Chapter 2 - Recent reviews into Antarctic affairs

Chapter 2Recent reviews into Antarctic affairs

2.1This chapter presents a summary of recent major reviews of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), in particular the Clarke, O'Kane, Russell and Australian Antarctic Science Council (AASC) reviews.

2.2The committee has considered these reviews as they provide useful context to the operations and funding of the AAD and highlight key areas of strength and areas requiring change within the Division. These reviews, in conjunction with the evidence put to the committee, demonstrate that there are some issues with the AAD which are wellknown and longstanding.

2.3At least five reviews into matters relating to the AAD, its funding and operations have been conducted since 2017. A range of common themes have been identified across these reviews and their recommendations, including:

the high dedication and capability of AAD staff;

tensions between the funding of science programs versus logistics and infrastructure;

a lack of certainty and stability for the AAD and Antarctic research funding, impacting the science program in particular;

that the science program needs stronger leadership, with a greater focus on national interest research and research of strategic importance; and

that there is successful collaboration at a working level, but room for improvement and leadership at a strategic and institutional level.

Review of Australian Antarctic Science Program governance arrangements (2017): Clarke Review

2.4In December 2017, Mr Drew Clarke AO PSM FTSE, handed down the results of his governance review into the Australian Antarctic Science Program. The purpose of the review was to 'advise on a governance model for the Australian Antarctic Science Program (AASP) as currently administered by the Australian Antarctic Division'.[1]

2.5Mr Clarke consulted 'with over 50 people from 23 Australian government, corporate and research organisations, as well as overseas program leaders'.[2]

2.6The 2016 Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan committed to 'a revitalised science programme' in Antarctica, including 'coordinated and effective funding of Antarctic science'. The Clarke Review contributed to Year Two of the Action Plan, which included implementation of 'a coordinated and effective Antarctic science funding model to increase Antarctic research by leading Australian institutions together with international and industry partners'.[3]

Key findings

2.7The review acknowledged Australia's national interests in Antarctica, its investment in Antarctica, and the vital role that science and scientific collaboration plays in the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).[4]

2.8The review outlined the features of the thencurrent funding and governance model of the AAD. The review noted that since 1985, the Australian Science Advisory Committee (ASAC) had provided independent advice to government on the priorities for Antarctic science. However, the ASAC was abolished in 2014 and its roles subsumed into the AAD. Similarly, the Antarctic Research Advisory Committee was abolished, and its functions absorbed by the AAD. MrClarke found these decisions had unintentionally 'created (at least the perception) of a conflict between AAD's roles as National Operator and Science Leader, and its role as an employer of some scientists'.[5]

2.9The review also found the AAD had little awareness of science being conducted in Antarctica, outside of the AASP; and issues with funding stability were also identified.[6]

2.10Antarctic data capability and functionality was found lacking, with opportunities for institutional collaboration to be improved; however, working level science collaboration was functioning well.[7]

2.11The Clarke Review noted issues with funding stability and a 'lack of a discrete line of funding for Antarctic science within the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water's (DCCEEW) budget allocation', meaning that funding can be varied by other decisions and events over the budget period.[8]

2.12At the time of reporting in 2017, the Clarke review found that 'the current governance model is moderately complex and opaque', with multiple institutions having Antarctic science mandates and roles, which compromised clear, authoritative leadership and created branding tensions. Tensions between 'strategic, policy-critical research and long-term monitoring and mapping programs' and researcher-driven projects and policy-driven science programs were also observed. Mr Clarke concluded that the model was unable to transparently manage the balance between these different types of programs and projects.[9]

2.13Overall, the review found the governance model of Australia's Antarctic Science Program at that time:

(1)Has strengths in the support of collaborative science from multiple government agencies and universities and in the education of future Antarctic scientists, and has a positive economic impact in Hobart and beyond.

(2)Would benefit from greater coherence, scientific independence and clarity of leadership, has a number of administrative inefficiencies, and has suffered from uncertainty over future funding arrangements.

