Chapter 1 - Background: Australian Antarctic Division and Antarctic Program

Chapter 1Background: Australian Antarctic Division and Antarctic Program

Referral of inquiry

1.1On 9 August 2023, the Senate referred an inquiry into Australian Antarctic Division funding to the Environment and Communications References Committee (committee), with the following terms of reference:

The current management of the funding of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), with particular reference to:

(a)revelations that the AAD is pursuing cuts worth roughly 16% of its operating budget;

(b)the direct and indirect impacts of cuts to public funding of Australia's Antarctic activities, including on full-time, part-time and contract AAD jobs;

(c)the ramifications for Australia's international commitments and obligations;

(d)the internal compilation of a list of at least 56 existing projects, programs and research activities that could be cut and/or terminated;

(e)the extent of the Albanese Government's involvement in, and response to, these cost-cutting plans;

(f)the consequences of funding cuts to Australia's Antarctic program for our country's geopolitical and strategic international interests;

(g)complications that the proposed $25 million worth of cuts will cause for the full delivery of the Australian Antarctic Science Strategic Plan, the Australian Antarctic Strategy, the 20-year Action Plan, and the extra $804.4 million Antarctic funding package delivered by the MorrisonGovernment in early 2022;

(h)the widespread view, including among numerous Antarctic science experts, that funding cuts of this scale and nature are catastrophic for Australia; and

(i)any other related matters.[1]

1.2The committee was required to report by 30 November 2023. On 28November2023, the Senate granted an extension of time for the report until 20 March 2024.[2] On 20 March, a further brief extension was granted to 8May2024.[3] On 8 May, the committee sought a further brief extension, to table on 9May 2024.[4]

1.3Details of the inquiry were made available on the committee's webpage and the committee invited organisations, key stakeholders and individuals to provide submissions.[5]

1.4The committee received 26 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1 of this report, and held the following public hearings:

4 and 5 October 2023 in Hobart, Tasmania;

16 November 2023 at Parliament House, Canberra;

29 January 2024 in Hobart, Tasmania;

28 February 2024 at Parliament House, Canberra;

19 March 2024 at Parliament House, Canberra; and

24 April 2024 in Hobart, Tasmania.

1.5A list of the organisations and individuals who attended these public hearings as witnesses can be found in Appendix 2. The public submissions, additional information received by the committee and Hansard transcripts are available on the committee's website.


1.6The committee thanks all those who have contributed to the inquiry by making submissions, providing additional information, and appearing at public hearings.

1.7The committee thanks representatives of the AAD for their cooperation with the committee and for appearing at several public hearings. The committee also extends its thanks to those who came forward to share their experiences of working in Antarctica and with the AAD, with the committee. Your evidence greatly assisted the committee to understand the issues.

The report

1.8This report is comprised of five chapters:

Chapter 1 considers the establishment and operation of this inquiry, as well as background information relating to Australia's interests in Antarctica and the operations and funding of the AAD;

Chapter 2 summarises recent reviews into the AAD and matters relating to its operation and funding, including key themes and recommendations arising from those reviews;

Chapter 3 considers a range of issues relating to the funding and operations of the AAD, including staffing and culture at the AAD, the best funding models for the AAD and progress on the Decadal Plan;

Chapter 4 examines how funding of the AAD impacts on Antarctic science, looks at issues with the roll-out and use of the RSV[6]Nuyina, and the role of Australia's Antarctic presence in international relations and geopolitics; and

Chapter 5 outlines the committee's views and recommendations.

1.9References to the Committee Hansard may be references to a proof transcript. Page numbers may differ between proof and official transcripts.


Australia's interests in the Antarctic region

1.10Australia has a long-standing interest in the Antarctic region, which consists of the Antarctic continent and the sub-Antarctic region. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) explained that Australia national interests in Antarctica, include:

preserving our sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT) and our sovereign rights over adjacent offshore areas;

maintaining Antarctica's freedom from strategic or political confrontation; and,

protecting and preserve the unique Antarctic environment.

