Former Australian Prime Minister, the Hon Bob Hawke and former French Prime Minister, the Hon Michel Rocard addressed a symposium in Hobart today to mark the 20th anniversary of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, known as the Madrid Protocol.

The Symposium focused on strengthening international support for protecting the Antarctic environment.

The Madrid Protocol bans mining in Antarctica and requires that all proposed activities be subjected to prior environmental impact assessment.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd said that Mr Hawke and Mr Rocard were instrumental in reversing a convention agreed in 1988 that would have allowed mining in Antarctica. They, together with former President González of Spain, led the initiative to develop support among Antarctic Treaty Parties for the Madrid Protocol.

“This was no easy feat. It required much delicate negotiation and hard slog on their part to convince other nations that Antarctica and its resources should not be up for grabs.

“Clearly, without the determination and diplomacy skills of Mr Hawke and Mr Rocard there may have been a vastly different outcome for this unique continent,” Mr Rudd said.

“Twenty years on, the Australian Government, together with France and Spain, will seize the opportunity to build on the existing strong support for the Madrid Protocol by actively working to increase the number of states parties to the Protocol.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke said that as a result of the Madrid Protocol, Antarctica was on a much safer footing for the future.

“There are only seven continents on our planet and thanks to the actions of Mr Hawke and Mr Rocard, one of those continents is dedicated to remain as a pristine wilderness for science and conservation. That’s the legacy they have left for Antarctica forever.

“This international agreement reached on 4 October, 1991, to reserve Antarctica for peace, science and environmental protection is something of which we can all be proud.

“Today, we mark the 20th anniversary of a milestone in Antarctic affairs of Mr Hawke and Mr Rocard in setting us on a path to better environmental awareness and protection of Antarctica.

“The Madrid Protocol has helped raise awareness for all Treaty nations, and the rest of the world that an untouched Antarctica has benefits for us all.

“Australia has continued to play a leading role, not just in the Madrid Protocol whose Committee for Environmental Protection it has also chaired, but throughout the Antarctic Treaty system.

“Australia remains active in shaping the Committee’s strategic directions and in tackling significant issues such as keeping out unwanted introduced species, and protecting areas of exceptional environmental and scientific importance.

“Our Antarctic Science Strategic Plan for the next decade will underpin continual improvement in conservation outcomes, in keeping with Antarctica’s status under the Madrid Protocol as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science.”

As an original Treaty signatory, along with just 11 others in 1961, Australia has been energetic in recruiting other nations. Today there are 48 member countries and we will be actively appealing to Treaty parties who have not acceded to the Madrid Protocol to do so.

The Symposium to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Madrid Protocol was held at the Australian Antarctic Division, Kingston, Tasmania.