Spoken by the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. John Howard, MP

I am very pleased to officially launch the Australian Government's direct air connection between Hobart and Antarctica.

The Australian Antarctic Airlink will be funded by $46.3 million over four years as part of the Australian Government’s $3.2 billion commitment to the environment and heritage.

Australia is responsible for 42 per cent of Antarctica, an area measuring almost 6 million square kilometres. The direct air link is crucial to the proper discharge of Australia’s responsibilities in the Antarctic.

The proposed long-range jet aircraft between Australia and Antarctica will make a significant contribution to science and to our understanding of the global climate system.

Hobart is the logical take-off point for Antarctica with its already thriving Antarctic community, and as the home of Antarctic shipping other support services, and the Australian Government’s Antarctic division.

There will be major and continuing benefits for Tasmania as Australia’s recognised home of Antarctic research.

The establishment of the Antarctic Airlink will bring growing numbers of researchers through Hobart, with a growing contribution to the Tasmanian economy.

The Antarctic Airlink will more efficiently transport scientists, enable a speedier delivery of information and provide the capability of enhanced surveillance of our Southern Ocean fisheries and emergency medical evacuation should the need arise.

As an international leader in Antarctic research, Australia’s scientists are involved in cutting edge work in understanding the global climate system, Southern Ocean ecosystems and biodiversity and the impacts of human activities in Antarctica.

The Australian adventurer Sir Hubert Wilkins was the first person to fly over the Antarctic continent in 1928 but it was Sir Douglas Mawson who first saw the potential for aerial exploration.

The Australian Government’s decision last year to heritage list Mawson’s Huts at Commonwealth Bay signalled to the world our proud pioneering history in Antarctica.

The launch of the Antarctic Airlink represents a new and exciting era in Australia’s Antarctic aviation history. The decision to fund this important project demonstrates the Australian Government’s commitment to its Antarctic programme, to maintaining our outstanding international reputation and to continuing our world-class research.

The Australian Government’s Antarctic division leads Australia’s Antarctic programme. It has already undertaken site trials for the airstrip near Casey Station. Final preparations will be completed in the coming summer season with trial flights proposed in the 2006–2007 summer before the full service in 2007–2008.

The intercontinental connection will complement the intra-continental air service that began last season.