These interests are supported by the strong and effective operation of the Antarctic Treaty system (ATS), comprising the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection, the 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and the 1972 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic seals.[7]

1.11The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) likewise recognised Australia's commitment to Antarctica and the ATS, submitting:

Australia's support for, and commitment to the stability of, Antarctica and the Antarctic Treaty system remains a priority for Australia. Through our history of involvement in the Antarctic Treaty system, our ongoing physical presence and scientific research, we continue to be a leading and influential player in the cooperative management of Antarctica.[8]

1.12DCCEEW has a key role in securing Australia's national interests and 'freedom from strategic and political confrontation' in Antarctica. Along with other Australian Government agencies, it works:

… to advance Australia's environmental, scientific, strategic and economic interests in the Antarctic region by protecting, researching and administering the region, including through international engagement. The Department works closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Defence and other government agencies to pursue Australia's national interests in Antarctica.[9]

1.13Australia's current national interests and vision for future engagement in the region are set out in the whole-of government Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan (Strategy and Action Plan). These broader national interests in Antarctica are to:

maintain Antarctica's freedom from strategic and/or political confrontation;

preserve Australia's sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory, including its sovereign rights over adjacent offshore areas;

support a strong and effective Antarctic Treaty system;

conduct world-class scientific research consistent with national priorities;

protect the Antarctic environment, having regard to its special qualities and effects on our region;

be informed about and able to influence developments in a region geographically proximate to Australia; and

foster economic opportunities arising from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, consistent with our Antarctic Treaty system obligations, including the ban on mining and oil drilling.[10]

1.14Dr Tony Press with the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, appeared before the committee in a private capacity and stressed the importance of preserving Antarctica as a place of science important to Australia's national interest, explaining that:

… maintaining Antarctica free from strategic and political confrontation is one of our national interests. Preserving our sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory, supporting a strong and effective Antarctic Treaty system, conducting world-class scientific research, protecting the environment and being informed about how Antarctica interacts with Australia and the rest of the world are really central to Australia's national interest. We also have economic interests there, both directly in terms of fishing and indirectly in terms of the services that the Antarctic provides to Australia and the globe through the global climate system and also through the ecology of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.[11]

The Australian Antarctic Division

1.15The AAD is a division of DCCEEW and is responsible for leading and coordinating the Australian Antarctic Program (Antarctic Program).[12]

1.16The AAD provides logistics support for all activities undertaken in Antarctica by the Antarctic Program. It manages assets in Tasmania, as well as the Antarctic continent and the sub-Antarctic, including:

three permanent Antarctic research stations (Casey, Mawson and Davis);

Wilkins Aerodrome (operating as a summer-only station) and associated airfield infrastructure;

a sub-Antarctic research station (Macquarie Island); and

Australia's Antarctic icebreaker, the RSV Nuyina.[13]

1.17The AAD also leads, manages and coordinates Australia's Antarctic Science Program, which brings together researchers from across Commonwealth agencies and other institutions, including: DCCEEW, Geoscience Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), as well as national and international universities and research institutions.[14]

Staffing levels

1.18DCCEEW noted that staffing numbers for the AAD have tended to fluctuate across the years and in particular across seasons:

The ASL [Average Staffing Level] allocated to Outcome 3 has increased over the past two years, from 780 ASL in 2022-23 (the published PBS [PortfolioBudget Statement] number is a part-year figure due to the Machinery of Government changes) to 822 ASL in 2023-24.

The Division's current ASL is 552.6, noting that there is a high degree of seasonality in the Division's work – with influxes during the summer months as we service the Antarctic Season. The Division utilises fixed term contracts, particularly for Antarctic expeditioner employment and for specialist trades and scientists. Enabling staff also make up a portion of the total ASL for Outcome 3.[15]

1.19DCCEEW noted that as of October 2023, the current AAD ASL was around 500, of which 95 were Science Branch staff—around 20 per cent of the total staff.[16] Specifically, there were:

… 330 APS [Australian Public Service] ongoing staff, 72 APS non-ongoing staff—which doesn't include the expeditioners, and we treat those a bit differently—and 94non-ongoing staff that are expeditioners. That's a total APS staff of 496, and we have 53 contractors in the division.[17]


1.20The AAD advised the committee that between early 2023 and early 2024, there had been a significant and 'very big change in leadership of the Antarctic Division, led by the appointment of Ms [Emma] Campbell' as the Head of the AAD, and the appointment of other key staff.[18]

1.21In addition, in the past 12 months the AAD has been making efforts to convert a 'high proportion of non-ongoing and insecure workers into ongoing positions', with most of the staff in the Science Branch in long-term, ongoing employment.[19]

1.22The AAD advised, on notice, that:

