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Speech
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray

18 April 2002
Hobart, Tasmania

Address to Close Contaminants Conference


It is great all to be at a function like this, and I wish that I had been able to spend the whole four days here.

This is a fantastic opportunity for scientists around the world to come together sharing the same interests and concerns, looking at best practices and sharing ideas, making new connections for now and in the future, and having of course Dr Peter Williams, from Canada here as chair of the conference.

I have been speaking to people about the Arctic and the long standing issues there and of course they are dealing with mining and a whole range of agriculture issues, indigenous issues and in some sense we have been lucky when we in Australia think about the peoples from the Antarctic and the Artic and we think of the Antarctic which doesn't have any mining.

We have this unique situation, as all of you here tonight would know that in 1991 the Antarctic was declared as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

I mean where else in the world is a continent that is bigger than Australia, where there are overlapping claims from many different countries, where there is many overlapping issues, whales just being one of them, dealt with in this way?

That is the reality of the Antarctic, and in a sense I think it would have been great if we could have had more politicians here tonight, to listen to this great message.

I think that the Antarctic is such an extraordinary thing that we need a group of politicians here to say that the research and the co-operation, in particular, is a tribute to the countries involved in the Antarctic.

We have put aside the natural resources and the normal arguments of who has to deal with; the water resources issues, the global warming issues, the emissions issues in developed and developing countries.

We really do have an extraordinary situation within the Antarctic treaty system, and I just think that we make sure particularly in Australia and in all countries where we come from, that our populations are devoted to peace and science.

However, the Antarctic is not a place that is wholly pristine, but a place that needs some very careful commentary and familiarisation.

To the conference organiser, Ian Snape, I know as we were saying before, that he has never quite experienced such a stressful time and I can't believe all the effort that has been gone to in order to make this week a success.

I think it is extraordinary that we have here a group of scientists and business people together aiming for a time when we can say that yes we didn't understand the implications of everything we did before and we didn't quite understand what would happen.

But we are doing something about it now, and maybe the actual examples of scientific work that is going on is going to help us with the big issues. We can have that sort of complication translated and protocols worked on together.

We now have more knowledge of how to deal with human impact in such cold conditions than in the past, yet it is important that we understand that it is going to cost a lot in terms of resources; and governments have to be involved in that and we have to make sure that the public understand the issues and it is important that there be consistency and understanding of the guidelines and standards needed.

One of the major outcomes of this conference will be working through together at what can be the best practices in addressing contaminants.

I am certainly thinking too that if you can help the politicians come to a conclusion that ongoing work to try and get individual nations to accept accountability, that this can be the way of the future.

Governments need to work together over the next few years or so to preserve and maintain Antarctica's pristine state and address those parts of the continent that do have problems.

We have also of course got new challenges in the Antarctic, with all the people that want to go down there and it is very expensive to go down there.

We are going to have to ensure that tourism develops within tight, specific guidelines, so that waste and any threats of introducing potential disease, are addressed.

I think that this is an enormous challenge and understanding how to deal with the potential of this tourism, through the Antarctic treaty system, is a challenge for the Australian Antarctic Division and myself.

Australia will be taking along serious thoughts on tourism to the next meeting of the Antarctic Treaty parties.

The Australian government's Antarctic program has been working hard to reduce the impacts of its program on the continent and they are doing an outstanding job.

I guess that one of the challenges for us is to continue to do that. We offer the hand of friendship and cooperation, to bring about that remediation which is all about the future of that continent.

We have got to remember that, despite the fact that it an enormous continent, the human impact is concentrated on the relatively small ice-free part of it and that, in comparison, the footprint is often large. In fact the area where wildlife and species congregate coincides with where human activity is and so while some might say 'how could we ever destroy this remote place', the footprint that human beings leave puts pressure on an important part of the Antarctic.

So we have to have strategies in place to look after the wildlife and protect it from human induced changes.

The most important thing that I will take away from this conference is the fact that different nations can come together and share in understanding and determining the way forward.

This has been a place of unique history and I am talking not just about the extraordinary wildlife that was there before (and today) but in terms of what we do in the future. It is quiet clear that Australia and its neighbours have the will to achieve many things and I as a member of Parliament will be very sure that Australia plays its part.

We are in particular going to remediate the Antarctic by addressing rubbish tips as one of our highest environment issues.

Our vision is to do this for all Australia's past Antarctic waste dumps, but in particular, we have incorporated environment management techniques and are adopting the international ISO standards for our waste issues.

It will help us to progress the clean up of the waste - let's see how we go.

I think that we need to make sure that in the future we also recognise that there is important work to be done back in domestic economies addressing some of the enormous problems of water pollution and vegetation management, poor soils and the like.

Some people have said to me why do we have these water problems, why are we spending hundreds of millions of dollars, 'money down the drain'.

Well of course as scientists we understand that the Antarctic continent is a very important part of the global environment and climate.

Yet we are still to understand the role of melt down in the Antarctic, like that which took place around Mawson's hut in the Antarctic just this year and what part it plays in our future plans in terms of the planet's well being we don't know.

So there is also self-interest with all of this, in terms of what we do down in the Antarctic.

Let me just conclude by talking about this unfinished business of how to deal with the waste and the past activity in the Antarctic. A lot of work is being done today that is experimental and takes a lot of time to actually determine whether it is working down there as it should.

A lot of the work down there that we do perhaps at the end of the day might not create direct economic benefits, but I think it is extraordinarily important and I am very proud to be responsible for a part of Government that is contributing so much.

I know that other countries recognise the quality of our work. I hope that everybody leaving this conference will not only have a better understanding of the possibilities in terms of the future clean up efforts, but that we go away with strong relationships with one another, with the strengthening of the concept that a natural reserve dedicated to peace is the way to go.

Antarctica serves as a model for what humans can do and share and to take seriously all life, not matter what form.

I think it is so good to have governments to represent and govern this activity, in many cases in partnership with business.

So congratulations everybody and I hope you go away richer in terms of information and dedication to the years ahead.

Thank you very much.

Commonwealth of Australia