Government set for biggest-ever investment in Antarctica

A new icebreaker will form the centrepiece of Australia’s largest ever investment in its Antarctic program, it was revealed in Senate Budget Estimates today.

Senator for South Australia Anne Ruston said the overall aim of the investment was to cement Australia’s position as the global gateway to Antarctica.

“This commitment by the Abbott Government is the largest-ever injection of funds into the Antarctic program, which is critical to maintaining our presence in the region and ensuring Antarctica remains a place of peaceful scientific research and international cooperation,” Senator Ruston said.

“The Government is currently considering two tenders made to build a new icebreaker to replace the ageing RSV Aurora Australis. As we discovered during Supplementary Budget Estimates last year, the previous Labor government made no provision for a new icebreaker despite spending $1.7 million on a business case for it.

“This will be a state-of-the-art vessel built from the ground up to exacting specifications. It will have an icebreaking capacity of about 1.65 metres (up from the Aurora Australis’ 1.23 metres) and a cargo capacity of 1200 tonnes (up from the Aurora Australis’ 890 tonnes).

“The vessel will have a significant price tag – we anticipate several hundred million dollars – but will deliver numerous scientific and economic benefits along with other investments in the Antarctic program. Its construction will be funded from the contingency reserve. Over the life of the program the total investment will exceed $1 billion.”

The Government has provided additional funding of $9.4 million in the 2014-15 Budget to continue vital operations, as well as $24 million over three years for a new Antarctic Gateway Partnership, ongoing funding of $45.3 million over four years for the air link between Hobart and Casey station, and a further $13.4 million over four years for fuel and logistical support.

“Australia’s Antarctic program is critical to our nation’s interests and this Government is fully committed to maintaining and enhancing Australia’s presence in Antarctica,” Senator Ruston said.

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