Between the period 1 March 2023 and 24 April 2024, 18 Australian Antarctic Division employees who were on a non-ongoing or labour hire contract were issued with an ongoing letter of employment. This included 10nonongoing employees and 8 labour hires.[20]

1.23The AAD has been without a permanent Chief Scientist since December 2023. The committee was advised in April 2024 that recruitment for the role remains ongoing, with Ms Rhonda Bartley appointed as acting Chief Scientist commencing 1 May 2024, and the AAD hopeful of a permanent appointment within six months.[21]

2016 Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan

1.24In 2016, the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan was released, with the aim of bringing 'Australia's Antarctic presence into the next generation', through:

… the acquisition of a new world-class icebreaker, restoration of our inland traverse capability, preliminary work to develop year-round aviation access and revitalising Antarctic science infrastructure.[22]

1.25More specifically, under the Strategy and Action Plan Australia would:

expand its logistical capability and critical research into the Antarctic ice sheet and marine environment

lead new research to improve our understanding of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean's role in the global climate system

reinforce Hobart's position as the premier gateway to East Antarctica, and create more than 100 jobs to providing an economic boost for families and businesses in Tasmania and

continue working closely with other Antarctic nations, including through the ATS, to ensure this unique region is protected and continues to be dedicated to peace and science.[23]

1.26The Strategy and Action Plan sought to ensure Australia could play a key role in sourcing the planet's oldest ice (greater than one million years of age), exploring unknown parts of the ocean below the sea ice and ice shelves, and 'learning how a warming and acidifying ocean will affect Australia'.[24]

1.27A five-year review of the Plan found that it had helped to deliver:

the design and commissioning of Australia's new icebreaker, RSV Nuyina

development of Australia's inland traverse capability to undertake major science expeditions (including those related to ice cores)

revision of 'the Australian Antarctic Science Strategic Plan and developing a coordinated science funding model with leading Australian institutions and international and industry partners'

'new funding under the Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative to support Australia's Antarctic science collaboration'.[25]

1.28The Strategy and Action Plan was updated in 2022, to focus on the development and progress of the Antarctic Program between 2021 and 2026. The future focus would include, among other things, 'greater maritime support for significant science and logistics activities in the Southern Ocean', and the 'lease of new icestrengthened ships to provide greater flexibility for infrastructure delivery and to release the RSV Nuyina to focus on important science programs'.[26]

1.29The 2022 update also committed to the development of a tenyear Antarctic Science Plan (the decadal plan) to 'implement Australia's Antarctic strategic science priorities', with science to be conducted under the priority themes of climate science; marine science; and the enhancement of Australia's on-water presence in the Southern Ocean.[27]

The Australian Antarctic Program

1.30The Australian Antarctic Program (AAP) coordinates Australia's activities in Antarctica—from scientific research to logistics and transport—in order to support delivery of Australia's national interests. According to DCCEEW, the AAP functions within a high-capital operating and maintenance environment and is supported by shipping (primarily the RSV Nuyina) and aviation services (centred around the Wilkins Aerodrome).[28]

1.31The Antarctic Program both supports and is supported by other Commonwealth government agencies, including the Australian Research Council, the Bureau of Meteorology, ARPANSA, CSIRO, Department of Defence, DFAT, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, Geoscience Australia and the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority.[29]

1.32The Antarctic Program involves partnerships across government and with over 150 national and international research institutions.[30]

1.33In April 2024, Ms Emma Campbell, Head of the AAD, provided the committee with an update on the 2023–24 Antarctic season, advising that the AAD was making:

… excellent progress this year, including 55 projects supported in Antarctica, including 43 science projects. We had 137 researchers from 21countries collaborating on science projects during this season. We completed a 1,200-kilometre traverse to Little Dome C to deliver essential equipment for the Million Year Ice Core project, one of the most ambitious and challenging scientific projects yet to be undertaken in Antarctica. We successfully supported 42 people at a deep field camp 450 kilometres from Casey Station studying the Denman Glacier. This is the largest multidisciplinary field research campaign in recent decades. Other scientific projects included a successful execution of ICECAP-EAGLE flights, seabird monitoring at Mawson and Bunger Hills, environmental risk mitigation and remediation of contaminated sites at Casey, long term monitoring of the atmosphere and cryosphere, and sea level ice sheets and Antarctic mapping.[31]

Antarctic Science Program

1.34The Antarctic Science Program is focused on the following themes:

climate science (including atmospheric research; sea ice; ice sheets and sea level; and ice core past climate);

