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Looking Forward, Looking South: An Enduring Australian Antarctic Interest


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Hemmings, AD, Kriwoken, L and Jabour, J 2007 , 'Looking Forward, Looking South: An Enduring Australian Antarctic Interest', in Lorne Kriwoken and Julia Jabour and Alan Hemmings (eds.), Looking South: Australia's Antarctic Agenda , Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW, pp. 191-196.

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Lord Palmerston famously argued that States had no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Since 1933 and the assertion of the Australian territorial claim as a result of the British Order in Council and the Commonwealth's Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act (see Rothwell and Scott this volume), Australia has had one paramount Antarctic interest maintaining that claim. But, whilst a territorial claim is generally the first act in a sequence of events, wherein some real use or exploitation of the claimed area follows, and thus in time the legal basis to claim becomes in a sense a proxy for something more (people, a way of life, some obvious signs of possession and use), the peculiarities of the Antarctic situation have meant this is not what we have seen in the case of the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT).
The AAT has (like other territorial claims) to a very considerable extent, continued to exist only as a legal construct. Aside from the Australianisation evident at and around its three continental stations, Australian activity in the area has been of a piece with any other Antarctic scientific enterprise for more than half a century, and conducted alongside the activities of other States (currently China, India, Romania and Russia have stations in the AAT) which in their turn have similarly acculturated their own immediate environs. The context in which the AAT has been governed and regulated, like all the rest of Antarctica south of 60 degrees South latitude, has been international rather than national, via the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). Beyond the Byzantine architecture of the Antarctic sovereignty edifice, in practice the AAT is no more Australian than the moon.
But, the centrality of the claim to the AAT for Australia's Antarctic project appears undiminished, notwithstanding some ebb and flow in the level of attention paid to Antarctica.' Why might this be? How is it that a modern, internationalist state like Australia still rationalises its Antarctic engagement, in the first decade of the 21st century, through recourse to a territorial claim, long after such rationales have ceased to be respectable elsewhere? Is there some enduring validity to this stance in Antarctica?
This concluding chapter explores the deep structure of Australian engagement with Antarctica, the substantive basis for a continuing national commitment to the great continent to our south. What specifically are Australia's interests -as both a member of the global community and as a self-interested State? Are Australia's interests reconcilable, or is Antarctica now like many other issues, one where divergent and perhaps incommensurable
interests must be recognised? Mechanistically, how might these interests be realised? Are Australian interests always best viewed through the prism of nationalism and from the stance of a territorial claimant? What continuities, and what breaks from the past, might we glimpse as we look forward? How does Australia best secure its objective, and perhaps vital, interests? And how are we placed to confront those Rumsfeldian "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns" when they inevitably arise?

Item Type: Book Section
Authors/Creators:Hemmings, AD and Kriwoken, L and Jabour, J
Keywords: Australian Antarctic Territory; AAT; Antarctica; territorial claim
Publisher: Federation Press
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