PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 - 20/12/1991
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00007817.pdf 6 Page(s)
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  • Hawke, Robert James Lee

I-welcome the opportunity offered by the Australian
Institute of International Affairs to address this important
conference and to put to you first hand my Government's
position on the controversial and fast moving debate about
the future of Antarctica.
The Australian Institute of International Affairs has a long
. and proud record of informing public debate on issues of
foreign policy importance to Australia.
Your topic for this, your sixteenth conference, is one that
has particularly captured public interest arnd imagination
over the past year.
It is of course very appropriate that we should be
discussing Antarctica's future-here in Hobart, a city with
an impo~ rtant role in sustaining Antarctic research activity
today, and a city with strong historical links to scientific
exploration in Antarctica stretching back to the departure
of Dumont D'Urville's first expedition from here almost 150
years ago in January 1840.
That Antarctica has become the focus of such current
international interest should be no surprise.
There is something about Antarctica that lifts the spirit
and stimulates the mind.
Antarctica is the only one of the seven continents that
cannot sustain human life; the only one where a nearpristine
environment remains.
It is the last great wilderness.

Earlier this century, the continent challenged intrepid men
like Amundsen, Scott, Shackelton and our own Sir Douglas
Mawson to discover its secrets.
And their accounts of this remarkable place, in turn, fired
public interest and imagination.
Inspired by the glacial splendour that surrounded the
Antarctic land mass, Mawson's response was to write that " tin
the soft glamour of the midsummer midnight sun, we were
possessed by a rapturous wonder the rare thrill of
unreality". This unspoilt image of Antarctica is surely a vivid one.
But evocative images of rapturous wonder are not sufficient
to sustain public policy, particularly in the area of
international relations.
Because on any issue that involves the competing views of
different countries, the international community properly
brings to bear rigorous scrutiny.
The decisions the Antarctic Treaty parties make about
Antarctica in the next few years will have very real
consequences for the future management of the continent, arnd
arguably, for the future health of our planet.
The Antarctic Treaty system, like the land mass it relates
to, is unique.
And it has much to commend it.
Since it was put in place thirty years ago, all the nations
claiming sovereignty in the Antarctic have agreed not to
enforce their claims against each other.
And, over a period characterised by international distrust
and conflict, the Treaty has prevented the continent from
becoming an object of discord by maintaining it as a
demilitarised area.
Instead, scientific co-operation has flourished: for the
Treaty not only encourages research, but obliges an exchange
of scientific information.
Under the Treaty, human activity is carefully managed and
high standards of environmental behaviour have been
Why then, given these successes, has this Treaty been plgced
under scrutiny?

Why has it been so heavily, and often wrongly, criticised in
forums as the United Nations?
Some of the criticism is misguided.
Those who argue, for example, that the Treaty is an
association of privileged nations locking up a wealth of
undefined resources for their own exclusive use and benefit,
ignore the fact that the thirty nine current members include
countries that span almost every cleavage that might
characterise difference in the world: North-South;
East-West; superpowers, middle powers and small powers.
Any state can accede to the Treaty and, provided that it
maintains a substantial research program in Antarctica, can
become a Consultative Party.
I believe the Antarctic Treaty System can and should survive
-into the 21st Century but to do so it must demonstrate it
can deal responsibly and openly with the protection of the
Antarctic environment.
Antarctica provides the habitat for and sustains many living
species, on its shores and in the teeming oceans that
surround it.
Even more importantly, it plays a crucial role in global
climate matters, influencing our weather, the ocean currents
and sea level.
It is also our most Valuable laboratory for measuring the
greenhouse effect and changes in the thickness of the ozone
layer. For all the strength of natural forces at play there, the
Antarctic environment is paradoxically fragile.
Upsetting this delicate balance could threaten changes that
would alter the world in quite dramatic ways.
We must therefore preserve the Antarctic environment. The
question is how best to do it.
The most urgent and relevant action we can take is to ensure
that this irreplaceable environment is never put at risk by
mining. That is why Australia has decided not to sign the Minerals
Convention. This position is based on two simple propositions.