Southern Ocean ecosystems (including research to inform sustainable fisheries management and non-lethal whale research);

environmental stewardship (including environmental protection and remediation of legacy waste and contamination); and

long term observational and monitoring programs critical to our understanding of change and adaptation of species such as penguins and flying seabirds.[32]

1.35In 2023–24, the AAD is supporting 42 science projects in Australia and Antarctica. This season has a focus on large, complex and multi-field programs of climate research, including the Million Year Ice Core Project and the Denman Terrestrial Campaign.[33]

1.36The 2023–24 year will also be the first full season of operations for the ice-breaker RSVNuyina, which houses four permanent laboratories (and can accommodate a further 24 containerised laboratories). It also contains a 'moon pool' that allows direct access to the ocean via the ship's hull, a 'wet well' system, and stateoftheart instrumentation.[34]

Australian Antarctic Science Council

1.37The Australian Antarctic Science Council (the Council) was established in 2019 to advise the Australian Government on the Australian Antarctic Science Program, including Antarctic science priorities in the context of the Strategy and Action Plan. The key focus of the Council is to advise on:

arrangements to implement the Australian Government response to the Australian Antarctic Science Program Governance Review (2017); and

options to maintain or enhance Australia's reputation on Antarctic science including by maximising the use of the Government's Antarctic infrastructure and supporting annual planning of the Australian Antarctic Science Program.[35]

1.38The Council recently released its Review of the Australian Antarctic science funding model, which made recommendations on improving the funding model for Antarctic science and the structure of the AAD. These findings are discussed in greater detail later in this report.

1.39Dr Nicholas Gales was recently appointed as the new Chair of the Australian Antarctic Science Council.[36]

Australia's international obligations and commitments

1.40In addition to its important scientific work and outcomes, the Antarctic Science Program is critical to meeting certain legislative and regulatory requirements, as well as international treaty requirements and obligations, including under the Antarctic Treaty system.

1.41DCCEEW leads and/or supports Australia's engagement in the Antarctic Treaty system and related international forums, including through:

supporting DFAT (as lead agency) via engagement in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting on a range of strategic, environmental, scientific and operational issues;

leading Australia's engagement in the Committee for Environmental Protection established under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty;

delivering (through the Antarctic Program) environmental protection and management research in support of Australian engagement;

international cooperation in scientific investigation in Antarctica;

leading Australia's engagement in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and its Scientific Committee;

ecosystem-based management of fisheries in the Southern Ocean, drawing on AAD's fisheries management and ecosystem research;

leading Australia's engagement in the International Whaling Commission and its Scientific Committee;

leading Australia's engagement in the forums for the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels;

leading Australia's engagement in the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs;

leading Australia's bilateral engagement on Antarctic policy, science, operations matters; and

working with DFAT and utilising whole-of-government engagement.[37]

1.42The AAD is responsible for administering the Antarctic-related environmental legislation that implements international legal obligations for Australians and Australian-organised Antarctic activities (covering government and nongovernment entities):

Specifically, the Protocol on Environmental Protection requires that all proposed Antarctic activities are subject to prior assessment of their impacts on the Antarctic environment and on dependent or associated ecosystems. The Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act 1980 and associated regulations implement this obligation and must be complied with for all proposed Australian activities.[38]

1.43Numerous submitters and witnesses referred to science as the 'currency' of the Antarctic treaty system. For example, Professor Donald Rothwell told the committee:

To maintain influence on leadership in the Antarctic Treaty system, it is important for any treaty party to maintain a comprehensive and robust Antarctic science program. In this regard, science is the currency in Antarctica, which has been repeatedly acknowledged by successive Australian governments.[39]

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

1.44The work of the AAD also supports Australia's international monitoring obligations under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The treaty prohibits all nuclear explosive testing and 'establishes a global monitoring network.[40]

1.45The Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) within DFAT highlighted the 'important role the AAD plays in assisting Australia meet its obligations' under the treaty through technical and logistical support for the four International Monitoring Stations (IMS) in the Antarctic region.[41]

1.46ASNO explained the role of the AAD:

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and Geoscience Australia (GA) are the station maintenance managers for the above IMS stations and rely on the logistics expertise and staff from the AAD to ensure the continuous operation of these IMS stations. GA and ARPANSA also rely on the availability of berths on AAD vessels for IMS experts to undertake short-term travel to the bases to carry out technical maintenance and repairs.[42]

