Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

The Hon Sussan Ley MP
Minister for the Environment
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister,

RE: Australian ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury

I write to you as a former Senior Policy Adviser to Rebekha Sharkie MP who had carriage of the environment portfolio for Centre Alliance.

Australia is to be congratulated for signing the Minamata Convention on Mercury in October 2013.

The Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal that cycles between the atmosphere, ocean and land, and can be toxic to humans and wildlife. According to the booklet of the Convention, “[m]ercury is recognised as a substance producing significant adverse neurological and other health effects, with particular concerns expressed about its harmful effects on infants and unborn children.[1]

Australia is one of the few developed nations yet to ratify this important treaty.

The Convention is named after Minamata disease, itself named for the poisoning of the Japanese community in Minamata Bay that resulted from eating shellfish and fish containing methylmercury (an organic mercury compound) accumulated from industrial wastewater. Signs and symptoms of Minamata disease include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision, and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. Whilst conventional mercury poisoning is less severe, it can lead to serious burns; skin-shedding; kidney dysfunction; itching; hair, teeth and nail loss; hypertension, and more besides.

Whilst Australia’s mercury emissions have reduced greatly in recent years due to the deployment of mercury emission reduction technology in key gold-mining processing plants, Australia’s per capita mercury emissions remain higher than the global average[2] as they are insufficiently regulated.  More still needs to be done across other sectors, including the production of other metals, fossil fuel combustion, and intentional use and waste.

It is excellent news that the Government has now published its Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on the Ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury[3]. The RIS found that there will be no regulatory burden on business or the community, as existing regulatory frameworks broadly align with international obligations under the Convention. Ratification was calculated to provide a net benefit of over $5.9 million over 20 years, and this direct economic benefit will be accompanied by a range of additional social and environmental qualitative benefits.

I recognise that action by the States will be necessary to implement elements of the convention that relate to mining, manufacturing processes, pollution control and storage, and waste management. However there is still a key role for the Federal Government to legislate Convention obligations on the import and export of mercury; and the import, manufacture and export of certain mercury-containing products specified in the Convention.

  • May I please kindly confirm that the Federal Government has now decided to ratify the Convention?
  • If so, can you please outline the process of consultation with the States, and the expected timeline for the introduction of the Federal legislation relating to the import and export of mercury; and the import, manufacture and export of certain mercury-containing products specified in the Convention?
  • When would you expect that Australia will have ratified the Convention?

Thank you for your time and consideration of my correspondence.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cornish

30 / 3 / 2021

Cc: The Hon David Speirs, Minister for Environment and Water

Cc: Secretariat of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, United Nations Environment Programme


[1] UN Environment Programme, Minamata Convention on Mercury – Text and Annexes, September 2017, https://www.mercuryconvention.org/Portals/11/documents/Booklets/COP3-version/Minamata-Convention-booklet-Sep2019-EN.pdf

[2] UN Environment Programme, Technical Background Report for the Global Mercury Assessment, 2013, https://www.amap.no/documents/doc/Technical-Background-Report-for-the-Global-Mercury-Assessment-2013/848

[3] See: https://ris.pmc.gov.au/2021/03/04/ratifying-minamata-convention-mercury

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