Transcript of Radio Interview, PM – Antarctica
1 May 2006
Antarctica: Minister, Shadow Minister and former chief scientist of Antarctic program criticise suggestion by Senator Joyce for mining and mineral exploration
MARK COLVIN: The Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce is in political hot water again, this time over a suggestion that Australia should consider mining in Antarctica.
Senator Joyce’s suggestion comes after spending a month travelling to Antarctica, and despite Australia’s signature on a 50-year moratorium on mining and mineral exploration.
It’s put him offside with members of the Federal Government, the Opposition, and environmentalists.
Ian Townsend reports.
IAN TOWNSEND: Senator Barnaby Joyce has returned from a month-long visit to Antarctica keen for Australia to take part in what he says is an imminent mining rush to the frozen continent.
BARNABY JOYCE: What you have to ask is: do I turn my head and allow another country to exploit my resource? And do I just walk away from my territorial integrity of that claim? Or do I position myself in such a way as they can’t exploit it? Or do I position myself in such a way as I’m going to exploit it myself before I get there.
IAN TOWNSEND: Senator Joyce was in Antarctica as part of Federal Parliament’s External Territories Committee and says there are already moves by other countries to exploit the continent’s mineral wealth.
His comments will be screened tonight on the ABC TV’s Australian Story.
But those comments have already raised eyebrows on both sides of Parliament.
The Federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, says Australia won’t be breaking the 50-year mining moratorium that it’s already signed.
IAN CAMPBELL: It is fanciful to think that any country or any company would even remotely consider breaching the protocol that exists.
IAN TOWNSEND: And Labor’s environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese, says it’s an odd suggestion by Senator Joyce.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s just extraordinary that the best Senator Joyce can come up with after a free month trip, taxpayer funded to look at this pristine environment, is that it should be mined.
IAN TOWNSEND: Professor Patrick Quilty from the University of Tasmania spent 19 years as chief scientist for the Australian Antarctic Program. And he says mining in Antarctica’s unlikely even to be economically viable.
PATRICK QUILTY: In the first instance, we’ve not found anything down there yet that is in economic levels of a resource. There are certainly big areas of banded iron formations, but they’re low iron content.
In the Prince Charles Mountains, which is also where the banded iron formations are, there are very significant coal seems. Now, that’s not terribly high quality coal, but if we had it back here we’d probably use it.
But they’re a long way inland and you’ve got no infrastructure, you’ve got no railway systems, you’ve got no towns to house your people in or to give you an infrastructure system there. You’ve just got nothing. You’ve got no ports. And even if you had ports, for six months a year they’re not really available because of the ice that’s down there.
And I think the economic costs compared with the economic cost of getting such things elsewhere is just prohibitive.
The line that I take with students when I talk about this is: if you know of a company that’s interested in going down there and doing that, let me know, and I’ll see if we’ve got shares and get rid of them.
MARK COLVIN: Professor Patrick Quilty, former chief scientist for the Australian Antarctic Program, with Ian Townsend.