First, the Antarctic environment is extremely fragile and
critically important to the whole global ecosystem.
Second, mining in Antarctica will always be dangerous, and
could be catastrophically so.
In the light of those propositions, we are convinced that
the Minerals convention is basically flawed.
It is based on the clearly incorrect assumption current in
the 1970s. that mining in the Antarctic could be consistent
with the preservation of the continent's fragile
environment. But any mining operation, with its accompanying
infrastructure and bulk transport needs, would have a
lasting and major impact on the area in which it takes
place. I do not believe that the risk of accidents can ever be
totally eliminated either by paper regimes or by advances
in technology.
The recent oil spills at the United States' Scott-Amundsen
and McMurdo Stations, although minor, demonstrate that it is
hard enough to prevent mishaps with existing, much lower
level, non-resource-based activity.
The Minerals Convention might provide for some a dangerous
illusion of environment protection.
But by permitting immediate prospecting and Betting out a
path by which mining might proceed it will in fact be
working in precisely the opposite direction.
So with France, Australia is pursuing the initiative of a
comprehensive environmental protection convention which will
establish Antarctica as a " Natural Reserve Land of
Science." I am aware that our decision has caused considerable anxiety
amongst those Antarctic Treaty members who believed that the
coming into force of the Minerals Convention was not just a
correct outcome but a foregone conclusion.
And I'm also aware of assertions that our opposition to the
convention is purely tactical, or has been adopted for
short-term electoral reasons and will be reversed as soon as
convenient. Let me urge anyone who might still harbour that fantasy to
abandon it.

Because the reverse is true.
I am convinced that more and more countries will come to
share the position that President Mitterrand, Prime Minister
Rocard and I have outlined. Already we are receiving strong
support from countries such as Belgium, Italy, the Federal
Republic of Germany, and India.
In the end, that position will prevail because it is
correct, and because it is being endorsed by international
public opinion which, in the coming months and years, will
only gather further momentum and strength.
The current discussions taking place about the Minerals
Convention, and the guidelines, codes of conduct and other
measures that Treaty parties have already put into place
including the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic
Marine Living-Resources attest to the environmental
sensitivity that has characterised the management of
Antarctica under the Treaty system.
Australia and France are not. challenging the Treaty system,
or the operation of the consensus principle that has
underpinned its operation.
But we Ar& challenging Treaty members to accept that'times
have changed since the 1970s, that our levels of knowledge
have changed, and that we need to continue to Justify the
Antarctic Treaty Parties' management regime in Antarctica.
In taking the initiative on this issue, we are seeking to
achieve a goal that ' we believe would yield important
benefits muua benefits for all the people of the world.
Australia, as a middle power, puts great store in
multilateral forums, because they are the best vehicles for
tackling global problems that are too broad and complex for
individual nations to resolve alone.
So, we are leading the efforts to liberalise world trade in
the Uruguay Round; initiating moves to establish closer
economic co-operation in our Asia Pacific region; hosting
the recent Government and industry conference against
chemical weapons; actively exertinq international pressure
on the abhorrent system of apartheid.
diverse issues, but all requiring serious and
concerted efforts by many nations if the global
community is to reap the benefits they promise.
It is with that attitude and that aspiration that we
approach these vital decisions that must be made about the
future of Antarctica.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The intrepid voyages and scientific activities of Jacques
Cousteau, from whom we will hear shortly, have inspired our
generation, just as those of Dumont D'Urville, Amundsen and
Hawson captured the imagination of our forebears.
If we don't measure up in our decisions to protect the
Antarctic environment, we can be certain that people like
Jacques Cousteau will be there to tell us so.
I am firmly convinced that one of the greatest legacies our
generation can leave to the future may yet be one of the
simplest: one continent unspoilt, a testament to our own
recognition that in other corners of the world we have
already gone too far.