Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Australian Antarctic Division
On Wednesday last week, I and my colleague Senator Brown moved a motion in the Senate which called on the Turnbull government to commit to the long-term future of the Australian Antarctic Division at its Kingston headquarters south of Hobart. The work of the AAD is world-leading and supported by a workforce of around 300, many of whom are based in Kingston. Senator Brown and I chose to raise these concerns in this place because we're aware of discussions that have been going on regarding relocating the AAD headquarters and its staff to the Hobart CBD.
For several months, discussions about the Antarctic precinct proposal have been taking place between the Macquarie Point Development Corporation, the Department of State Growth and several agencies involved in the Antarctic Program, including the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, the University of Tasmania, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the Tasmanian Polar Network and the AAD. I understand that it has also been raised in discussions about the Hobart City Deal, and that the Department of the Environment and Energy is giving the AAD's involvement in the new precinct serious consideration.
Kingston is a small urban centre, and the loss of 300 jobs would be a huge blow to its local economy. The AAD supports local cafes and retailers, manufacturers and suppliers. The move would also significantly contribute to the worsening congestion of traffic into the city. Two local businesses that have raised concerns publicly are the Kingston florist and Clennett's Mitre 10. Kingston florist owner Sally Rogers told the Mercury, the Hobart newspaper, recently:
We need jobs in the area after losing Vodafone not long ago and the Southern Outlet is already busy enough without hundreds of extra people having to travel into Hobart for work …
Mitre 10's managing director, William Clennett, in a separate Mercury article, said:
It's good to see highly paid science jobs in the community and sad to think people in Kingston are only limited to retail and hospitality jobs.
Our call to keep the AAD in Kingston has been echoed by the Kingborough Council. The Kingborough Council unanimously resolved that their meeting on 23 July to communicate to the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Mr Frydenberg, their desire for the headquarters to stay in its current location and for there to be no net loss of staff from Kingborough. The mayor of Kingborough, Councillor Steve Wass, has also been to see both federal government and opposition representatives, including me and Senator Brown, to discuss the issue. And I understand that Mayor Wass received verbal assurances from Tasmanian Liberal senators that the AAD would remain in Kingston but nothing has yet been provided in writing.
My and Senator Brown's motion was passed by the Senate, and I'd like to thank the Senate for supporting our call for the AAD to remain in Kingston. Before the resolution was carried, Senator Abetz made a statement, purportedly on behalf of the government, referring to Labor's advocacy on this issue as 'faux concern'. Senator Abetz said:
The government's very clear position is that Kingston remains the home of the Australian Antarctic Division.
But let's see if this is really faux concern, as Senator Abetz claims it is. As it turns out, the government's position wasn't so clear, because it took until Friday for the minister for the environment to come out of hiding and issue a statement. Minister Frydenberg was quoted in the Mercury as saying:
While the AAD is considering possible involvement in the proposed Antarctic Precinct at Macquarie Point, no decision on moving any or all of the AAD's operations has been made.
No decision has been made. Senator Abetz had said to us that there had been a decision. The minister said 'no decision'. So who's really putting forward the position of the Turnbull government? Is it Senator Abetz, who claims that the government is firmly committed to keeping the AAD in Kingston, or is it Minister Frydenberg, who says that no decision has been made? It can't be both. I'm not comfortable with the verbal assurances apparently given to Kingborough Council by Tasmanian Liberal senators when the minister's statement is contradictory.
Senator Brown and I, and the member for Kingston, Julie Collins, have now written to the minister seeking clarification of the government's real position and asking him to rule out, once and for all, moving the AAD headquarters to Macquarie Point. It's time for Minister Frydenberg and the Turnbull government to stand up for the residents of Kingston and commit to the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters remaining where they have been since 1980, in a purpose-built facility, and where they still belong.