Legislation to further strengthen environmental protection and tourist safety in Antarctica has passed the Federal Parliament.

The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 was introduced in November last year to implement three measures agreed to by nations under the Antarctic Treaty and its Madrid Protocol.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the passage of this Bill reaffirmed Australia’s position as a world leader in Antarctic protection and research and demonstrated Australia’s continued commitment to the pristine continent.

“Antarctica is like no other place on earth and Australia has been a leader in ensuring it stays that way.

“Australia is currently hosting the world’s Antarctic nations at the 35th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart which recognises our status as a world leading hub of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Science.

“The Antarctic Treaty system focuses international cooperation to protect the Antarctic environment, and treats the continent as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

“The passage of this Bill demonstrates Australia’s continued willingness to implement the measures agreed by the Antarctic Treaty nations and encourage others to do the same.

“Tourists go to Antarctica to experience its magnificence and this legislation will help to ensure people are able to experience the wonder of Antarctica in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”

The key objects of the legislation:

  • Allow the 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
  • Implement new offences and civil penalties applicable to tourist vessels operating in the Antarctic.