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Third Conference of Parties to the Biodiversity Convention

Statement by
Senator the Hon Robert Hill,
Minister of the Environment

Buenos Aires,
13 November 1996

Madame President, Fellow Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to commence by thanking Argentina for hosting this important third Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention.

I am conscious that Argentina is a part of the world with which Australia was once physically united - many millions of years ago.

The continents of the southern hemisphere remain linked through our common biological and geological heritage. Many of our native plant and animal species have common ancestors, for instance the diverse marsupial fauna of Australia and South America. I am therefore pleased to report that we are now forming strong links with temperate southern hemisphere nations for the protection and maintenance of our shared biological diversity, which is one way in which we can contribute to the objectives of the Biodiversity Convention.

The nations of the southern hemisphere are also linked by the great, but relatively unexplored and rich biodiversity of the southern oceans. The relative health of southern hemisphere marine ecosystems provide nations such as Australia with enormous responsibilities, and indeed opportunities, for conservation and sustainable use. Australia strongly supports further work which recognises these opportunities and builds on important initiatives such as the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

These seas surrounding and connecting the southern continents support an enormous variety of species, and perhaps some of the most remarkable of these are albatrosses, which are currently under threat from long line fishing and other causes. I am therefore pleased to announce that Australia has submitted a proposal to the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS for short) to list all eleven species of albatross found in the Southern Hemisphere under the appendices of the CMS. This will provide a mechanism for international cooperation in the conservation of these species throughout their migratory range.

To facilitate cooperation in environmental matters an alliance between temperate southern hemisphere nations was formed in Valdivla, Chile last year, and is now referred to as the VALDIVIA group. This group, which Australia currently has the privilege to chair, is a recognition not only that southern hemisphere countries share common environmental concerns, but also have the capacity to develop common management approaches to our environmental challenges. We benefit from an exchange of information on topics as varied as taxonomic research, monitoring techniques for biodiversity and integrated bio-regional management. This might be a precedent for others in advancing the objectives of the Convention.

I am pleased to report that during the past twelve months Australia has put in place a National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity. This Strategy identifies eighteen actions to be achieved by the year 2000.

Key amongst these are:

It is not just coincidental that these are also key priorities of the Biodiversity Convention. By implementing this strategy we believe we will be responding in a domestic sense to the challenges before us.

In relation to the broader implementation of the Convention there are three matters I want to mention:

The first is the importance of identifying scientific and research needs under the Convention. The SBSlTA's work program must be well focused, and developed from a common knowledge base. Working together and sharing knowledge between the scientific subsidiary bodies of all Conventions dealing with biodiversity is a very useful place to start overall co-operation.

Second is the issue of the equitable sharing and distribution of information and technologies, which in turn are vital to the sustainable conservation and management of our natural resources. Australia is committed to the establishment of an effective Clearing House Mechanism. We have experience with our own Environment Resources Information Network which we are keen to share. We are anxious to continue working with the Parties on this important step within the implementation of the Convention.

Third is the development of marine and coastal protected areas, within an integrated management framework, as endorsed last year by the Jakarta mandate. We remain anxious to work with all other signatories to ensure the whole of the Jakarta mandate is effectively implemented.

Finally a few comments on administrative matters. Australia applauds the recent Memorandum of Understanding between the Convention on Migratory Species and the Biodiversity Conventions and hopes to see this co-operative approach extended to other Conventions. It is only by avoiding duplication, and sharing resources effectively, that we can hope to have a significant effect on global environmental problems. We also need to ensure that our agendas are clear and uncluttered, the frequency of meetings allow us to maximise our productivity, and that we are realistic about what we can achieve. We must also operate within our resources and bear that in mind each time we are tempted to add another issue to the agenda.

Australia also strongly supports development of a report to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on a review of Agenda 21. As national reports are completed, and as experiences are shared, this Convention must become one of the key inputs to the implementation of Agenda 21.

Madame President, as we are about to enter the 21st century we must share a common vision for the protection and sustainable use of our rich and varied biological diversity. The challenge is to ensure that such a vision is achievable, in a world where human pressures and change are verging on the unsustainable.

Commonwealth of Australia