(3)Does not adequately resolve the tension between researcher-driven science and policy-driven science (particularly where the science requires a major campaign with large logistical support), or support a comprehensive data plan.[10]

2.14In submitting to the committee, the University of Tasmania drew attention to the findings of Mr Clarke, particularly those relating to funding stability, a complex governance structure, and the dual purpose of science and logistics, noting that these factors 'all work against a cohesive response to the level of geopolitical and scientific risk now in front of us'. It was broadly supportive of a body such as the Australian National Antarctic Research Institute (ANARI) proposed by the Clarke Review.[11]

Clarke Review recommendations

2.15Mr Clarke considered three possible models for the future governance of the AASP:

(i)AAD science—all funding for Antarctic science administered by the AAD;

(ii)non-AAD science—all science activities undertaken by a fully independent science institution, with AAD redefined as national operator; or

(iii)hybrid science—retain the existing system with improvements; where AAD provides scientific leadership and staffing of critical research areas, with other institutions providing the balance on a competitive basis.

2.16Mr Clarke made nine recommendations to strengthen the hybrid model under the themes of:

establishing 'enduring collaboration' to institutionalise a model of long-term collaborative science at all levels;

'integrated strategy and planning' to ensure a clear voice for the Antarctic science community in strategy and program design; and

'streamlined administration' to remove duplication and inefficiency.[12]

2.17Among other things, Mr Clarke recommended the establishment of an Antarctic science council (the AASC), and for the AAD to develop a comprehensive view of all Australian Antarctic science. A full list of the review's recommendations, along with the Australian Government's response are summarised in Figure2.1.

2.18The Clarke Review argued for integration across the AAD and within its processes as much as possible. For example, the Clarke Review specifically called for:

a single, integrated process for assessing competitive science through the Australian Research Council (ARC), which 'must include mechanisms for assessment of the strategic alignment of proposals and integration with the logistics decision-making of the AAD', to 'provide efficiency and certainty'; and

for the AASC to be the 'science voice in the planning of the science program by the AAD'.[13]

Government response and actions

2.19The government of the day responded to the Clarke Review in June 2018. It supported five of the recommendations and supported the remaining four in principle. It committed to consult with 'key members of the Antarctic science community over the following months' to ensure the recommendations were addressed as efficiently and effectively as possible.[14]

Figure 2.1Clarke Review: summary of recommendations (2017) and Australian Government's position (2018)

Summary of recommendations from Drew Clarke AO PSM FTSE, Australian Antarctic Science Program Governance Review.

Source: Adapted from Drew Clarke AO PSM FTSE, Australian Antarctic Science Program Governance Review, December 2017, p. 4 and Australian Government, Australian Antarctic Science Program Governance Review (2017): Australian Government response, June 2018, p. 5.

2.20At the same time, the Australian Government agreed to additional funding for Antarctic Science through the establishment of an Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science (to end 2026) and the Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative grants program (10-year program).[15]

2.21Following the recommendations of the Clarke Review, the following relevant measures have been implemented:

AASC was established in 2019 to advise government on the AASP, including Antarctic science priorities, through the Antarctic Science Strategic Plan and the Australian Antarctic Science Decadal Plan (Decadal Plan; currently under development). The AASC also advises the Government on arrangements to implement the Clarke Review recommendations[16]

the 2019 establishment of the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership (AAPP) comprised of leading institutions (led by the University of Tasmania) and supported by the Australian Government Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative. The AAPP aims to 'better understand the role of the Antarctic region in the global climate system and the implications for marine ecosystems';[17]

'revitalised Antarctic science including revising the Australian Antarctic Science Strategic Plan (including improved digital integration and the development of a digital model of Antarctica), and developing a coordinated science funding model with leading Australian institutions and international and industry partners';[18]

'enhanced collaboration with a range of nations active in Antarctica';[19]

enhanced reporting of scientific research performance and impacts;[20] and

new funding under the Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative.[21]

