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JOINT MEDIA RELEASE
Robert Hill, Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs
2 December 1999
Federal Environment and Heritage Minister, Robert Hill, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, today announced that the Commonwealth government will take action to define the limits of the continental shelf off the Australian Antarctic Territory so that Australia's rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) can be fully exercised.
Under UNCLOS countries are entitled to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending 200 nautical miles from the coastline. Nations may also exercise sovereign rights over the physical continental shelf in areas beyond the EEZ.
Mr Downer said that it was believed that the continental shelf off our Antarctic Territory extended up to a further 150 nm beyond our existing EEZ - an area the size of Queensland.
"Under the rules of UNCLOS, Australia has until 2004 to lodge data delineating this additional area," Mr Downer said.
"It is a once only opportunity which, under current arrangements, is lost if the 2004 deadline is not met. The Howard government is not prepared to forgo the opportunity to add this area to Australia's marine territory.
"Our claim for the extended continental shelf is consistent with our approach to the continental shelf around Australia for which data is already being collected."
Senator Hill said that, once accepted, a country has exclusive rights for the purpose of exploring sea-bed natural resources, which include minerals as well as sedentary living resources of the seabed.
"The lodging of a claim for this area does not, however, indicate a weakening in the government's support for the Madrid protocol which prohibits mining south of 60 degrees south for at least 50 years.
"There are, however, other resources, such as genetic resources, which may be of value and would not involve mining. Australia's sovereign rights could be used to prevent others from exploiting the area so that the sea-bottom marine life is protected," Senator Hill said.
The government will provide approximately $30 million over five years (depending on final chartering costs) for the necessary research and survey work in the region.
For further information:
Rod Bruem (Senator Hill's office) 02 6277 7640
Innes Willox (Mr Downer's office) 02 6277 7500