Budget Review 2022–23 Index

Elizabeth Smith

The Australian Government has committed to strengthening Australia’s Antarctic strategic and scientific capabilities through a package announced on 22 February 2022. This $839.9 million package is described in the 2022–23 Budget as the cross‍‑portfolio measure ‘Strengthening Australia’s Leadership in Antarctica’ (Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2022–23, pp. 55–56). The budget does not provide new funding as it has already been provided for by the Government. A summary of the funding allocation is provided in the ‘Foreign affairs overview’ article in this Budget review.

The measure aligns with the recently updated Antarctic strategy & 20 year action plan (Strategy & Action Plan), which outlines the Australian Antarctic Program’s (AAP) key priorities for 5 years to 2026. The strategy also articulates Australia's national interests in Antarctica, including to 'maintain Antarctica's freedom from strategic and/or political confrontation' (p. 7). The package is intended to strengthen Australia's national interests in Antarctica in an increasingly complex geopolitical setting and challenging physical environment—which is facing a variety of pressures, including from climate change, increased fishing, tourism and shifts in the nexus between science and diplomacy.

Australia asserts sovereignty over roughly 42% of the Antarctic continent, called the Australian Antarctic Territory. Australia’s activities in the Antarctic are coordinated through the AAP, including logistics, transport and scientific research. The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) leads and coordinates the delivery of the program and is part of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE). The AAD maintains 3 year‑round research stations in Antarctica (Davis, Casey and Mawson) and one in the sub‑Antarctic region on Macquarie Island. As the program is collaborative, multiple government agencies are also involved (including the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia), as well as national and international research institutions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated that the measure will support 685 jobs, 100 of which are specific to the AAP. The 2022‍‍–23 Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio budget statement (DAWE PBS 2022–23) shows an increase in the average staffing level (ASL) for the Antarctica: Science, Policy and Presence program, from 503 in 2021–22 to 599 in 2022–23 (p. 61).

The measure also follows some major changes to 2 long-term infrastructure projects, the Macquarie Island research station project and the Davis runway and aerodrome project. In November 2021, the Minister for the Environment announced that the runway project would no longer proceed. The AAD confirmed in March 2021 that from 2016–17 to 2019–20, a total of $28.3 million had been expended on the planning phase of the project. The total allocated funding for the project, confirmed in October 2021, was $91.6 million up to 30 June 2022.

In 2016, the Government announced $50 million for a new research station on Macquarie Island, to be completed in 2020–21. In March 2021, the upgrade was announced as a renovation, expected to be completed within 7 years. In response to a question on notice asked in July 2021, the AAD stated that a renovation was found to be the best option within the allocated budget, following a 2-year planning phase and delays caused by COVID-19 restrictions (p. 1, answer 2).

Measure funding breakdown

The Antarctic package is a cross‍‑portfolio measure involving DAWE and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The 2022–23 Budget does not provide details on how the funding is to be distributed between the departments, but the departmental portfolio budget statements (PBS) provide some information.

The DAWE PBS 2022–23 (p. 35, footnote l) notes that funding for the measure was included as a decision taken but not yet announced (DTBNYA) in the 2021–2022 Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio additional estimate statement (p. 26). It also provides a breakdown of the 5‑year departmental impact of the measure, as outlined in Table 1.

Table 1 ‘Strengthening Australia’s Leadership in Antarctica’ departmental impact (DAWE) from PBS ($ million)

2021–22 2022–23 2023–24 2024–25 2025–26 Total
PBS 2022–23 12.1 83.2 66.6 78.7 88.5 329.0

Note: These figures have been rounded to one decimal place. The total has been calculated from the figures provided in the PBS.
Source: Australian Government, Portfolio Budget Statement 2022–23: Budget Related Paper No. 1.1: Agriculture, Water and the Environment Portfolio, Table 1.2, footnote (l), 35.

The 2022–23 Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio budget statement (p. 21, footnote g) states that the measure was included as a DTBNYA in the 2021–22 Mid‑year economic and fiscal outlook.

Science funding

Most of the $839.9 million package will strengthen Australia’s capabilities and presence in Antarctica; however, 2 components are more directly focused on science and research. Most commentary has focused on the strategic and geopolitical context of the measure, such as this ABC News article. The Bob Brown Foundation has expressed concern that it fails to protect the Antarctic environment.

Under the updated Strategy & Action Plan, marine and climate science are identified as priority Antarctic science and research themes (p. 15). These themes are reflected in the 2 more science-focused components of the measure, detailed in Budget paper no. 2 (pp. 55–56 ):

  • $17.4 million over 5 years from 2021–22 for research facilities and marine science in the Southern Ocean, including a new krill aquarium in Hobart—with $4.8 million a year from 2026­–27
  • $7.4 million over 5 years from 2021–22 for research on Antarctic ice sheet science to build a global understanding of climate change impacts—with $1.7 million a year from 2026­–27.

A further $44.2 million is provided over 5 years (with $3.9 million a year from 2026­–‍27) to boost the capability and longevity of the RSV Nuyina, Australia’s new Antarctic research and supply icebreaker. The Government has stated that this money will allow the RSV Nuyina to focus on extended science voyages.

The $109 million provided by the measure for aerial and inland capability will also play a role in supporting scientists to conduct research. This includes $35 million for 4 new medium-lift helicopters which will be based on the RSV Nuyina and $60.6 million for drone fleets and other autonomous vehicles. One expert has noted the dual military and research applications of this funding, terming the investment as a ‘move into the grey zone of dual‑use technologies’.

The measure’s science and research funding build on the Government’s commitment made in 2018 of over $100 million for Antarctic Science. This included $50 million over 10 years (from 2019–20) to establish the Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative and $56 million over 7 years (from January 2020) for the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science.

Science reviews

The science and research component of the AAP falls under the Australian Antarctic Science Program (AASP). The management of Australian Antarctic science and research conducted under the AAP has undergone scrutiny in recent years.

In 2017, the former Department of the Environment and Energy commissioned a review into the governance of the AASP (the Clarke Review). Responding to a recommendation in the 2017 Clarke Review, the Australian Government established the Australian Antarctic Science Council in 2019. The council proceeded to implement another recommendation, developing and updating the Australian Antarctic science strategic plan (Science Plan). This updated plan, published in 2020, provides a high‍‍‍‍‍‑level overview of the key research priorities for Australian Antarctic science.

In 2021, the AAD commissioned an independent expert panel to conduct a review of its Science Branch (the O’Kane Review). The division has accepted all recommendations made by the review and has stated that it will work with AASP partners to implement them. The AAD website notes:

In response to the recommendations of the 2021 O’Kane Review, the Australian Antarctic Division has formally asserted that “Science is the central driver of all its activities” and has adopted as its unifying narrative that its purpose is “Building comprehensive knowledge of East Antarctica and its ecosystems to inform our Antarctic stewardship and enhance our understanding of climate change”.

The O’Kane Review also observed that implementation of the Science Plan was lacking, and recommended developing a 10‑year Australian Antarctic science plan (Decadal Plan) to facilitate implementation the Science Plan (pp. 5; 7). It also recommended that the division update the Science Plan and undertake annual reporting against the Decadal Plan. This recommendation is in line with the Clarke Review, which recommended developing comprehensive performance measures to assess the impact of the AASP (p. 4).

Additionally, in response to the O’Kane Review recommendations, the division has announced changes to the scope and delivery of the AASP in the key areas of program focus, operation support, and project requests and assessments. These changes included halting the AASP grants program and redistributing the associated $1.05 million funding to support the AASP by contracting research projects to deliver specific government priorities, purchasing scientific equipment, and supporting early career researchers.


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