Review of AAD Science Branch (2021): O'Kane Review

2.22In 2021 the AAD commissioned a panel chaired by EmeritusProfessorMaryO'Kane AC FTSE to review the 'quality, relevance and impact of the science conducted by the AAD's Science Branch', including the 'extent to which it delivered on government priorities' and identified outcomes, and any capability/resourcing gaps. The report was commissioned 'in light of the appointment of a new Chief Scientist, Professor Nicole Webster, to head the Branch' and other appointments.[22]

2.23The review panel included Mr Clarke, whose 2017 review 'informed this Review and influenced its recommendations', along with feedback and other evidence it received.[23]

2.24The panel consulted with Ministers and a wide range of representatives and stakeholders from the AAD, the Australian Government, the Tasmanian Government and research organisations, as well as scientific research organisations overseas. The panel completed its review in November 2021.[24]

Key findings

2.25The O'Kane Review also acknowledged Australia's national interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, Australia's investment in Antarctica, and the vital role that science and scientific collaboration plays in the ATS.[25]

2.26The report noted that 'many people see AAD's focus as being primarily logistics, and not science', with around seven per cent (around $15 million per annum) of the AAD's operational budget (excluding capital costs) spent on 'actually doing science in the Science Branch'. It also pointed out that the culture within the Science Branch needed 'attention' given many staff were demotivated.[26]

2.27The panel found that 'the combined challenges from insufficient planning and direction, exacerbated by resourcing constraints and multiple leadership changes in recent years, have taken their toll on the culture, outputs, and scientific excellence of the Science Branch' and that there were opportunities to improve and reestablish the AAP as a world-class program.[27]

2.28The quality and impact of the science conducted by the Science Branch was deemed 'mixed'—with world standard, high impact work being done in some cases, but with 'much' of the science not 'addressing high priority Antarctic science questions'. A lack of strategic clarity, leadership failure, and no clear ownership of the overall research agenda were considered contributing factors.[28]

2.29The O'Kane Review observed that 'institutional arrangements recommended in the Clarke Review to strengthen collaboration were not implemented, resulting in four separately funded Commonwealth Antarctic research programs'.[29]

2.30However, the review was positive about the potential for the Science Branch to improve its performance, with an organisational refocus on science, renewed leadership and internal expertise, and the examples of other high quality Antarctic research programs internationally. Then-recent initiatives flowing from the Clarke Review—such as the establishment of the AASC—were seen as largely positive.[30]

2.31The review panel noted that establishing the AAD as a Commonwealth Executive Agency would assist with the implementation of the review recommendations, however the panel stopped short of making a recommendation in this area, as it was outside of its terms of reference.[31]

O'Kane Review recommendations

2.32The review panel made 11 recommendations as summarised at Figure 2.2. The two key recommendations were that:

the Division adopt as its core value that science is at the centre of all its activities; and

that a Decadal Plan for Australian Antarctic and Southern Ocean science be developed to ensure a comprehensive approach to identifying, prioritising, conducting and applying research.[32]

Decadal Plan

2.33The O'Kane Review spoke strongly in support of a clear and comprehensive Decadal Plan, to be reported against on an annual basis and updated at least every three years. The review found that:

Creation of, and commitment to, the Decadal Plan will provide the context for clarifying and solidifying the ongoing role of the Science Branch. The Branch should have a pivotal role in driving the Australian Antarctic Program on both science policy and science delivery. Its science policy roles will include being the principal Antarctic and Southern Ocean adviser to the Australian Government, being the custodian of the long-term monitoring program and the Australian Antarctic data model, and driving national and international Antarctic science collaboration. Its science delivery roles will involve leading a small number of critical programs to support Australian Government priorities and filling critical capability gaps.[33]

2.34The O'Kane Review considered that the 'timing is right for all of these actions to be successfully completed':

