Topics: Release of the 20 Year Antarctic Strategic Plan, Renewable Energy Target
I’m delighted to be able to welcome my ministerial colleague Greg Hunt, my State Ministerial colleague Matt Groom and Eric Hutchinson the Member for Lyons together with Tony Press, the author of this very important report.
Tasmania has been at the forefront of Antarctic expeditions and research now for well over a century. A former Liberal Government in the 1970s determined that the Australian Antarctic Division should move to Tasmania and that has allowed Tasmania now to build a world recognised expertise in all matters Antarctic.
And I couldn’t help but notice, Greg, that when I was driving down Macquarie Street to this media conference I drove past the CCAMLR Headquarters and all the international flags were flying, indicative of how many countries are actually involved in Antarctic matters already.
This report really highlights the capacity for Tasmania to leverage off that which already exists and grow it even further. And you may recall that at the last election we announced the extension of the Hobart runway and part of that was all about assisting other countries should they be interested in coming to Tasmania to base their Antarctic expeditions.
We have the French here. We have CCAMLR here. We know that there are many other countries interested and we are trying to facilitate that as much as possible. But now with the details can I hand you over to my ministerial colleague Greg and welcome him.
Tremendous. Look, thanks very much obviously to Eric Abetz, the senior Tasmanian in the Government and the Leader in the Senate, to my colleague Eric Hutchinson, to the State Minister Matthew Groom who is a tremendous advocate for Tasmania as a gateway to the Antarctic and especially to Tony Press who has done such a tremendous job in preparing this 20 year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan which is a blueprint and a vision for the future.
I really want to make three points about the history, about the report and about the direction of the Australian Government. In terms of the history, we stand here near the Louis Bernacchi statue, the first Australian and a great Tasmanian to spend a winter in the Antarctic at a time when conditions were even tougher than they are now.
Mawson, Davis, Casey, these are some of the great names of Australia’s Antarctic tradition. We are commemorating the 100th year of Mawson’s achievement and this is a moment when we should be looking not just in terms of three or five or ten years but over a twenty year period towards the next 100 years.
And it is against that background that we commissioned Tony Press, who is one of Australia’s most distinguished Antarctic researchers and policy makers, to conduct a no holds barred unvarnished view about where we’re at and where we should be going in terms of the Antarctic Treaty System. And more than that Australia’s contribution to the Antarctic.
And there were a series of fundamental findings. Firstly, Tony has made the point that we should be recommitting to the Antarctic Treaty System which we do deeply, strongly, absolutely. We want to be a cornerstone nation for the Antarctic Treaty System going forwards.
It’s fundamental to preserving one of the world’s great, iconic, untouched wildernesses. And our goal is for this treaty system to be in place not just 30 years from now but 100 and 200 years from now. And I actually believe we can and will achieve that.
The second part of it is the specific recommendations and there are really, in my view, three fundamentals tenants. Firstly, that we have to provision recommendation two for the icebreaking capacity. You can’t be a great Antarctic nation without a true icebreaking capacity. Secondly, the point that Tasmania should be a gateway and the partner of choice for the world; this is recommendation twelve of those recommendations that are around it.
And then thirdly, the notion that in recommendation fifteen and elsewhere that we must increase our scientific capability. There has been, over the last half decade, historic under spending and under investment in this capacity, in this area. The report is pretty blunt on that front and Tony is to be commended. He is the best example you could image of frank and fearless advice.
So our response is very clear. Firstly, we are recommitting to the Antarctic Treaty System. We are committing for the life of this Government and I have absolute confidence that there’s total bipartisan support and that our successes in future years and future generations will also uphold that. That’s Australia’s sacred trust for the Antarctic.
And then, in terms of the specific responses, whilst we’ll give a whole of Government response in the coming months right now we are already acting on Tony Press’ key recommendations. With regards to the icebreaker we have started the tender process and funded the greatest ever investment, by Australia, in Antarctic research through the icebreaker. Along with the Bureau of Meteorology’s supercomputer the investment will approach half a billion dollars; that wasn’t funded.
The cupboard was bare. The cupboard was empty when we opened the doors and came into Government. Tony’s report was obviously in the works and it had a profound impact on the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and I want to thank him for that. It helped get us the icebreaker. That will come into service in 2019. It’s a long process but we’re underway.
The second thing is, in terms of the gateway, we are working with other countries now to make a reality of the recommendations that Tasmania should be, and Hobart should be, the partner of choice for international Antarctic activities.
Some countries it won’t work for because of their position on the ice in Antarctica. But Australia has the capacity for many countries to be the partner of choice and right now we’re working with other countries to make that a reality.