The importance of AAD to Tasmania

1.47Tasmania is considered one of the few global gateways to the Antarctic region, and as such the Antarctic Program is an important contributor to the Tasmanian economy. DCCEEW noted that the AAD 'is considered a major contributor to the Antarctic industry in Tasmania, with approximately 60% of the Division's budget flowing into the Tasmanian economy through salaries and wages, goods and services and capital expenditure'.[43]

1.48The Tasmanian Polar Network (TPN) provided evidence on the importance of the Antarctic programs to the Tasmanian economy. The TPN consists of '70members drawn from across all areas of the Tasmanian Antarctic community, including private businesses, educational institutions, research bodies and government agencies'. It provides 'a wide range of specialist goods and services to all organisations operating in the Southern Ocean and in the Antarctic, including the Australian Antarctic Program and other national Antarctic programs'.[44]

1.49The TPN stated that the AAD and the Antarctic Program are a major source of funding and revenue for the Tasmanian community. The Network submitted that Tasmania's Antarctic and Southern Ocean sector contributes almost $159million annually to the Tasmanian economy and supports 947 full time equivalent jobs. The Network expressed concerns that any reduction in the funding for the Antarctic Program would impact providers of goods and services within the sector, as well as 'impact the reputation and appeal of Hobart as an Antarctic Gateway city'.[45]

Australian Antarctic Division funding

1.50The activities of the AAD—as well as a proportion of DCCEEW's Enabling Services Group—are funded under the Department's Outcome 3, as shown in Figure1.1.

1.51Funding for Antarctic matters (Outcome 3, Program 3.1) was $216.8million in 2022–23. The 2023–24 Budget allocation for Program 3.1 was $202.9 million (as outlined in Figure1.2), increasing over the forward estimates. As of October2023, total departmental funding for the AAD over the forward estimates was $1.2 billion.[46]

1.52DCCEEW noted that the AAD's funding allocation includes a small amount of administered funding—$5 million in the 2023–24 year and across forward estimates—for the Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative. This arose from Machinery of Government changes allocating DCCEEW responsibility for the administration of the Australian Antarctic Partnership Program (transferred from the Department of Industry, Science and Resources from 1 July 2023).[47]

Figure 1.1DCCEEW 2023–24 Budgeted Expenses for Outcome 3

Source: Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Submission 12, p. 13.

Figure 1.2DCCEEW Departmental Appropriation Funding by Measures for Program3.1

Source: Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Submission 12, p. 14.

1.53DCCEEW advised that the program changes outlined above impacted staffing levels, with the adjusted Average Staffing Level (ASL) for 2022–23 of 780, increasing to 822 ASL in 2023–24.[48]

1.54Staffing levels in the AAD, at the time of submitting in September 2023, were at 522.6 ASL, due to the 'highly seasonal' nature of the work, with greater staffing levels experienced during summer months. DCCEEW noted it 'utilises fixed term contracts, particularly for Antarctic expeditioner employment and for specialist trades and scientists'.[49]

Sustainable Funding Review

1.55Throughout this inquiry, the committee sought to understand the allocation of additional funding announced in 2022, totalling $804.4 million over 10 years and now referred to as the 'Sustainable Funding Review' (SFR). This funding allocation was appropriated as a departmental measure in the October 2022–23 Budget.[50]

1.56DCCEEW advised that the SFR investment in Antarctica was aimed at strengthening Australia's strategic and scientific capabilities in the region and supporting activities set out in the Strategy and Action Plan.[51] In announcing the additional funding, then Prime Minister the Hon Scott Morrison MP said that the:

… $800 million of additional investment [was] part of our science research and capability support program for what we're doing to implement our Antarctica strategy.

Both of these big initiatives are all about Australia's outstanding reputation of being one of the most advanced scientific managers of these sensitive environments anywhere in the world.[52]

1.57DCCEEW advised the $804.4 million allocation included:

funding for lapsing measures, such as the Antarctic Traverse capability and Million-Year Ice Core project;

core Antarctic program activities, including 'marine science, strategic planning and international engagement'; and

delivery of initiatives set out in the Strategy and Action Plan, including 'new activities such as ice sheet science, a Cleaner Antarctic strategy and new technologies (i.e. unmanned aerial vehicles)'.[53]

