Ministers and officials from around the world have gathered in Washington, USA, at a special event hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty.

Representing the Australian Government at the event, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Australia was also very pleased to announce that it will host the 2012 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). This will be the 35th meeting of the ATCM — the third time that the Treaty Parties will assemble in Australia.

“It is fantastic to be in Washington representing Australia for this very special event particularly as we were one of the twelve original signatories to the historic agreement, signed here fifty years ago.

“I am also very pleased to announce that we will host the 2012 meeting. Australia first hosted this meeting in 1961 and we've been active in Antarctica for over 100 years,” Mr Garrett said.

Minister Garrett reiterated Australia’s commitment to the Antarctic Treaty as the assembled Ministers adopted a declaration reflecting on the success of the Treaty in reserving Antarctica as a continent for peace and science, where nations cooperate in investigating key scientific questions.

“Since the signing of the Treaty 50 years ago, 35 other countries have signed the Antarctic Treaty — a testament to its importance,” Mr Garrett said.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said since its inception the Treaty has been bolstered by associated agreements, including a Convention for the conservation of marine living resources, and a Protocol which provides for the comprehensive environmental protection of Antarctica, and a ban on mining.

“Australia is proud of the leading role it took in ensuring that Antarctica’s environmental values are properly protected, and we continue to regard Antarctic environmental protection as one of our highest priorities,” Mr Smith said.

The Washington event also marked the end of the International Polar Year (IPY), an ambitious, international collaborative endeavour which began in March 2007.

Thousands of scientists from more than 60 nations were involved in wide range of physical, biological and social research topics in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Australia led eight major projects, including a comprehensive census of Antarctic marine life, and participated in more than 60 others.

The IPY made significant advances in our scientific understanding of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

During the next fortnight, representatives of the Parties to the Antarctic Treaty will continue their meeting in Baltimore, USA, to consider issues including environmental protection, Antarctic science, the management of tourism, the safety of shipping, and practical cooperation.