The Federal Government today introduced legislation to strengthen environmental protection and tourist safety in Antarctica.

The Bill seeks to amend the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 to implement three measures agreed to by nations under the Antarctic Treaty and the Madrid Protocol.

The new measures will enter into force when approved by all 28 Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty, including Australia.

Australia is a world leader in Antarctic protection and research and these amendments continue our commitment to protect the last pristine continent on earth.

The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 would:

  • Allow the Australian Environment Minister to grant a safety approval or an environmental protection approval, and to impose conditions on such approvals;
  • Create new offences and civil penalties for unapproved activities, activities in contravention with the conditions under a safety or environmental protection approval, and offences and civil penalties related to environmental emergencies;
  • Establish a liability regime for environmental emergencies that occur in the Antarctic; and
  • Implement new offences and civil penalties applicable to tourist vessels operating in the Antarctic.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the amendments would ensure safer and more environmentally sound regulation of operators on the fragile continent.

“Antarctica is the last great unspoilt continent,” Mr Burke said.

“Australia has taken a leading role in its protection since former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke joined forces with former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard to prevent mining of Antarctica 20 years ago.

“These changes will mean that we are able to better able to ensure operators respond to environmental emergencies, to regulate the number of tourists landing in Antarctica. Further, we will be able to take action against those who fail to comply with the environmental or safety regulations.

“The Bill will also introduce a liability regime for environmental emergencies caused by operators in the Antarctic.

“As we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Madrid Protocol it is timely that Australia strengthens the framework for the environmental protection of Antarctica.”

Australia was one of 12 original signatories to the Treaty and a principal architect of the Madrid Protocol, which designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.

Even though it is over 50 years since the Treaty was adopted, it remains a global model for cooperation. The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 was introduced into the House of Representatives.