Australia’s position as world leader in Antarctic research is guaranteed with the commitment of $46.3 million over four years in the 2005–06 Budget to develop an Australia-Antarctic intercontinental air link.

Announcing the funding as part of the Australian Government’s $3.2 billion commitment to the environment, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said this was one of the biggest boosts to the Australian Antarctic programme since it began in the late 1940s.

“Around 200 people, including many scientists, work at three permanent Australian Antarctic stations during the summer months investigating climate change, Southern Ocean ecosystems and the impacts of human activities in Antarctica,” Senator Campbell said.

“The valuable work our scientists perform is hampered by the realities of travelling to and from Antarctica, as travel by sea routes mean projects can take months.

“Australia claims 42 per cent of Antarctica — but unlike many of our counterparts, has no efficient means to access the continent. Other countries that conduct Antarctic research, such as the USA, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Argentina, Chile and Russia, already have air transport capacity.

“The air link, which will operate from Hobart, will improve access to Australia’s research stations. This will in turn cut the time it will take to gather and relay important data.

“It is proposed to use a long range jet aircraft, which will also have the capability to help protect Australia’s national interest through surveillance of our Southern Ocean fisheries.

“Feasibility studies, including runway construction trials, have already been completed. Trial flights are scheduled to start in 2006–07.

“The Australian Antarctic air link will ensure Australia remains an international leader in this field, by supporting and enhancing our research capabilities. The jet will also allow rapid access to Australia’s Antarctic stations in the event of emergencies, such as a medical evacuation, which will help combat some of the challenges that face Australian researchers.

“Thanks to the ingenuity and spirit of pioneering Australian scientists, the mysteries of Antarctica’s vast and remote land continue to be revealed, and the answers to some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems investigated,” Senator Campbell said.