1.58In its submission, DCCEEW advised this funding included provisions 'to maintain sustainable operations' for areas such as inland Antarctic traverse transport and science and technology personnel to operate the RSV Nuyina.[54]

1.59Specifically, some of the SFR would be allocated as follows:

$136.6 million over the next five years for critical activities including environmental protection and management, charting activities for safe navigation and continuation of Australia's inland transport for major science campaigns

$92.3 million per year (indexed) from 2026–27 to support Australia's ongoing Antarctic activities and

$17.4 million for enhanced marine science in the Southern Ocean.[55]

1.60This report will later discuss the evidence received by the committee about the SFR, and its role in the budgetary pressures now impacting various AAD projects.[56]

2023–24 funding arrangements

1.61In its submission, DCCEEW noted that there was a reduction in funding for Outcome 3, between 2022–23 and 2023–24. The Department explained that:

The difference in total allocation between the 2022-23 and 2023-24 financial years is due in large part to the lapsing of a temporary budget supplement, provided in 2022-23 for the commissioning of Australia's icebreaker, the RSV Nuyina. This funding was in recognition of increased costs while RSVNuyina was unavailable and the need for supplementary shipping. The impact of this measure is a reduction of funding of $29.693 million for Outcome 3. The impact of this termination was offset by increases in other measures - increases that continue every year of the forward estimates. This reduction was expected, and was published in the Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water Portfolio's Portfolio Budget Statements 202223.[57]

1.62Additionally, there have been reductions in the AAD's internal budget allocation in response to two department-wide funding requirements:

$27.639 million of savings related to the whole of Australian Government saving measure from the 2023–24 October Budget—Savings from External Labour, and Savings from Advertising, Travel and Legal Expenses; and

a requirement for additional funding for enabling services in DCCEEW.[58]

1.63DCCEEW advised that the above funding requirements 'were applied to all divisions on a pro-rata basis'. However, the fixed shipping and fuel element of the AAD's budget (estimated at $51 million in 2023–24) was excluded to avoid disproportionally affecting the AAD's discretionary funding. The internal budget allocation for the AAD also took account of the lapsing budget measure for supplementary shipping.[59] These impacts are shown in Figure 1.3.

Figure 1.3Impacts on the 2023–24 AAD internal budget

Source: Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Submission 12, p. 15.

1.64DCCEEW summarised the above and explained that:

The result of these changes was approximately $23 million in the AAD's total operational departmental budget (from $222.4 million in 2022-23 to $199.8 million in 2023-24, or 10%). If the fixed component of the Division's budget ($74.7 million) is removed, the change represents 16% of the nonfixed budget. This excludes funding for the Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative ($5million per year) and for capital ($70.9 million in 2023-24). In 2023–24, the AAD will administer appropriation of over $275million to directly support the Australian Antarctic Program.[60]

1.65Mr Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of DCCEEW stressed that there 'has not been a 15 per cent cut to the division's budget'. Rather, he argued that:

Lower funding availability in this financial year compared to last financial year is simply because of termination of temporary measures that were there because the RSV Nuyina was out of service. What we are doing now has been forecast for some years, moving back to a one-ship model of support for the Australian Antarctic Program, the RSV Nuyina.[61]

Changes to the Antarctic Program

1.66As will be detailed throughout this report, the committee heard from various submitters and witnesses about the potential implications of any changes to the structure and funding of the Australian Antarctic Program, both to the local Tasmanian economy and the ability to deliver the Science Program.

1.67For example, the TPN submitted that:

Each project, program, voyage, and expedition allows Tasmanian businesses to deliver and showcase world-class goods and services to the Antarctic program. Any reduction in scope will have a flow-on effect on both economic benefit but also result in lost opportunities to bolster our Antarctic and Southern Ocean workshop, whether it be apprentices working towards specialised skills in technical roles, postdoctoral researchers just beginning their scientific careers, and marine crews and provedores.

