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

Second Reading Speech - Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2010

Parliament House, Canberra
10 February 2010

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The purpose of the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2010 is to make amendments to the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980.

The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 gives effect to Australia's obligations under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty [1998] ATS 6 (the Madrid Protocol).

Australia was one of the 12 original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty [1961] ATS 12, the cornerstone of the broader Antarctic Treaty system.

The reservation under the Antarctic Treaty of Antarctica for peaceful purposes, scientific research and international scientific cooperation is something of which we can all be proud.

As the international governance arrangements for the Antarctic have developed, Australia has played a pivotal role in ensuring Antarctica's environmental values are protected.

Australia was a principal architect of the Madrid Protocol that afforded significantly increased protection to the Antarctic environment. The Madrid Protocol commits parties to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems, and designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. The protection of the environmental values of the Antarctic is an unquestioned priority for most Australians.

It is my very strong conviction that as more countries take an active interest in the Antarctic it is important that Australia continues to play a leading role in efforts to realise the global benefits of Antarctic science and environmental protection.

The government is well aware that our future role is a critical one which builds on the foundation of an extensive history of Antarctic engagement and participation.

The Antarctic is the southern sentinel of global climate change. The effects of climate change are already being observed in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic marine ecosystems where we are seeing rising temperatures in the ocean, cryosphere and atmosphere.

We are also seeing changes in atmospheric circulation, modified frequency and intensity of storms, increasing levels of ocean acidity, and an overall reduction in sea ice extent during the last century.

Further, a better understanding of the effect that the Antarctic has on Australia's weather and climate is essential to ensuring our future economic, environmental and social well-being.

At the XXXIInd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting held in April 2009, that also served to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, amendments to Annex II to the Madrid Protocol were agreed in Measure 16 (2009) - Amendment of Annex II to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

Annex II to the Madrid Protocol outlines the provisions for the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora - excluding whales that are covered by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [1948] ATS 18, and other wholly marine species that are covered by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources [1982] ATS 9.

This Bill will align the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 with Australia's newly revised obligations under Annex II to the Madrid Protocol, as outlined in Measure 16 (2009).

In essence, the amendments will establish more stringent arrangements to protect Antarctic fauna and flora. Key amendments include:

  1. Providing the ability for the Minister to declare invertebrates as specially protected species, and specifying restrictions regarding the taking of native invertebrates.
  2. Enhancing the protections afforded to protect specially protected species.
  3. 3) Strengthening the permitting system to more tightly control the authorised introduction of organisms into the Antarctic.
  4. Updating the offences to require persons travelling to the Antarctic take greater precaution against the accidental introduction of non-native organisms into the Antarctic.
  5. Making minor and technical amendments to the Act. The agreement of Measure 16 (2009) by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties and subsequent implementation of the amendments to Annex II to the Madrid Protocol into domestic legislation will mark the conclusion of the first review of any of the annexes to the Madrid Protocol.

Australia took on a leadership role in the review of Annex II and we will ensure we have an appropriate level of engagement in further reviews.

Australia has a long and proud history in the Antarctic and this Bill is an important step in maintaining our commitment to holding the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment as one of our highest priorities.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia