Environment Minister Tony Burke today welcomed the passage through the House of Representatives of legislation aimed at strengthening environmental protection and tourist safety in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Amendment Bill 2011 was introduced into the Parliament on 23 November 2011, and seeks to implement three measures agreed to by nations under the Antarctic Treaty and the Madrid Protocol.

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 Bill would:

  • Improve the safety and self-sufficiency of tourism and other non-governmental activities carried on in the Antarctic;
  • Improve responses to environmental emergencies arising in the Antarctic;
  • 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.

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

“This year we commemorate 100 years of Australian Antarctic Expeditions,” Mr Burke said.

“The passage of this Bill reaffirms Australia’s commitment to the protection of and effective governance of the Antarctic continent, which began 100 years ago when Douglas Mawson first set foot at Commonwealth Bay.

“Australia has continued to take a leading role in its protection, including the landmark decision 20 years ago when former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke joined forces with former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard to prevent mining of Antarctica.

“These changes will mean that we are better able to ensure operators respond to environmental emergencies and to regulate the way tourists and tourist operators interact with Antarctica.

“Further, we will be able to take action against those who fail to comply with the environmental or safety regulations.

“The Bill will involve introduction of a liability regime for environmental emergencies caused by operators in the Antarctic.

“The Antarctic Treaty was adopted 50 years ago and today it remains a global model for cooperation. The Bill will now be transmitted to the Senate for consideration.”