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Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment
18 May 1998
UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL 2.00 PM MONDAY, 18 MAY 1998
The Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic, Senator Ian Macdonald, released the Howard Government's formal response to the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee's (ASAC) report - Australia's Antarctic Program Beyond 2000: A framework for the Future in Hobart today (Monday, 18 May 1998).
"The Government's response will maximise opportunities for undertaking Antarctic scientific research and will enhance Australia's leading role in Antarctic affairs, whilst minimising infrastructure and logistic support costs", Senator Macdonald said.
The Government has accepted ASAC's advice that a strong and efficient Australian Antarctic Program needs more flexible logistics and infrastructure to be able to respond more readily to changes in future needs and priorities.
"I will be instructing the Australian Antarctic Division to immediately commence examination of options for a transport system that is more flexible and efficient than the present one-ship system," said Senator Macdonald.
The examination will include options for a multi-ship operation that would allow one vessel to be primarily devoted to the conduct of important marine scientific research, and preparation of a scoping study of intercontinental air transport options.
As part of these studies, the Antarctic Division will look closely at environmental and cost considerations and at potential opportunities for cooperative cost-sharing transportation and supply arrangements with Australia's Antarctic neighbours.
"While accepting ASAC's advice on the importance of a cost-effective intercontinental air transport capability for "an innovative and responsive future Antarctic Program", the Government is determined to ensure that this capability is provided in a manner that meets the highest environmental standards and does not cause serious adverse impacts," Senator Macdonald said.
No decisions have been taken on how the desired capability would be provided. These decisions will be taken in the light of the scoping study and other developments, including developments in establishing cooperative international transport arrangements.
"An intercontinental air transport capability will not only increase the Program's scientific output, but will also provide the potential for Australia to more effectively conduct surveillance operations in the Southern Ocean, thus providing greater environmental protection."
While accepting the broad thrust of ASAC's report as an appropriate basis for a focussed and effective Australian Antarctic Program, the Government has also carefully considered the range of public comments received when developing its response to ASAC's recommendations.
"For example, after consideration of the concerns expressed about the potential adverse scientific and other implications, I am pleased to announce that the Government has decided that all four permanent Australian Antarctic research stations should be retained for the medium term at least."
As an alternative means of reducing costs without otherwise impacting on Australia's goals, the potential for automating current and future monitoring programs will be examined, and opportunities for joint use of Australia's continental stations will be actively pursued with other nations.
The Government has however ruled out the option of making the stations available for tourist use and has confirmed its view that tourism in Antarctica should continue to be ship-based.
Senator Macdonald said that the Government was committed to maintaining Australia's leading role in efforts to protect the Antarctic environment, and would ensure that Australian activities in the region continue to meet high environmental standards.
"The Government recognises the increased pressures fishing and tourism are placing on the Antarctic environment and will maintain its efforts to sustainably manage both industries, and in doing so will continue to consult with industry and environmental groups," Senator Macdonald said.
The Government has also re-affirmed its commitment to Hobart being the focus of the Australian Antarctic Program and will work with the Tasmanian Government to further develop the role of Hobart as a gateway to the Antarctic.
Copies of the Government's response will be available at the public launch at the Antarctic Division at 2pm on Monday 18 May. Copies may also be obtained by contacting Tony Molyneux at the Australian Antarctic Division on telephone 03 6232 3527 or James Shevlin in Senator Macdonald's office on 02 6277 3665.
For more information contact James Shevlin on 0417 717 935 or 02 6277 3665.