The Australian Antarctic Program pays tribute to former Prime Minister, Robert (Bob) Hawke, today as his life is celebrated at a state memorial service in Sydney. Mr Hawke played a pivotal role in protecting Antarctica for future generations.
In the late 1980s, Mr Hawke and former French Prime Minister, Michel Rocard, led an international diplomatic push to permanently prevent mining in Antarctica.
The proposal was initially resisted by some Antarctic Treaty nations who, in June 1988, had already signed the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA).
But the French and Australian Prime Ministers insisted Antarctica was too fragile, and too precious, to ever allow mining — and together they set about convincing the Treaty Parties to negotiate a more comprehensive environmental regime.
Their diplomatic efforts paid off, and on 4 October 1991, the Parties to the Antarctic Treaty met in Madrid to sign the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
The Madrid Protocol, as it is commonly known, designates Antarctica as a ‘natural reserve, devoted to peace and science’.
Mr Hawke has since cited his role in those historic events as being among the proudest achievements of his life.
On his first and only visit to the frozen continent in 2013, Mr Hawke spoke with great pride about his role in Antarctic conservation.
“Well I’m sort of prejudiced of course, I’ve got a great sense of almost proprietorship of the place because we were involved in seeing that it was preserved,” Mr Hawke said.
“Therefore, it’s almost impossible to describe the feeling of pride and excitement that I have of being here,” he said.
The Australian Antarctic Program flew Mr Hawke into Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome to be part of the ceremonial opening of new buildings named in his honour.
He used his visit to pay a heartfelt tribute to all Australian Antarctic expeditioners, past, present and future.
“The work that they are doing is not only important for Australia, but important for the world as a whole,” he said at the time.
“I think they should feel proud of themselves for the contributions that their colleagues in the past have made, and that they are making now.”
“All Australians should feel very much indebted to the fine work that the [Australian Antarctic] Division has been doing over the years and continues to do,” he said.
Every two years, the Australian Antarctic Division awards a prestigious RJL Hawke Post-Doctoral Fellowship for Antarctic Environmental Science.
The Fellowship was initiated on the 20th anniversary of the Mr Hawke’s successful push to ban mining in Antarctica.