Topics: Australian Antarctic Strategy, CSIRO
With me is the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, good afternoon.
Hello Louise, and hello Tasmania. It's just an absolute pleasure to be here.
It's also good weather too, so let's enjoy that while we still have it, before we move into winter, which is probably a little more in keeping, I think, with what we think about with the gateway to the Antarctic.
It's a term that's been used – what does today's announcement do to enhance that as a gateway to the Antarctic?
So today's announcement is about the vision and the plan to make Hobart the global gateway for the Antarctic, and that's about Tasmania and that's about Australia as well.
In reality it's $255 million. $200 million goes to supporting and enhancing the scientific work – whether it's in terms of Antarctic research, krill, marine work for the Australian Antarctic Division – obviously based here in Hobart.
And $55 million for on-ice work: a new traverse capacity, the ability to take our scientists into the interior of the Antarctic to look for – what some had called the mythical, but what our scientists believe is the real and tangible – million year ice core, and this is the Holy Grail of Antarctic scientific research and something which will be within our grasp.
And then $10 million to work towards an all-year-round runway – so something which will allow us to use the Antarctic airlift capacity through the middle of winter, up through the dark periods, which will really be a great asset.
And this sets Australia up as a global gateway, and Hobart up as the epicentre of science, education and support for Antarctic research.
Australia has been a great champion of the Antarctic treaties over time, and protecting the environment down there.
How much of this is about, I guess, securing and establishing us as a leader if things do become contentious – and of course mineral exploration is always going to be the elephant in the room there isn't it?
Yeah, so the starting point is our complete and absolute opposition to mineral exploration, let alone exploitation in Antarctica – and I'm actually very confident that for the next hundred, for the next thousand years, Australian Governments of whatever persuasion will oppose it.
It's just something which is so fundamental to our psyche in protecting this great wilderness.
But having said that, the Antarctic Treaty has almost a use it or lose it component to it – you're expected to engage in scientific research in order to maintain your claim of sovereignty.
And so we want the science for protecting the environment and for learning about the international and global climate system, we want it for our marine environment, and then for the marine animals of the area.
But then it's also about ensuring that we have peaceful cooperation, and if we're in control of our own area we have a huge voice in the Antarctic treaty system – we're able to do things such as the Memorandum of Understanding with China, which was about cooperation, science, peaceful coexistence, and China signed up with the MOU to a ‘no mining’ provision, which was great.
What's to our benefit to work alongside and with China in the Antarctic?
One is, we do learn from each other. They have magnificent scientists and we have magnificent scientists.
So science is an international language, it's the Esperanto of the scientific world – the climate research, the numbers, the figures, the findings.
You also have safety. What we saw recently was when the Aurora Australis crashed against the rocks there were three different countries involved in helping out Australia – and we help out others and they help out us.
And then there's just the good neighbourliness of working together. It builds links.
Because you can see other areas of the world where there's a lack of cooperation – if you have China, the United States, Australia, the UK, Russia, all in cooperative programs in the Antarctic, that's a sign to the rest of the world – hey, we can get this right and work together.
Speaking of science to the rest of the world, I mean Hobart as a scientific hub is so key to Australia, but it's also an area of contention at the moment with the changes that are coming to the CSIRO.
Is Larry Marshall and his approach to the restructuring of the CSIRO, and some changes, is that in a way impacting your ability to sell the strength of Antarctic research and the importance of scientists, particularly internationally, when there is that uncertainty over its future?
Well fortunately we have resolved the issue around the CSIRO, and there's an agreement to have a National Climate Science Research Centre based here in Hobart, an agreement for a National Climate Science Advisory Committee, and an agreement to have 10 year funding which CSIRO will guarantee.
The Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, helped broker that outcome, and of course as a government dealing with an independent agency we gave our input and we encouraged such an outcome, but they're ultimately independent.
But I'm delighted with that outcome. Now, having reached that agreement, to be able to make this announcement on top of that is a tremendous outcome.
And the even bigger prize of the icebreaker and the 30 year funding is very, very close to finalisation.
Our negotiators are working literally around the clock, and I am very hopeful that we have the biggest ever funding announcement for Antarctica today, but very shortly we'll be able to take something which is almost an order of magnitude larger, which is the ultimate platform – the icebreaker, which is logistics, personnel, but especially one of the world's great scientific platforms.
And we will truly be in a position to be the world's great modern Antarctic nation.
And I'll come back to that in a moment, I just want to just say though when it talks about international cooperation – something you highlighted the importance of with our MOU with China – when we do rely on international cooperation for so many ventures in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research, are we in any way damaging our reputation, our ability to attract investment if the CSIRO remains under some concern?
Is resolve perhaps too strong a word when there seem to have been some dispute over just how many jobs are going, though, with that reform?
Look, I'll leave that for the CSIRO because it's not in the Environment portfolio.
You will? Okay, well let's just stick with the environment area though in terms of Australia's international reputation and ability to attract partnerships and investment if another area of Australia's scientific community is uncertain.
Well I've just returned from signing the Paris declaration, which was signed at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Friday.
And we were asked to take the lead on the Climate and Water along with a small panel for the Secretary General, and I met with that group.
We were asked to be a co-lead on the Oceans and Climate Change in a panel convened by the chair of the Conference of the Parties, Segolene Royal from France.
We were asked by the United States to be a co-lead on the ratification process.
So in three areas we were specifically recruited by the United States, by the Secretary General, and by the chair of the UN Conference of the Parties to be at the absolute epicentre.
So globally it's, I think, quite different from sometimes the portrayal back in Australia.
We are right at the forefront of standing.
And the fact that we're meeting and beating our targets and being able to lead the 90 billion tonne negotiations for emissions reduction under what's called the Montreal Protocol, or the Ozone Protection Agreement, is…
They're modest targets though aren't they, for Australia?
No, 90 billion tonnes of reductions which Australia is leading, and then our own targets – we're meeting and beating our minus 13 per cent on 2005 for 2020, doing that by 78 million tonnes.
Very few other countries were able to make announcements like that before the UN, so there was real enthusiasm.
And then we're on a minus 52 per cent per capita reduction, which is one of the highest in the world for our 2030 targets. So in terms of effort, huge effort.
What does it all mean? Countries are interested in basing their science for Antarctica here, bringing their students here, in bringing their scientists here.
Let's talk about the icebreaker. Are we still on target for a 2019 delivery? Is that still the plan?
Look, the icebreaker will come into service in 2019-20. Where it is within the course of that year will be up to the speed of the build, but we're on target for an announcement, I think, of a concluded agreement in the very near future.
I understand you're open to some name suggestions as long as it's not Icy McIceface or something similar.
Yes. I confess I am exercising a tiny bit of ministerial discretion.
We will hold a public naming competition, and we really want the students of Tasmania to be right at the forefront, the school students to come up with names.
The UK, I think, found themselves heading down a track towards a name of Boaty McBoatface. I'm not sure the authorities will approve that.
It ultimately it will not end up, I think, as that.
But I have ruled out Boaty McBoatface.
Just finally on the icebreaker as we come up to ABC News, are we looking at a ship that is going to be funded and supported to the extent that it will always have the priority availability for Australian-based and backed science?
It's not something we're going to have to rent out to keep afloat?
No, no. There will be the possibility for others to share and to be involved, and it was always designed that it could carry cargo not just for Australia but for others.
But when we do this it will have a 30 year funding profile which will be a significant increase on top of what we've announced today.
And so that means it'll be an Australian vessel for primarily Australian purposes, but it will also be an international platform.
The scientists at AAD are absolutely thrilled that they get traverse, the air capability, and they get the sea.
So we're setting up for the next 30 years.
Something they've certainly expressed in writing today. Greg Hunt, thanks very much for your time today.
Look, it's a real pleasure.