Antarctic territorial claims

Aerial shot of ice, the red stations buildings on the ice-free rock then water beyond.
Looking north over Mawson Station and Horseshoe Harbour to Kista Strait. It was the first ANARE station on the Antarctic continent and is located on the eastern side of Holme Bay on a horseshoe-shaped rock outcrop (Photo: Doug McVeigh)

Australia is among seven nations that have claimed territory in Antarctica. These claims are based on discovery and effective occupation of the claimed area, and are legal according to each nation's laws. Three countries – the United Kingdom, Chile and Argentina – have overlapping claims in the Antarctic.

Some countries explicitly recognise these claims; some have a policy of not recognising any claims in Antarctica, and others reserve the right to make a claim of their own.

The Antarctic Treaty puts aside the potential for conflict over sovereignty by providing that nothing that occurs while the Treaty is in force will enhance or diminish territorial claims. Member states cannot make any new claims while the Treaty is in force.

Australian Antarctic Territory

Australian Antarctic Territory covers nearly 5.9 million square kilometres, about 42% of Antarctica and nearly 80% of the total area of Australia itself.

The Australian claim is based on a long historical association with this part of Antarctica. Australia's Douglas Mawson (later Sir Douglas Mawson) led a group of Australians and New Zealanders in the 1911 to 1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which had bases at Commonwealth Bay, south of Tasmania, and the Shackleton Ice Shelf south of Perth. This expedition explored extensively along the coast near the bases.

Mawson also led the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) of 1929 to 1931. During this expedition Mawson claimed what is now Australian Antarctic Territory as British sovereign territory. Early in 1933, Britain asserted sovereign rights over the claimed territory and placed the territory under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Sovereignty over the Territory was transferred from Britain to Australia under the Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act 1933, which came into effect in 1936. This act stated:

That part of the Territory in the Antarctic seas which comprises all the islands and territories, other than Adelie Land, situated south of the 60th degree south latitude and lying between the 160th degree east longitude and the 45th degree east longitude, is hereby declared to be accepted by the Commonwealth as a Territory under the authority of the Commonwealth, by the name of the Australian Antarctic Territory.