Topics: Signing of Antarctic Memorandum of Understanding between China and Australia
I’ll just say a couple of things. This Antarctic cooperation memorandum of understanding is a coup for Tasmania, it’s a coup for Hobart. This is about a partnership with the world’s most populous country; it’s about Hobart being a gateway to Antarctica, and the world knowing it.
It’s a tremendous breakthrough. We pledged that there would be a new ice-breaker, and a new era through a Strategic Plan – both have been delivered. Now we’ve delivered the Memorandum of Understanding with China, and the President of the world’s most populous nation has been here to personally endorse and witness it.
The Australian Prime Minister is engaged; it’s about science, it’s about education, it’s about cooperation, it’s about what happens on the ice, and it’s also about what happens here in Hobart, bringing people from around the world to study, to be engaged, to be involved in the great scientific tasks.
What about the strategic importance of this agreement and this visit for overall relations between China and Australia in Antarctica?
Well, of course the broader context for the visit was the G20 meeting, immensely important strategically for the world, for economies, and for people. That’s been underpinned by a landmark Free Trade Agreement.
We’ve just completed three Free Trade Agreements with the great north-Asian economies, and now what we’ve done is a strategic partnership with China. And what’s absolutely critical is China recommitting to the Antarctic Treaty, to the non-militarisation of the Antarctic zones and the southern waters; for Australia to have peaceful southern waters, to have a peaceful Antarctic, to have an Antarctic free of mining.
That’s our responsibility, and that’s our gift to future generations.
How often will we see the Chinese ice-breaker in Hobart, do you think?
Look I will – obviously the Chinese set their own time frames on that, but I hope as often as possible. It’s great for scientific cooperation, but it’s also great for provedore and for the provision of goods for the transport, for the movement of peoples, for the resupply of bases.
And this is a gateway partnership for the Antarctic, and it’s driven out of Hobart, and I hope that this is just a stepping stone to even greater things.
Can you expand on the benefits for China as a result of this Memorandum?
Look, for China what they have is a stable partner, somebody with whom they have confidence and trust. So they’ve just struck a landmark Free Trade Agreement with Australia, and the Chinese President’s speech to the Parliament was about trust, it was about a peaceful intent, and it was about China emerging.
That’s now been brought specifically to Tasmania and to Hobart. And for China? They have a reliable partner, they have a stable base, they have somebody who will work with them on the ice.
When you look at the maps of the proximity between the Chinese bases and the Australian bases, you see that these two countries are close in reality on the ice, but then only last season, as the Prime Minister said, we had a Chinese helicopter lifting Australian academics, amongst other people, from a stranded Russian ship and then transporting them to the Australian Aurora Australis.
That was real cooperation, as well as joint scientific research.
So is China our closest Antarctic partner?
Look, China is an increasingly close Antarctic partner, and we would like to work with other countries but I would have to say that there is no one with whom we are closer than China in terms of Antarctic cooperation at this point.
There has been some –
We are working very closely with of course the New Zealanders, with the United States, with the French, and with the Italians amongst others.
You mentioned the Treaty and militarisation, do you have any serious concerns about the future of the Treaty and mining, for example, which you also mentioned?
No I think this is one of the hopes for the world. There are many challenging stories with regards to global peace and the global environment. I think Antarctica is a model of what the world is seeking.
The fact that China is here and is committed to a long-term peaceful approach. They themselves really wanted to drive into the heart of the agreement the Antarctic Treaty, the non-militarisation of the area, the protection against mining; and when you have the Chinese President engaging in that, and he does have a history from Fujian Province and elsewhere in his own work of being a genuine committed conservationist, you couldn’t have a better guarantee of the long-term future.
Alright. I’ll take one more, Andrew.
Okay. There has been some concern expressed about the pace of China’s development in Antarctica. Do you see President Xi’s words today as reflecting the peaceful intent that you were talking about?
Absolutely. The Memorandum was drafted at very high levels. It was ticked off at the level of Senior Ministers, and I want to congratulate Tony Fleming, who was our principle negotiator, we are very blessed to have such an extraordinary Antarctic historian, policy maker, and somebody who understands it, and to have played that role.
I am not just comfortable, I am excited about the future of Hobart as global Antarctic gateway. I might just ask Eric did you want to say something?
Look it’s – thanks Greg, I really appreciate it. Look it’s just been such a special couple of days for our State. I’m so pleased for the State Government, they’ve put a lot of work into the culmination that we saw today.
And look, my impression would be that President Xi, and his wife Madame Peng, truly have enjoyed the experience thus far, and they’ve still got more to go on top of the mountain.
But I think this is – we just cannot underestimate how important this is for the State of Tasmania; not only the Antarctic and the stories that Greg has outlined so clearly about the opportunities for businesses, small and large, in the State of Tasmania to benefit from the cooperation that we’ve seen here quite clearly on display with the Chinese President’s visit, but also it’s about the other opportunities for our State.
And I know that Tasmania is on the map in China.
And I think there’ll be so many people looking towards what happens on the news tonight in Beijing, and Shanghai, and Nanjing, because this is a huge opportunity for our State and I congratulate the State Government and as members of the Federal Parliament there we all want to see this State be the very best it can be.
And I think today and the last couple of days have been a truly, truly critical part in seeing a new Tasmania.
I apologise that I have to scoot to the airport. Thank you very much.