Ice core features at Australia's 2020 summit

Ice core features at Australia's 2020 summit

Video transcript

Hon. Michael Jeffrey - Governor-General

Prime Minister, Michael Davis, distinguished guests all, I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, their wisdom, enduring history and culture, and I commend the Prime Minister for calling the 2020 summit and inviting this wide cross-section of our society from across the length and the breadth of the land to share ideas, hopes and aspirations. A very warm welcome to you all to the nation’s beautiful capital.

Let me show you something. This ice core retrieved by our internationally-recognised scientists from Australia’s Antarctic Division provides part of a record of human activity on this planet reaching back some 80,000 years. Around the beginning of that period, the first indigenous people arrived here. Alone among the human inhabitants of the planet, they and their descendants stayed and watched the retreat from the Ice Age, the separation of Tasmania from the mainland, the filling of the shallow lakes in Central Australia and then as they slowly dried up.

Indeed, in offering up the secrets of our past, especially the process of climate change, this ice core also informs our present and our future. The connectedness revealed in the ice core between our past and future makes this summit especially timely.

As a nation, we’re facing diverse challenges and opportunities at local, national and global levels and, for the benefit of future generations, we must constantly question the adequacy of continuing with a business-as-usual approach. For example, have we given sufficient attention to the suggestion that, as a planet of six billion people, we are already consuming around 20% more resources than our globe can sustain? What are the implications for nine billion by 2050?

In this, the driest of continents, should we be looking at diverting water from the wetter north of the continent or should we relocate or develop new infrastructure to the north to take advantage of the availability of plentiful water, energy, minerals and space? And what of the fundamental fabric of our society:  the family? Can we do more to strengthen the family unit to reduce the very high incidence of family breakup, to better prepare young people for adulthood and to strengthen their sense of social responsibility?

There are many questions that we can ask and, with the goodwill and cooperation of all participants, the conclusions of this summit have the potential to be far reaching in shaping this nation’s long-term future. Indeed, we have a proud record of putting ideas to work to meet the diverse challenges of the nation, including surf lifesaving with half a million lives saved, the Royal Flying Doctor Service assisting more than a quarter of a million patients each year, and the iconic Snowy Mountain Scheme.

Nor should we forget the wisdom of our indigenous people and what we can learn from their capacity to survive major change on this continent, or indeed the wisdom of our founding fathers who gave us our enduring Constitution.

As I move around this country, I’m constantly struck by the ingenuity, innovation and creativity of our fellow Australians in so many fields of endeavour; the arts, science, medicine, agriculture to name but some. So I urge all here to draw inspiration from the many examples of Australian excellence and innovation and to seize this opportunity to go even further, to harness ideas and link them more broadly across disciplines, regions and sectors of our national life.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, your participation in this summit offers the potential to build an even better country, a nation of excellence, a global example, as I often term it. I encourage you, and indeed all Australians, to use the momentum generated through these discussions to be individual and collective ambassadors for a better future. I also urge you to undertake your task here in an open and constructive manner and with a spirit of collegiality, and I ask that these events be faithfully and objectively reported in a positive and constructive way to assist the nation’s understanding of the issues before it.

As our ice core shows, we live in a country with a capacity to understand the past through our own ingenuity. No-one should be in any doubt that we are at an important threshold in terms of the challenges and the opportunities this country faces. I wish you every success in this challenging but exciting task and, with the rest of the nation, look forward to being comprehensively and accurately informed of your conclusions.

All the best and thank you very much.

[end transcript]

Dr Tessa Vance presenting the ice core from Antarctica
Dr Tessa Vance presenting the ice core from Antarctica (Photo: Australian Government, Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet)
The Governor-General referred to the ice core in his opening speech for the Australia 2020 Summit

21 April 2008

An ice core from Australia’s Antarctic Territory has been used to illustrate how information on past human activity can help to inform future events. Australian Antarctic Division researcher, Dr Tessa Vance, presented the ice core at the Australia 2020 Summit at Parliament House, Canberra on the weekend.

The Governor-General, His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffrey, told delegates the ice core is part of an 80-thousand year record of activity on the planet.

Internationally recognised scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division have been examining ice cores for changes to the biosphere and atmosphere for many years. Ice cores tell us about natural events such as the volcanic eruptions of Krakatoa in 1883, Tambora in 1815 and other cataclysmic events. They also tell us the story of the impacts on the environment from human activity.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have changed the composition of the atmosphere far beyond any natural phenomenon seen in more than 600,000 years. In offering up the secrets of our past, ice cores also inform our present and future.