The Chief Scientist, in collaboration with the Council and the AAPP, [Securing Antarctica's Environmental Future] and [the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science], should also take the initiative in strengthening the Australian Antarctic Program and its science institutional model. Recommended actions include:

identifying the capabilities (people, technology, science) required for delivery of the Decadal Plan, mapping them against current capabilities, and developing a program to fill the gaps – for Science Branch, this should include high quality secondments in to build its own capability

developing a program to support the development of Australia's current and future Antarctic science leaders and enable succession planning … [34]

2.35The Decadal Plan will identify key capabilities and the timeline required to address the highest priority scientific questions in support of Australia's national interests in Antarctica.[35]

2.36Other recommendations addressed the role of Science Branch and other parties, and science collaboration, capability and succession planning and development, logistics support, and communication. There were also recommendations for the science program, including the implementation of an Integrated Digital East Antarctica (IDEA) initiative and a formal, long-term East Antarctica Monitoring Program (EAMP).[36]

2.37The role of the AAD, and the Science Branch, were reconfirmed with the O'Kane Review concluding 'the Branch should have a pivotal role in driving the Australian Antarctic Program on both science policy and science delivery', including:

… being the principal Antarctic and Southern Ocean adviser to the Australian Government, being the custodian of the long-term monitoring program and the Australian Antarctic data model, and driving national and international Antarctic science collaboration.[37]

Figure 2.2O'Kane Review: summary of recommendations and response

Summary of recommendations from O'Kane AAD Science Branch review

Source: Compiled by the Committee secretariat from: The O'Kane Review, pp. 7–11, Australian Antarctic Program, O'Kane Review.

Government response and actions

2.38The AAD accepted all recommendations of the O'Kane Review, with the review's website noting that the report is the work of an independent panel and 'does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government'.[38] On this, Mr Sean Sullivan, Deputy Secretary at DCCEEW,advised that the O'Kane Review was the work of an independent panel, 'and the Decadal Plan itself will be something that is endorsed by the government'.[39]

2.39When responding to questions about the review in 2023, ProfessorNicoleWebster, thenChiefScientist at the AAD provided an update on implementation of the O'Kane Review recommendations:

… there has been immense progress made across most of those [11recommendations], the decadal plan being one, as well as the establishment of an East Antarctic monitoring program, an integrated digital East Antarctica, thinking about the role of Tasmania in delivering science, collaboration and internationalisation. All of these components of the recommendations have really made significant progress over the last two years.[40]

2.40Since the O'Kane Review was handed down, the AAD has 'formally asserted that "Science is the central driver of all its activities" and has adopted as its unifying narrative a purpose of "Building comprehensive knowledge of East Antarctica and its ecosystems to inform our Antarctic stewardship and enhance our understanding of climate change"'.[41]

2.41Furthermore, the AASC is progressing the collaborative development and implementation of a Decadal Plan for Australian Antarctic science with all major research partners including the AAD. This plan is discussed in greater detail later in this report.

2.42At a public hearing in January 2024, Mr Sullivan, acknowledged that DCCEEW is attempting to present better performance measures across a range of areas to improve its accountability, including regarding the O'Kane Review's first recommendation to prioritise science. Thisincludes reporting on the number of peer reviewed science publications, and significant cultural reforms which have been occurring.[42]

Review of workplace culture and change at the AAD (2022): Russell Review

2.43In 2020, the AAD commissioned research into inclusion, diversity and equity within the AAD, with the report completed by Professor Meredith Nash in 2022. Professor Nash directly interviewed AAD employees, with participants raising numerous alarming concerns with the culture at the AAD, including:

Power and gender imbalances in the AAD head office in Tasmania, resulting in 'everyday sexism', inappropriate behaviour and a 'sense of entitlement by male colleagues' who wielded power;

Gender inequality and a broader lack of diversity entrenching power imbalances, where 'women felt especially devalued';

