Australia hosts Antarctic Treaty meeting

In June 2012 it was Australia’s turn to host the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the annual assembly of the peak body providing for governance of the Antarctic Treaty area. It is a rare privilege for an Antarctic Treaty Party to host the meeting.  We hosted the very first Treaty meeting in 1961 and the 12th in 1983; both in Canberra. This year the meeting went to Hobart, home of the Australian Antarctic program and many other Antarctic organisations

The venue was the Grand Chancellor Hotel, adjacent to Hobart’s waterfront and in view of the Antarctic vessels Aurora Australis and l’Astrolabe, underscoring to delegates that they were meeting in Australia’s ‘Antarctic capital’. Well over 300 people participated. They were welcomed by the Hon Tony Burke, MP, Minister responsible for Australia’s Antarctic program, who said in his opening speech that this is ‘one of the most successful and significant Treaty organisations on our planet’ (see excerpt below).

The 2012 meeting was the first time that the ATCM had been squeezed into eight working days instead of the usual 10. Two main meeting rooms were provided — the larger one for the Plenary, the Committee for Environmental Protection and the Tourism Working Group. The second room was set up for the Legal and Institutional Working Group and the working group on considering science and operational matters. Other rooms were provided to allow for ‘contact groups’ to meet and discuss issues informally.

The meeting rooms became a diplomatic conference centre, with country name plates and interpreters’ booths. The flags of the 28 consultative parties provided a reminder that people from across the world were coming together, and a giant floor map of Antarctica reminded delegations that the centre of attention should be on the actions to govern the region and protect its special environment. By meeting’s end the Parties had adopted 26 Measures, Resolutions and Decisions on a wide range of issues.

As hosts, we introduced some new technologies to improve efficiency and enhance the delegate experience. Carbon emissions were fully offset and the successful promotion of electronic access to the meeting documents reduced the paper demand by 43% from the previous ATCM.

But it wasn’t all work, with delegates being treated to a reception hosted by the Governor of Tasmania and a wharf-side barbecue and tour of the Aurora Australis. Another reception was hosted by the Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) — a private museum and art gallery — accompanied by fine Tasmanian wine and food.

Detailed planning for the meeting began in 2010 with the allocation of funding in the Federal budget. Subsequently, 35 staff were engaged from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Tasmanian Government. Host Country Secretariat staff covered the Registration and Information Desk, the preparation of meeting reports, printing, public relations and other technical services. All worked in close cooperation with the staff of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat who came from Buenos Aires, Argentina. On top of this were the 23 translators and interpreters. Additional support came from many Antarctic Division staff, the Tasmanian Government, and staff of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, who are well skilled in running similar meetings.

While hosting the ATCM in Australia brought considerable benefits to Hobart, its primary function was to facilitate good outcomes for the Antarctic Treaty system by providing an environment for consultation, cooperation and consensus — hallmarks of the Treaty system.

The Heads of the Delegations were given a copy of the book celebrating 50 years of Australian influence in the Antarctic Treaty system. The successful conclusion of the Hobart ATCM is another chapter in that story. As one member of the Host Country Secretariat team observed afterwards, this was a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ — indeed it was, and not just for the individuals involved. Another generation will pass before Australia again has the opportunity to host the meeting of Antarctica’s primary governance forum.


Head, Host Country Secretariat


Minister’s Opening Address

Following is an excerpt from the speech given by Federal Environment Minister, the Hon Tony Burke, on the opening of the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

“… we celebrate today the 35th meeting of one of the most successful and significant Treaty organisations on our planet.

A Treaty that has dedicated that there will be one part of the world that is dedicated to wilderness, one part of the world that is dedicated to the environment, to science, to knowledge and to peaceful cooperation.

This group around this table has achieved what has not been achieved through many attempts throughout the course of human history. And the science and knowledge and the purposes of the Treaty have come under challenge at different times; no challenge more so than when decisions were so close to being made, some 20 years ago, to allow mining and exploration for minerals and resources in the Antarctic.

The Madrid protocol which followed from that, with a prohibition being placed on the mineral exploitation of the Antarctic, was in no small way led by, obviously Madrid, by the Spanish nation with the role that they had, and by Michel Rocard, and by our own Bob Hawke, who are both present in Hobart today, and I salute both of you and say you are both heroes of the Antarctic.

We know so much about our own world, about our environment because of the way the Antarctic has been preserved.”