Companies with Antarctic specialisations could see the risk of engaging with the Australian Antarctic Program as too high and could re-focus their businesses on more stable areas, which will diminish the development of skills.[62]

1.68Professor Dana Bergstrom similarly submitted:

Budget shortfalls also affects the local Tasmanian community more than big ticket items like ship and fuel. For example, the reduction in the use of helicopters this season will impact local business and then the local spend within the community.[63]

1.69The Tasmanian Government also stressed the importance of the Antarctic industry to the economy of Tasmania and noted that the industry also delivers services to other clients, such as the international Antarctic science community that also uses Hobart as a service base. In its submission, the Tasmanian Government observed that reduced activity by the AAD could potentially impact the 'Antarctic and Southern Ocean sector's economic contribution in Tasmania'.[64]

1.70The TPN similarly noted that Hobart is used as a gateway to Antarctica by nations such as France, Italy, the United States, China and Germany, all of which 'provide economic stimulus and allow researchers, technical staff and the broader public to benefit from such expertise visiting our region'. The TPN was of the view that:

… reputational damage stemming from budget decisions will impact the numbers of businesses—from small to large—students, early-career scientists, professional and technical staff, and world-class scientists who would otherwise choose to relocate to Tasmania and Tasmania's Antarctic related institutions. Any fall in the reputation of Hobart as a gateway to the Antarctic and as a hub for specialist skills relating to the region will likely impact on the delivery of the Australian Antarctic Strategy and the Australian Antarctic Science Decadal Plan, which is currently being developed.[65]

Concerns with AAD funding

1.71Notwithstanding the above explanations from DCCEEW about the 15per cent reduction in non-fixed budget, the Antarctic science community expressed significant concern at these funding changes, arguing that any funding shortfalls would disproportionately impact the Antarctic Science Program instead of Antarctic infrastructure spending.

1.72For example, Dr Simon Wright and Dr Andrew Davidson were of the view that the 'Antarctic science program is reportedly expected to bear the brunt of these cuts'. They went on to describe this shortfall as 'de facto' funding cuts to the science budget within the AAD because 'although the promised $804.4 M[illion] may be delivered, the science budget will be cut to compensate for cost overruns elsewhere in the AAD'. Dr Wright and Dr Davidson suggested these funding changes would be:

… a further blow to the science staff at the AAD, their collaborators, and Australia's standing in the Antarctic community, as well as the AAD's future science capability. These cuts come on top of an accelerating decline in science capability over the past two decades. They are apparently due to cost overruns in the operations budget rather than any decline in overall budget allocation. Yet the axe will fall hardest upon Science because the AAD has financially structured itself such that science funding has become discretionary, whilst the budgets for operations, and development of capability and infrastructure are not. This reflects the relative influence of these Branches within the AAD, despite Science purportedly being the justification for Australia's occupancy of Antarctica and its sovereign claims to 42% of the continent.[66]

1.73The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) outlined concerns raised by staff working at the AAD in relation to the budget changes:

In 2022, the Government committed $804.4 million over 10 years via the Sustainable Funding Review, which was explicitly identified as an "additional investment" to the AAD's core budget …

Considering these commitments, the current budget shortfall was unforeseen by AAD employees and there is a widely held sense of confusion as to how this occurred. AAD staff are concerned that there is a lack of accountability and transparency regarding AAD spending, particularly in relation to the 2022 funding announcement that was understood to be an additional investment.[67]

1.74Professor Rufus Black, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania described the current budget challenges for the Antarctic science program as a 'crisis long in the making' and called for 'significant reform of the way science is funded and logistics supported'.[68]

Other operational concerns with the AAD

1.75Along with concerns about the impact of AAD funding decreases on science in the Antarctic region, the committee also heard about the numerous reviews held in recent years into the operations and culture of the AAD.

1.76These reviews, which are detailed in the following chapter, considered the AAD's funding model, governance arrangements and workplace culture, among other matters.

1.77As the following chapters detail, these reviews have already put forward significant findings and recommendations for change, not only for how the AAD and Antarctic science is funded, but how to improve the AAD's workplace culture and to maintain Australia's international standing and presence in the Antarctic region.

1.78These long-standing and disparate challenges for the Antarctic Science Program–which extend well beyond Australian Government funding—are described in further detail throughout this report.


[1]Journals of the Senate, No. 63–9 August 2023, pp. 1817–1818.

[2]Journals of the Senate, No. 88–28 November 2023, p. 2460.

[3]Journals of the Senate, No. 104–20 March 2024, p. 3138.

[4]Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, Progress report: Australian Antarctic Division funding, May 2024.

[6]Research Survey Vessel

[7]Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Submission 17, p. 2. See also: University of Tasmania, Submission 5, p. 3.

[8]Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), Submission 12, p.6.

[9]DCCEEW, Submission 12, pp. 6–7 and 10.

[10]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 6.

[11]Dr Anthony Press, Private capacity, Committee Hansard, 4 October 2023, p. 29.