'unclear and inconsistent standards of behaviour across the branches as well as leadership deficits and inconsistent role modelling'; and

Antarctic station leaders were 'pivotal in changing or reinforcing the culture', with the expeditioner recruitment process having a strong influence on station culture.[43]

2.44Professor Nash made 42 recommendations, including the formation of an equity and inclusion taskforce, and an improved focus in AAD on inclusion and gender equity to reduce sexual harassment and improve wellbeing, productivity and performance. The 42 recommendations arising from this study were accepted by the AAD and DCCEEW.[44]

2.45While recognising that at the time 'significant progress' had been made to implement Professor Nash's recommendations, in 2022 DCCEEW decided to commission an independent review to better understand the work culture and behaviour at AAD, the extent of workplace harm, and the adequacy of existing processes and systems to address workplace behaviour, diversity, inclusion and safety, given the seriousness of the issues raised.[45]

2.46DCCEEW engaged organisational culture consulting company RussellPerformance Co (led by Leigh Russell) to conduct the review. It commenced in October 2022, and finalised the review in March 2023 (Russell Review).

2.47The review engaged with over 40 per cent of AAD staff in a variety of ways, including one-on-one interviews, an online survey, and confidential written submissions, as well as consultations and briefings with key stakeholders and departmental staff.[46]

Key findings

2.48The Russell Review recognised the AAD's people as a 'genuine asset' and essential to the scientific, infrastructure and logistical work of the organisation. The review found:

AAD employees are deeply committed to their work and take pride in the successes of AAD programs;

there is a strong sense of teamwork and support for colleagues; and

work is already being undertaken to improve diversity and inclusion.

2.49However, the review also found significant cultural challenges in the AAD, including:

an 'us versus them' culture that reduces collaboration and effective leadership;

harmful behaviour across a range of levels, 'including intentional exclusion, gender discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment';

unique factors in the AAD's workplaces which create risk;

a 'significant number of participants' thinking that the AAD was psychologically unsafe, with negative consequences for speaking up and 'an alarming number of participants reported significant mental and physical health issues because of workplace stress';

that current systems and leadership structures are not trusted to appropriately support employees and deal with inappropriate behaviour and are not well used;

AAD capability gaps in leading people and managing change; and

that more work was required to improve diversity in all its forms, as well as inclusion and equity.[47]

Russell Review recommendations

2.50The Russell Review's recommendations were organised around seven guiding principles, designed to address core issues with AAD systems and culture, as summarised in Figures 2.3 to 2.5.

Government response and actions

2.51DCCEEW accepted all of the Russell Review recommendations and committed to implementing changes. Recommendation1A suggested the AAD leadership issue a statement, acknowledging that the Division's workplace practices and behaviours, and leadership and departmental process had contributed to harm. This recommendation was almost immediately addressed, with the issue of a formal statement on 3 April 2023. The statement of acknowledgement recognised 'the practices, behaviours and processes that have contributed to workplace harm'.[48]

2.52DCCEEW Secretary, MrDavid Fredericks PSM, wrote in the statement of acknowledgement:

I, and the Executive of DCCEEW, acknowledge that workplace practices and behaviours within the Australian Antarctic Division have contributed to unacceptable workplace harm. We acknowledge that cultural leadership failures and departmental policies and processes have contributed to unacceptable workplace harm.

We have acted, and continue to act, in response to the issues raised. We commit to implementing, with our staff, all the findings of the Russell review and taking the action required. We also commit to ongoing cultural reform and improved accountability, consistent with the positive culture and practices we are building across DCCEEW.[49]

Figure 2.3Russell Review: summary of recommendations and response

Summary of recommendations from the Russell workplace culture and change at the AAD review

Source: Compiled by the Committee secretariat from: The Russell Review, pp. 66–76; Australian Antarctic Program, An Independent Review of Workplace Culture and Change at the Australian Antarctic Division.

Figure 2.4Russell Review: summary of recommendations and response cont'd