Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Antarctic Science

8:23 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Over the past two decades the Australian Antarctic Division, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere and the University of Tasmania, with the support of successive Tasmanian and federal governments, have established Hobart as the Australian hub for critical research into the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean, particularly into the impacts of climate change. This established research ecosystem has also ensured that Hobart is recognised as a global centre for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research all around the world. We call this the Antarctic gateway.

A recent Australian Research Council funding decision means that funding to maintain the current levels of Antarctic and Southern Ocean research in Hobart is not available beyond 2023 and puts our critical science community, which is an integral part of the broader Hobart community and economy, at risk. Through IMAS, UTas has hosted a $32 million Antarctic Gateway Partnership from 2013 to 2020. However, that research funding has now finished. Total funding for Antarctic research hosted at IMAS, including other grant programs and UTas contributions, has been in excess of $15 million per year over the last five years. Over the last 10 years the science community has been fighting for long-term continuity in its science funding. A number of critical programs that are conducted by our science community in Hobart are long-term and collaborative in nature.

The Australian government implemented two reviews into long-term funding to underpin certainty for these collaborative long-term scientific programs. The first was the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, which called for a revitalisation of Antarctic science, including through the implementation of a coordinated and effective Antarctic science funding model to increase Antarctic research by leading Australian institutions. And then in 2017 the government implemented the Clarke review, or the Antarctic Science Program Governance Review, which recommended institutionalising long-term collaborative science and ensuring coherent science leadership.

The ARC decision, which was announced nearly two weeks ago, has dudded Tasmania and left Tasmania out in the cold. These Tasmanian institutions submitted a proposal to the ARC in collaboration with 41 national and international university and government partnerships. However, it was only able to attract $20 million of the $56 million in funding. The UTas Vice-Chancellor, Rufus Black, has said that this announcement fragments, rather than strengthens, Australia's Antarctic science capability and undermines the existing Australian Antarctic and Southern Ocean science program. This program is critical to monitoring and tackling our climate emergency, and this announcement presents a significant cause for concern for the Tasmanian science community.

As I mentioned, these programs are long-term and collaborative in nature and need a funding arrangement that is also long-term and gives continuity and certainty to the Antarctic science community. The Australian government must immediately review Antarctic and Southern Ocean science funding. This includes taking into account the recent findings of these reviews, such as the Clarke review, and providing certainty and support for an integrated approach that restores Tasmania as the hub of this nation's Southern Ocean and Antarctic climate research efforts.

It was only four years ago that I chaired the select committee into science job cuts at CSIRO and we managed to reverse nearly 300 potential job cuts to the science community in Hobart. While we have been building the gateway to the Antarctic in Hobart, and the government has been forthcoming with significant infrastructure funding for the AAD, it's no good spending money on infrastructure if you don't invest in the science and the personnel that are going to use the Australian Antarctic base, use the new icebreaker and use the new runway extension in Hobart. We need to have long-term funding for these science programs. If we want to keep the thousands of research jobs and families in Hobart, which is so critical to our identity, then we need to up the ante and significantly fund these research efforts.