And then the third thing is about scientific research. When Tony said that there had been, over the last five years, the last half dozen years, an erosion of our capacity he was right. And so we have committed, and are committing, $87 million to upgrade and improve our scientific capacity; $25 million for the CRC; $24 million for the new gateway partnership.
And the two Eric’s, Eric Abetz and Eric Hutchinson, have been the champions along with David Bushby and Senator Parry and Richard Colbeck of that project, and the third element is the $38 million for upgrading the runway at Hobart Airport.
That’s about allowing us to have better services for Tasmania, but also to position Hobart to be the world leader for Antarctic air services, so it’s a great report. It’s a tough report, but we’ve already responded on the three critical areas and I want to introduce Matthew Groom who will handover to Tony Press after that. Thank you.
Thank you very much Greg. I really appreciate you coming down and your ongoing leadership in relation to Australia’s Antarctic Program and obviously the special opportunity that that affords Tasmania. I want to acknowledge the ongoing leadership of Eric Abetz also in that area, being a very strong passionate advocate on behalf of Tasmania in relation to this field of endeavour and I think it should be acknowledged.
Obviously Eric Hutchinson is a very, very passionate supporter of Antarctic activities in Tasmania and I want to obviously acknowledge Tony’s efforts in preparation of the plan. This is a very significant document. It recognises the growing strategic significance of the Antarctic.
It recognises some of the challenges that exist in terms of making sure that Australia is able to fully deliver on its responsibilities in relation to the Antarctic and activities associated with the Antarctic, but also recognises growth opportunities in Antarctic related industry and that’s very, very important for the State of Tasmania.
I want to acknowledge the Commonwealth Government for giving it affirmation – reaffirmation of Tasmania as the headquarters of Australia’s Antarctic Program and as a genuine global gateway to the Antarctic. That’s what this strategy document is all about. It’s about reaffirming that Tasmania is a genuine global gateway to the Antarctic and we’ve got genuine growth opportunities as a consequence of that.
You’ve heard Minister Hunt speak about some of the very significant commitments that we saw through the course of the budget: the ARC Gateway Partnership, the extension of the airport, also very importantly the Government’s next steps in relation to a replacement icebreaker. These are very, very important commitments. They reaffirm the Commonwealth’s commitment to Tasmania as a genuine global gateway for the Antarctic and as a headquarters for the Antarctic program.
It contributes about $180 million a year annually to the State of Tasmania, employs over a thousand Tasmanians directly. This is a very significant industry for the State. Obviously very, very important in terms of the growing capacity in science and research, which is a very important industry in its own right, but also in addition to that you have the logistics industry which has developed in and around Hobart as a consequence of these activities.
These are very very important economic opportunities for the State of Tasmania, and I genuinely want to commend the Commonwealth Government for their ongoing support and confirmation of Tasmania’s special place in this regard and one of the other key recommendations out of this strategic plan is the importance of the Tasmanian Government and the Commonwealth Government working together to realise these opportunities for Tasmania and we are very, very committed to doing all we can to work with the Australian Government to see those opportunities realised for this state.
And I’d like to hand over to Tony.
Okay. The star of the show.
And I hope you’ve all noticed his tie.
Yes. Thank you. Well, I’m just very honoured to be asked to do this report for the Australian Government. I’ve spent many years working in the Antarctic sector and it was a decade – over a decade since the last time a very serious look at how Australia involved itself in the Antarctic was taken.
It was a report done by the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee in middle 1990s and then responded to in 1998 by the then Australian Government, so I thought it was time for a good look at the way Australia looks at Antarctica and also to reappraise our strategic interests there.
The first thing I’ll say is that Antarctica is very important to Australia. It’s not only about our long, deep and honourable science and exploration traditions in Antarctica; it’s also the fact that we claim the Australian Antarctic Territory, which is forty-two per cent of the Antarctic continent, we have been active there for a century in science and exploration, we were an original signatory to the Antarctic Treaty and have been a very active player in Antarctic affairs.
And the Antarctic Treaty does a fundamental thing for Australia. It preserves all of that part of the globe below sixty degrees south as an area of peace, demilitarisation and international collaboration and cooperation, and that’s very important for Australia. It means, strategically, we don’t have to fight wars in that part of the globe, and that’s an important factor in the way Australia looks at its position in the world.
I’m very glad to hear that there’s been active consideration of the recommendations in my report, and I’m encouraged by the confidence expressed in the recommendations by the speakers before me today.
I think Australia has a great opportunity to lead in Antarctic science, to be the collaborator of choice – particularly in East Antarctica there are very important questions in Antarctic science to be answered that are economically significant to Australia, like the relationship between weather and climate in Antarctica and weather and climate in our major food bowls – south-western Western Australia, the Murray-Darling Basin in Eastern Australia.
