The go-ahead for a $46.3 million Australia-Antarctic intercontinental air link in the 2005–06 Budget will cement Tasmania’s place as a gateway to Antarctica.

In Hobart today to announce details of the new long range jet aircraft service between Hobart and Casey station in Antarctica, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said the intercontinental air link would revolutionise Australia’s Antarctic programme.

Senator Campbell said there would be major spin-offs for Tasmania, already the base for the Australian Antarctic Division at Kingston and Australia’s Antarctic shipping services conducted out of the Hobart port. The air link will increase passenger movement through Hobart and allow more people to participate in the Antarctic programme.

“All those involved in the Antarctic programme will be accommodated and supplied in Tasmania,” Senator Campbell said.

“The Antarctic community in Tasmania is well-positioned to take advantages of the opportunities that will emerge from this major boost to Australia’s Antarctic programme through organisations such as the Tasmanian Polar Network.

“There will be tremendous opportunities for Tasmanian businesses to compete for the equipment and services required to develop and then operate the new Australian Antarctic air transport system.

“Importantly for Tasmania, we know that other nations are watching closely with a view to using an air link out of Hobart in future. I have already had discussions with other nations about this issue. We can now take these discussions to the next step. This puts Tasmania firmly on the international map within the Antarctic community.”

Senator Campbell said while the new Antarctic air link would change forever the operational framework of the Australian Antarctic Programme, Tasmania would remain a vital link for Antarctic ship based operations.

He said there would always be an on-going requirement for ships to conduct station re-supply as the proposed new jet aircraft link had only a limited cargo capacity.

Tasmania would also continue as the base for the very important marine science research voyages conducted by the Australian Antarctic Division.

“What we will see is a change in the way Antarctic ships are used. Ship days that were taken up with transporting expeditioners to and from Antarctica will be freed up for marine science,” he said.

“This means a more efficient and flexible transport system and boost our ability to conduct cutting edge research in the fields of marine science, global climate change and Antarctic conservation.

“It guarantees our position as a world leader in Antarctic research,” Senator Campbell said.