Foreign Affairs Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, and the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Hon Tony Burke MP, today welcomed five decades of Australian support for the Antarctic Treaty.

Australia is one of the 12 original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty which entered into force 50 years ago this week and includes key provisions guaranteeing peaceful use of the region. Australia hosted the inaugural meeting of the Treaty parties in July 1961.

Minister Rudd said that Australia should be proud of the role it played in the negotiation of the Antarctic Treaty.

“This remarkable agreement has served Australia and its Treaty partners well in this region immediately to our south,” Mr Rudd said.

“The Antarctic Treaty embodies principles that have stood the test of time. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the Treaty ensured that Antarctica would remain a place where science predominates and disagreements are resolved peacefully. The effectiveness of the Treaty, and its continuing relevance, make it a model of international relations.”

This week in Argentina the 12 original Treaty parties, along with the 36 other nations that have joined since 1961, are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Treaty. The Buenos Aires meeting will also consider a number of reports of Australia’s inspection of the activities of other Antarctic nations. Mr Rudd said that the inspection provisions of the Treaty were a fore-runner of modern compliance systems, and showed the foresight of the Treaty’s negotiators.

Mr Burke welcomed the increasing focus of the Antarctic Treaty on protecting the region’s unique environmental values. He said it is particularly pleasing that the focus on the environment stems from an Australian Government initiative in 1989 which led to the adoption of the Treaty’s Protocol on Environmental Protection. This year’s Treaty meeting marked the 20th anniversary of the adoption in 1991 of the Protocol. Australia, together with France and Spain, was leading an initiative to increase the number of Parties to the Protocol.

“There is only one continent on our planet which remains an unspoiled wilderness and the Federal Government wants to make sure it’s kept that way,” Mr Burke said.

“The designation of the Antarctic as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science, still resonates today — 20 years after the Treaty Parties agreed to give priority to protecting Antarctica’s unique environmental values.”

Mr Burke said that the Australian Antarctic program continued to benefit from the Antarctic Treaty’s emphasis on cooperation. “This mid-winter week we have Australians on the ice working in Antarctica’s extraordinarily harsh weather. Australians have been able to achieve important research results, and make great progress on environment protection, with a high level of collaboration between Antarctic programs.”

Apart from hosting the first meeting in 1961, Australia hosted the 12th Treaty meeting in 1983. Next year the 48 Treaty Parties will meet in Hobart to continue the work of ensuring that Antarctic cooperation is maintained and strengthened.