There are also important science questions to be answered about the sustainability of fisheries in the southern ocean, and Australia has been a leader in that science, and I think we should continue to be the partner of choice in those big science questions.
And then, specifically about Tasmania and Hobart, there are great opportunities here to build on the reputation that Hobart has, as a place for scientists to come and visit, as a place for Antarctic operators to reprovision, resupply, and also as a place to launch new initiatives in the future, and I think Hobart can capitalise on that potential by some strategic investments in infrastructure here around the port where we’re standing today and also in encouraging the industries that exist in Tasmania to be actively involved in the Antarctic sector.
So it has been a great honour for me to undertake this 20 Year Antarctic Strategic Plan for Australia, and, as I said, I’m very pleased that the recommendations are being actively considered and taken very seriously.
We’re happy to take any questions.
Tony Press, while you’re at the microphone there, can I ask – the funding the Minister’s outline today – is that in line with your expectations, or is that going to lead the recommendations?
Look, I think that the investments that are there are essential for the current situation and the future. I have said in my report that there’s been an historic decline in the expenditure in Antarctic affairs because of – a sort of death of a thousand cuts, really: efficiency dividends and no specific Government action, but the erosion of capability, particularly in the areas of logistics and science – and I think the Government’s taken some major steps in resolving those issues.
How the overall recommendations will be considered by the whole of Government, well, that’s far beyond me to put any numbers around that.
You just referred to poor infrastructure being part of the process for Tasmania to capitalise on being the gateway. What specifically are you talking about there?
Well, Port of Hobart is actually quite busy sometimes in the summer months, particularly when you have Antarctic shipping and the increase in tourism shipping into Hobart.
Now, the port authority has been looking very hard at what needs to be done in the future for the whole of the Port of Hobart, and they have – are in the process of putting together a plan for the Port of Hobart.
Some of that, I understand, includes upgrading of some of the wharf facilities, and in the future, they will be required for increased Antarctic shipping, as well as increased tourism, and there’s also the specific issue which, again, the port authority is actively engaged in finding a solution for, and that is how do you refuel vessels, particularly Antarctic vessels coming in and out of the port.
There are a few problems in that area at the moment, and I understand they’re being – solutions to those problems are being actively considered.
We’ve seen a number of job cuts at the Antarctic Division down here. What’s worth this investment and infrastructure if we don’t have the manpower to back it up?
Look, I don’t know what the impacts of those job cuts of the Antarctic – well, if indeed there are impacts of job cuts at the Antarctic Division, but I’ll leave that – the Minister to answer.
I’ll deal with that very briefly now. What we’re engaged in now is the biggest increase in both logistics and scientific expenditure in Antarctic history for Australia.
So, firstly, there’s the replacement for the icebreaker, for the Aurora Australis, and it was genuinely surprising to open the cupboard and find that it was bare, that people had talked about a replacement, but there was no money for it. So we found that, and that is, along with the Bureau of Meteorology supercomputer, an investment approaching half a billion dollars.
Secondly, there’s the $87 million which is going into Antarctic capability. So all up, this is a massive injection into Antarctic research funding and capability, on a scale that we’ve not seen in Australia before.
At the same time, though, Minister, the – a lot of this, a lot of the problem in the past, as you’ve acknowledged, has been that the money goes on logistics, not science.
This report calls for big spending on big science. What sort of – what’s your reaction to that? Can Australia afford to do the big spending on big science in Antarctica, more than we do now?
Well, we’ve already responded in that space, and there’s $49 million of very big spending for very big science which supports and supplements the work of the Antarctic Division.
So that’s $25 million for extending the Antarctic CRC and $24 million for a new gateway partnership, which is the University of Tasmania, the CSIRO and the Antarctic Division, and that’s about getting bodies on the ice, getting world-class researchers out of Hobart, doing extra science on the ice, and I do want to acknowledge that that wouldn’t have happened without the work of the two Eric’s, Eric Abetz and Eric Hutchinson, fundamental in getting that.
So that is the – actually, as you say, people working on the ice, on the continent, rather in offices in Hobart?
The goal – I have been very specific that the real goal and the real objective is to make sure – is – obviously, you need a balance of application of those funds – but as much of that funding is about getting world class researchers to Antarctica and on the ice, doing the research on the actual Antarctic Territory, but also in and around the waters.
Mr Press, it’s obviously a 20-year plan that you’ve outlined, but I assume you don’t have that long to get some of these recommendations in place. When do you want to see real action and real change and adoption of what you’re asking for?
As I said before, I’m very pleased that some of those recommendations are actually being acted on right now. I have – in my report, you will see I’ve outlined which recommendations I think should require immediate consideration, which are medium term and which are longer term, and I understand that there’s a process inside the Government to seriously consider all of them. So I’ll just have to see how that plays out.
