Political parties work together to deliver Antarctic science outcomes


Axed science programs, distressed scientists, a toxic culture, and plagued icebreaker are just some of the issues stemming from failures in the Australian Antarctic Division’s governance and funding model, a Senate inquiry has found.

The inquiry’s report, released today, made 16 recommendations to prioritise Antarctic science and fix systemic issues at the AAD. This report has been supported by government and opposition senators. Key recommendations include:

  • A 25-50% increase in funded Antarctica shipping days going forward, to enable more dedicated Antarctic and marine science voyages
  • A review into the “one ship model” and how the AAD can access other shipping arrangements that allow the Nuyina more time for dedicated marine science voyages

  • An immediate commitment of ongoing funding to research institutions - such as IMAS/UTAS - to continue their critical Antarctic science programs (e.g.: Special Research Initiative)

  • A commitment that the delayed Decadal Plan for long-term Antarctic science funding and governance be delivered or “operationalised” no later than financial year 2025/26.

  • That new transparency and accountability measures for Antarctic science funding commitments are clear in future Budgets

  • A review into the AAD’s logistics and operations branch’s culture and governance, with the aim of finally delivering on a long-term integrated planning model at the AAD

  • Lifting the current freeze on recruitment and advertising 20 new job positions

Quotes attributable to Greens spokesperson for healthy oceans, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson:

“Antarctica and the Southern Ocean play a significant role in regulating global weather patterns and studying them is more critical than ever to understanding our planet's rapidly changing climate. 

“Australia has a 42% claim to Antarctic territory – we're meant to be leaders in Antarctic science. Yet this Senate inquiry shone a light on how our government agency that’s designed to facilitate critical science on the icy continent lost its way. 

“A point of great concern repeatedly raised in evidence to the Committee is that Australia has not conducted a dedicated marine science voyage to the Antarctic or Southern Ocean for five years, or a marginal sea ice expedition for ten years. 

“Evidence collected by the inquiry also revealed the number of scientists on Australian Antarctic bases has more than halved over the past decade, science capabilities have declined over time, and our global reputation as a leader in Antarctic science has suffered as a result.

"Science at the AAD was deprioritised by the previous government, causing devastating impacts on the Division's culture. Underpinning this was a staggering degree of incompetence in Division's governance, which ultimately led to a bewildering overspend and budget cut process that prompted the Senate inquiry in the first place. 

“The good news is there's cross-party support for Antarctic science to be front and centre to the mission of the AAD. This should start with a priority funding commitment for an extra 50-100 Antarctic shipping days per year, as well as reviewing the business case for acquiring a second vessel to support Australia’s presence in Antarctica, as recommended by the Committee. 

“Our $500m state of the art icebreaker and floating science platform has been plagued with problems and delays to service since it was commissioned five years ago, and accessing a second ship - especially for logistics support - should be a no-brainer.

"More than ever our planet depends on us understanding the Antarctic region, and we can’t do that without scientists on the ice. Increasing shipping days for the Nuyina to operate 300 days a year will ensure there are no excuses for not having dedicated Antarctic and Southern Ocean science voyages. 

“The recommendations made by the inquiry are critical and should not be controversial, and I look forward to scrutinising their implementation in the months and years to come.”