The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, today celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Hawke Government’s initiative to prevent mining in Antarctica.

“Bob Hawke led the international push in 1989 for the rejection of mining in Antarctica, instead promoting the frozen and fragile continent as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

“The Hawke Government’s actions initially proved unpopular with the 33 Antarctic Treaty nations who, in June 1988, had already signed the Convention on the Regulation Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities and Bob Hawke was told it was a lost cause.

“Mr Hawke maintained that Antarctica was too important to the whole global ecosystem and that mining would always be catastrophically dangerous in that environment.

“Today, the mining ban continues in Antarctica thanks to the strong lead taken by the Hawke Cabinet,” Mr Garrett said.

Mr Garrett also paid tribute to the actions of environmental organisations such as Greenpeace, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition and the Australian Conservation Foundation who mounted an effective grassroots campaign.

“The NGO campaigns saw my predecessors as Minister for the Environment receive more than 12,000 individual letters and postcards calling for a permanent ban on mining in Antarctica,” Mr Garrett said.

In recognition of these efforts, the Environment Minister Peter Garrett, announced a new fellowship to be aligned to Australia’s Antarctic Program.

Mr Garrett said that the post-doctoral award — to be known as the R.J.L. Hawke Fellowship in Antarctic Environmental Science — was further consolidation of the Australian Government’s commitment to meeting the climate challenges of the future.

“The Australian Government recognises that to meet the challenges of global change and sustainable development we need to invest more in science capability through people and infrastructure.

“This is particularly true for our Australian Antarctic Science Program where improved understanding of the impacts of climate change on ice sheets and the Southern Ocean, the sustainability of fishing and krill, and the approaches to protecting the unique and precious environment are critical inputs to Australia’s ongoing commitment to Antarctica,” Mr Garrett said.

The Hawke Fellowship, to be awarded on the basis of excellence to new doctoral graduates for policy-relevant science aligned to the Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan, will start in 2010.

Mr Garrett also announced that new accommodation at Wilkins Runway in Antarctica would be known as the Hon R J L Hawke AC, Living Quarters.

“‘Hawke’s Hut’, a fully-demountable building being constructed this season will house mess, kitchen, laundry and bathroom facilities for runway crews during the summer season.

“The building will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment,” Mr Garrett said.

Mr Garrett said that the powerful alliance from the highest levels of the Hawke Cabinet, Non-Government Organisations, and the community in understanding of the importance of Antarctica deserved to be recognised and remembered.