Australia has a long and proud history of involvement in Antarctica, having significantly contributed to shaping the region, both though the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) and on the ground. Australia’s continued presence on the continent through science and infrastructure has enabled Australia to contribute to worldclass research, shape Antarctic governance, and to protect its sovereignty and national interests in the region.
Maintaining Australia’s position in the Antarctic is critical, particularly at a time when international activity in the region is increasing. In order to ensure that Australia continues to maintain its leading role in the region, the Australian Government has recently committed to increase investment in infrastructure and science on the continent. This report provides a range of recommendations to ensure that this commitment is implemented successfully to enable Australia to continue its strong leadership in Antarctica.
Evidence to the Committee emphasised the unique challenges that infrastructure development presents in Antarctica. The Committee acknowledges that modernisation of existing infrastructure and the management of logistics in such a remote and hostile location would come at a significant cost. However, the benefit of maintaining Australia’s national interests in the region and supporting Antarctic science is important. The Committee has made some recommendations to expedite the modernisation process, with particular emphasis on year-round aviation access, and upgrades to Australia’s Antarctic research stations. Moreover, this will further enhance Australia’s ability to collaborate with other nations through shared logistics arrangements.
The Committee’s inquiry considered the potential affect that new infrastructure will have on the broader Australian Antarctic Program. This includes a greater number of assets that require trained staff to be fully utilised, increased collection of data, and opportunities to expand existing programs such as waste remediation and site inspections in accordance with the ATS. The Committee has made recommendations to ensure that these matters are taken into consideration in future planning of the Australian Antarctic Program.
Antarctic science is a focus of many other countries’ Antarctic programs. For Australia to remain at the forefront of science and engagement on the continent, a renewed focus on its own program is required. Evidence to the Committee highlighted that the Australian Antarctic science framework is undergoing a period of renewal and that a review into the governance of Antarctic science is forthcoming. While the Committee does not wish to pre-empt the review’s findings, there is a need to consider improved funding and coordination of Antarctic science, in line with established governance structures.
One of the key concerns brought to the attention of the Committee is that the funding to the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACECRC) is due to end in June 2019. The Committee received significant evidence that highlighted the important ongoing contribution that the ACECRC has made to Antarctic science. The Committee has therefore recommended that the Australian Government consider mechanisms to ensure that the ACECRC can continue its operations beyond June 2019.
Beyond science, the Australian Antarctic program also provides significant economic opportunities consistent with the ATS. In particular, this includes promoting Australian-based Antarctic businesses and Antarctic tourism. The Committee is also supportive of initiatives to strengthen Hobart’s role as an Antarctic gateway and science hub. To this end, a number of recommendations are made to streamline promoting Antarctic businesses, and tourism opportunities in both Hobart and Antarctica.