[12]DCCEEW, Submission 12, pp. 6–7.

[13]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 7.

[14]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 8.

[15]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 10.

[16]Mr Sean Sullivan, Deputy Secretary, DCCEEW, Committee Hansard, 5 October 2023, p. 19.

[17]Ms Emma Campbell, Division Head, Australian Antarctic Division, DCCEEW, the Environment and Water, Committee Hansard, 5 October 2023, p. 24.

[18]Mr Sean Sullivan, Deputy Secretary, DCCEEW, Committee Hansard, 24April2024, p. 7.

[19]Ms Emma Campbell, Australian Antarctic Division, Committee Hansard, 24 April 2024, pp. 7–8.

[20]DCCEEW, answers to questions on notice, 24 April 2024 (received 6 May 2024).

[21]Ms Emma Campbell, Australian Antarctic Division, Committee Hansard, 24 April 2024, p. 2; DCCEEW, DCCEEW Organisation Chart, 1 May 2024.

[22]Australian Antarctic Programme, Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, PrimeMinister's Foreword, 2016, p.1.

[23]DCCEEW, Australian Antarctic Division, Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan,, 11 July 2022 (accessed 21 April 2024).

[24]Australian Antarctic Programme, Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, 2016, p.12.

[25]Australian Government, Australian Antarctic Program, Update 2022: Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, 2022, p. 8.

[26]Australian Government, Australian Antarctic Program, Update 2022: Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, 2022, pp. 12–13.

[27]Australian Government, Australian Antarctic Program, Update 2022: Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, 2022, p. 15.

[28]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 10.

[29]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 6.

[30]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 10.

[31]Ms Emma Campbell, Australian Antarctic Division, Committee Hansard, 24 April 2024, p. 1.

[32]DCCEEW, Submission 12, pp. 8–9.

[33]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 9.

[34]DCCEEW, Submission 12, pp. 9–10.

[36]The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for the Environment and Water, 'Eminent scientist appointed Chair of Australian Antarctic Science Council', Media Release, 27 March 2024, (accessed 2 May 2024).

[37]DCCEEW, Submission 12, pp. 10–12.

[38]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 12.

[39]Professor Donald Rothwell, Private capacity,Committee Hansard, 4 October 2023, p. 33.

[40]Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, Submission 20, [pp. 2 and 3].

[41]Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, Submission 20, [pp. 2–3]; Geoscience Australia, Submission 8, pp. 3 and 5.

[42]Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, Submission 20, [p. 3].

[43]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 8. See also Tasmanian Government, Submission 22, p. 2.

[44]Mr Richard Fader, Chairman, Tasmanian Polar Network, Committee Hansard, 4 October 2023, p. 8.

[45]Tasmanian Polar Network, Submission 1, p. 1.

[46]Mr Sean Sullivan, Deputy Secretary, DCCEEW, Committee Hansard, 5 October 2023, p. 13.

[47]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 14.

[48]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 17.

[49]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 17.

[50]DCCEEW, answers to written questions on notice, 21 November 2023 (received 19 December 2023).

[51]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 14.

[52]The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Press Conference, Triabunna, Tasmania, 22 February 2022, available at: Transcript 43814 | PM Transcripts ( (accessed 23 April 2024).

[53]DCCEEW, answers to written questions on notice, 21 November 2023 (received 19 December 2023).

[54]DCCEEW, Submission 12, pp. 4 and 14.

[55]DCCEEW, Australian Antarctic Division, answers to questions on notice, 16 February 2024, IQ24000047 (received 29February2024).

[56]See Chapter 3.

[57]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 14.

[58]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 15.

[59]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 15.

[60]DCCEEW, Submission 12, p. 15.

[61]Mr Sean Sullivan, Deputy Secretary, DCCEEW, Committee Hansard, 5October2023, p. 13.

[62]Tasmanian Polar Network, Submission 1, p. 2.

[63]Professor Bergstrom, Submission 11, p. 3.

[64]Tasmanian Government, Submission 22, p. 3.

[65]Mr Richard Fader, Chairman, Tasmanian Polar Network, Committee Hansard, 4 October 2023, p. 8.

[66]Dr Simon Wright and Dr Andrew Davidson, Submission 9, [p. 1].

[67]CPSU, Submission 21, pp. 3–4.

[68]Professor Rufus Black, ViceChancellor, University of Tasmania, Committee Hansard, 4 October 2023, p. 15.