Government commits to keeping Antarctica free of mining

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Antarctica should not be a place of mineral exploitation, stating it was critical for Australia to protect the southern continent from resource exploration.

Unveiling the terms of reference for the Abbott government’s 20-year Antarctica strategic plan in Hobart yesterday, Hunt said it was critical to ensure the southern continent remained a "rare place of peace in the world”.

"Our goal is to make sure that this is not a place of strategic competition, that it is not a place of mineral exploitation," he told AAP reporters.

"The only drilling in Antarctica should be for ice cores and not for minerals."

Antarctica is thought to have reserves of coal, iron ore, oil and gas, and other base minerals, but the deposits are located in largely inhospitable environments that are difficult and costly to reach.

China and Russia have already voiced interest in exploring Antarctica: China has received approval to explore between Africa and Antarctica, and Russia has already started exploring some regions of the Arctic in the northern hemisphere.

Last week, a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute titled “Cold Calculations"’ said with growing interest in the region, the continent risked facing issues around sovereignty and mining.

"We could see the Antarctic Treaty break down, illegal fishing become rampant, our territorial claim disputed, the environment irreparably damaged, and a cold rush for oil, gas and minerals begin," the report said.

The report stated that Australia should protect its territorial, environmental and research interests in the region.

Hunt said the commitment to ensure the continent stays mining free was ‘iron-clad’, stating he would work within the Antarctic treaty system to ensure an international consensus could be reached.

Australia lays claim to around 40 per cent of Antarctica’s territory and was one of the first signatories to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.

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