gathering.

One hundred years ago, Australia had a very important role, for which we are deeply proud, with the Mawson expedition into the Antarctic towards the southern continent. 

We often think of explorers as people who are challenging a new frontier, going into the unknown, out there to find land for the purpose of national sovereignty, out there to find land where people in the future will move to and live and start new communities.

The trips, the expeditions to theAntarctic were something different altogether. 

Of all the adventures, the challenges of bravery, here was one into the world’s last great wilderness, here was one into the most inhospitable parts of our planet. 

And the pain and the challenge that those explorers went through is well understood if you do visit the exhibition only a couple of blocks from where we meet today. 

Where you’ll see the journal of Frank Stillwell, in an open page there, written in tiny writing the way people did back when paper was so hard to come by, with the words at the beginning of the page “still no Mawson’’. 

Where you see the doubt, the fear, the questioning, the unknown as to whether their friend would ever return. 

And out of that, out of that challenge, out of that hardship, has come an opportunity and reason for optimism that nobody, that none of those explorers ever would have dreamt of. 

And that optimism is what lies around this table where we meet today, in Australia’s gateway to the Antarctic, Hobart.

Because we celebrate today the 35th meeting of one of the most successful and significant Teaty organisations on our planet. 

A Treaty that has dedicated that there will be one part of the world that is dedicated to wilderness, one part of the world that is dedicated to the environment, to science, to knowledge and to peaceful cooperation. 

This group around this table has achieved what has not been achieved through many attempts throughout the course of human history. 

And the science and knowledge and the purposes of the Treaty have come under challenge at different times, no challenge more so than when decisions were so close to being made, some 20 years ago, to allow mining and exploration for minerals and resources in the Antarctic. 

The Madrid protocol which followed from that with aprohobition being placed on the mineral exploitation of the Antarctic was in no small way led, by obviously Madrid, by the Spanish nation with the role that they had and by Michel Rocard, and by our own Bob Hawke who are both present in Hobart today, and I salute both of you and say you are both heroes of the Antarctic.

We know so much about our own world, about our environment because of the way the Antarctic has been preserved.

One of the major issues discussed around the globe in all of our countries is climate change. And let’s not forget the encyclopaedia of the history of theworld’s climate lives in the Antarctic. 

Ice cores wheresnowflakes have trapped bubbles of oxygen, trapped bubbles of air, provide the guide book to the history of the world’s climate. 

Where the water, the ice itself and the depth of the ice, provides the clue as to how far back we’re going. 

The water provides a clue as to the temperature of the period, and trapped atmosphere provides the precise information of the CO² levels at the time. 

Those three simple pieces of information have allowed the world to track back over thousands and thousands of years to see the link between carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and temperature and see the spike of the two coinciding with the industrial revolution. 

The key to so much of the history of how our atmosphere has worked resides there, in peaceful cooperation among the nations around this table. 

As we continue to search for deeper and deeper ice cores, and one day hopefully uncover that holy grail of information, That text book know as the million year ice core, which a number of nations around this table continue to search for. 

But the living treasure of our oceans so much of that history resides in the Antarctic as well.
There is great work being done by the Antarctic Division here in Hobart into that species of krill. 

That foundation species that provide the link, one species that takes you from single cell phytoplankton through to the blue whale; the largest species to ever exist on the history of this planet. 

Larger than any of the dinosaurs, with only one species in between, krill residing around the edge of the Antarctic and research being done now to work out whether harvesting levels of krill are actually going too far. 

To make sure that we are being sustainable in all uses of this and to also understand how the changes in ocean temperature can have an impact on this foundation species. 

This thirst for knowledge is something that exists in scientists everywhere, but has a home like no other, in the Antarctic.

Australia is now embarking on some work, some of which has hit the papers today, somewhat earlier than I expected as it happens, into the protection of the oceans. 

And with the oceans, like with the atmosphere we have that great shared resource where we have to make sure that the actions of any one nation are responsible, and don’t undermine the interests of the rest of the planet. 

The Antarctic is the one part of land on our planet that we approach the same way. 

The one part of land on our entire planet where we share the information, we have cooperation, it’s done so peacefully and we use it for our thirst for knowledge. 

The one time that the frontier was not used to exploit, to dig it up, to chop it down, to harvest the animals that were there. 

The one time that the frontier for the explorers continues to become a frontier for science.

There is so much we know about our world today because of this treaty.

 And there will be so much more that we learn in the years to come because the group around this table continues to grow.

I’m very pleased for both Pakistan and Malaysia to nowbe joining us around this table for the first time. 

And I’m particularly proud when I first met at the Coral Triangle Initiative when I first met the Malaysian minister for the environment his opening words to me were about how proud Malaysia were to have joined this group.

Today we meet in a process that has been going on for 35 meetings. On a frontier that people have been looking at closely for a hundred years, and that the world has a story to tell that goes back more than a million years. 

There is no meeting like this on earth.

I’m pleased that it’s in Hobart, here in Tasmania and deeply proud to officially open the 35th meeting.