So one of the things here which was absolutely critical – Tony framed the importance of Antarctica to Australia in terms of science, in terms of economics but also in terms of strategy, and what he outlined in terms of the fact that by protecting the area south of Australia as part of a global area of peace and cooperation has a huge impact on our strategic interests, our regional security and our defence budget.
It means that there’s not an additional area which is an area of hostility or of contest, and that’s why the Antarctic Treaty System is a great environmental investment but it’s also a fundamental strategic investment, and that, frankly, carried enormous weight around the Cabinet table in provisioning for the icebreaker.
Minister, in your Department’s submission to this report it says that a broad and diversified funding base for Australia’s Antarctic activities beyond on budget funding to take in revenue such as research, commercial, philanthropic and crowd sourced funding.
Can you expand on some of those areas, particularly crowd sourced funding?
Sure. So the idea here is that Government has a critical role, but if there are activities which can generate additional income then we’d be silly not to look at them, and that’s a range of different things, and you know that the division’s job was to be as broad ranging as possible, and that may be, for example, that if there are particular scientific projects that are community driven, the community can help drive funding for a specific sub-expedition.
They might be able to provide funding for a specific type of research, whether it’s into, you know, the health of some of the marine life, whether it’s into the health of some of the on ice, you know, extraordinary life, whether it’s in relation to the walrus population, whether it’s in relation to penguins.
You can have iconic species which can attract community interest, and what we’re saying is we have primary responsibility. Let’s be clear. And we’ve upped the funding because of that, but we should also look for international educational collaboration, international universities, international philanthropic organisations that care about the health of these iconic areas and iconic species.
So, essentially, a fundraising exercise.
Well, no, let’s not distort this. We’ve just put in, as I say, the best part of half a billion dollars across two different projects. If these can be supplemented for specific additional projects, that’s good, but to paint it as anything other than supplementary would be wrong.
The primary role here is the Australian Government, but in addition to that if you can do things that are over and above by cooperating with the community and giving them a stake, I think that’s a good thing.
Mr Press, I was just wondering how you see that Australia’s Antarctic stations could be modernised.
There’s a very big project underway at the moment inside the Antarctic Division that looks at the current infrastructure in Antarctica and how it should be modernised. I am not going to make any specific recommendations on that because that’s a very technical question.
When I was director of the Antarctic Division we looked very hard at some of those specific questions, and it requires detailed planning, and it also requires an investment in human capital over a large number of years.
Should we be concerned about the rise of China and other countries in terms of their research efforts in Antarctica?
Not concerned. It’s a reality that other countries such as China are investing very heavily in Antarctic and southern ocean research. The first Chinese scientists to go to Antarctica came with the Australian and Antarctic program in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and there’s been a lot of cooperation and collaboration between Australia and China.
And so it’s not surprising that as the economy of China grows their interest in things like Antarctic research, climate research in Antarctica and the southern ocean – that that grows as well and I think there’s a very big potential for Australia to engage closely with China and collaborate closely with China in Antarctic science as there is with countries like Japan and our traditional partners like France, Germany, the US and the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
I just want to welcome clearly, absolutely, unequivocally China’s interest in Antarctic science and I think there’s enormous potential for Australia and China to collaborate. We would like them to base their future operations out of Hobart and out of Tasmania.
And I think that that is a tremendous future opportunity for Tasmania. They are a country of global significance and if they can partner with Australia and be based out of Hobart and Tasmania – because it’s not just Hobart, there’s potential right around the State for engagement in education – then that can only be good.
Are they one of the countries that you’re speaking to about coming and basing operations out of Hobart?
Look, we’re speaking very widely of course with China and other countries about the potential for them to be based in Hobart. They are big enough and sufficiently well resourced to speak for themselves but we would love Hobart to be – and we are doing everything in our capacity for Tasmania to be – the partner of choice for not just China but for other Antarctic nations.
Can I just ask a really quick question on the Renewable Energy Target and when Tasmania will get an answer about what we can expect?
Sure. We have already – and I would acknowledge the role of both Eric Abetz and Eric Hutchinson and Matthew Groom on this, recommitted to the Renewable Energy Target. We have a long standing bipartisan policy of 20 per cent renewable energy and that hasn’t changed.
We’re now entering into a period where we’re working with the ALP and indeed unions in Tasmania and elsewhere have wanted us to work with the ALP to ensure that we can achieve our renewable goals but without pressure on projects such as Bell Bay or other Tasmanian operations.
So it’s the balance of achieving the goal of our 20 per cent whilst taking pressure off jobs in manufacturing areas and manufacturing firms and reducing pressure on bills for households and manufacturers.
All right. Thank you very much. Tony, congratulations and it’s been a real privilege working with you.
Thank you very much.