A new era of Antarctic endeavour

Minister Hunt launches Australian Antarctic Strategy

Video transcript

Let me step back for a moment. Australia’s vision for the Antarctic is of an area of the world’s last great wildernesses. It’s a majestic environment that we want to preserve in its pristine state and to preserve as an area of peaceful cooperation, not competition. And as part of that vision, we want to be the world leading gateway to the Antarctic. And Hobart is the gateway to the Antarctic for the future. That’s what we are seeking to do and that’s what we are setting out as part of this process.

What are our national interests beyond this vision? Our national interests really are four-fold.

Firstly at the environmental level we are custodians of the Antarctic along with others, as an original signatory of the Antarctic Treaty, we have a deep strong duty, we want to preserve this incredible area not just for decades, not just for generations but for eons and eons hence. That is, this generation’s duty and legacy for future generations.

Beyond that, science is a key national interest. This funding today, and this strategy helps us in the search for the million-year ice core. This is one of the world’s great scientific endeavours, and it is likely, on the advice I have from Dr Nick Gales and other scientists within AAD, that if the ice core is to be found, it will be found in Australia’s Antarctic Territory.

A tremendous opportunity, and this is about unearthing the secrets of our climate, unearthing the secrets of our history, in the ice core, and I’ve been fortunate to do ice core exploration work, you discover the history of climate activity over the life of that ice core. And so the bubbles that are found, the concentrations that are found tell us what the climate was like, how it responded, how it acts. And we can learn from that about the very things that will impact on our day to day lives and our trends here in Hobart, here in Tasmania, and here in Australia more broadly.

Beyond the interests of environment and science, we also have the great tasks of national security, and a peaceful cooperative Antarctica is a critical piece of a peaceful cooperative Southern Ocean, and if we have a Southern Ocean which is free of strategic competition, then Australia is safer and the costs for Australians are dramatically lower.

And then last of all we have the economic, and growth and jobs benefits to Hobart and Tasmania, Hobart being the global gateway to the Antarctic. This is about science jobs, education jobs, it’s about logistical jobs, it’s about the attraction of Hobart as a world class visiting point for the creation of climate science, of environmental science, of Antarctic science and for people to participate in that.

So that’s the grand vision, coupled with the interests, then what are the actions which are set out in this 20 Year Strategy and Action Plan for Australia’s Antarctic engagement.

And the actions really boil down to three things. Overall, there’ll be an announcement or there will be an allocation of $255 million of additional new funds over the next 10 years. That is $200 million for firstly the operation of AAD, it’s an average $20 million a year fillip to their budget, that’s tremendously important not just for the work of AAD but, as Nick was explaining, the long term ability to plan science. So more scientists on the ice, but with the ability to look and plan over a series of years. I think that’s exceptionally important.

Then beyond that there’s an additional $55 million for on-ice activities as well and that includes the $45 million for a traverse capability. What does it mean? Look over here at the yellow Hägglunds, this is the sort of thing, but with a newer, better, faster version which can help us with what we’re doing on the ice. So overall we’ll be building the ability to traverse inland, to create science opportunities so our scientists are safe, but they are also more mobile, they’re able to be engaged in the search for the million year ice core, they’re able to be engaged in the search for new information about Antarctic life, about the Antarctic climate and about its impacts as a centrepiece of the global climate system.

And then there is $10 million, which is for the feasibility study for the bankability study for an all year round runway. This will look at the question of is it economically feasible and attractive, is it physically feasible and achievable and if so where and how should it be built? There will be testing involved, and that’s a really important project.

But right now, a new traverse capability which will give our scientists an unparalleled opportunity and put us right at the forefront, and then the next step, and that comes on top of the announcement only last week of ‘green for go’ for the Hobart runway which will be extended, and in a short period of time that will mean that there’s an extra capability for heavy lift, for extra science through aerial transportation to Antarctica.

There’s one more element, and that of course is the new icebreaker, I will say we are very close to a very significant announcement on a new icebreaker and the full funding for that will be announced in due course. Our negotiators are working very hard and I expect an announcement on that in the imminent future.

Put together, this is the greatest investment in Antarctic research in Australian history and it’s a tribute to all of the scientists here.

[end transcript]

Hägglunds on fast ice near Mawson 2013
Hägglunds on fast ice near Mawson research station (Photo: Justin Chambers)

A new era of Antarctic engagement was announced today by Environment Minister Greg Hunt MP, with the launch of the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan.

The key components of the Action Plan include a state-of-the-art icebreaker for research and resupply, new operational funding to support an active Australian Antarctic programme, building a deep-field Antarctic science traverse capability, exploration of a year-round aviation access options, strengthening the Antarctic Treaty system, and enhancing Hobart as an Antarctic research hub and the premier Gateway to East Antarctica.

This operational advancement will ensure Australia has the necessary capability to lead science in the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic sea ice zone and around the extensive ice shelves that fringe Antarctica.

The icebreaker will deliver the science needed for the responsible management of Southern Ocean fisheries and ecosystem focused conservation, particularly of Antarctic krill — the keystone species and foundation of the Southern Ocean ecosystem.

The development of a deep-field overland science traverse capability and mobile research station infrastructure is essential for Australia’s involvement in major Antarctic research projects, including the quest for a million year-old ice core. This landmark traverse investment, combined with work towards an expanded aviation capability, will significantly improve Australia’s leadership in science and operations and offer Australia’s Antarctic programme unprecedented access to and across East Antarctica.

The Australian and Tasmanian governments will continue to work to enhance Tasmania’s status as a global Antarctic research hub and the premier Gateway to East Antarctica, including the expansion of infrastructure in Hobart to accommodate the new icebreaker.

The investment delivered through the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan will allow Australia to collaborate even more closely with other countries in Antarctica on ground-breaking scientific research, which is of national and global significance, and continue to strengthen the Antarctic Treaty system and its critical environmental protection regime.