Remarks at the unveiling of a model of Australia’s new icebreaker

October 29, 2015

DR GALES: I’ll handover to the Prime Minister who will unveil a model of Australia’s new icebreaker.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much Nick, it’s wonderful to be back here. I held the office that my friend Greg Hunt has, Minister for the Environment and it's wonderful to be here with so many of the dedicated team from the Antarctic Division. So many brilliant and dedicated and passionate Australians, Tasmanians, I should say, for perhaps many of them, most of them perhaps at least, who are seeking to better understand the Antarctic, a continent which holds so many of the secrets of our future. So many keys to understanding the world in which we live and the changes that it is undergoing.

It’s great to be here with my Tasmanian colleagues whom you have acknowledged; Mr President, Stephen Parry, David Bushby and of course Eric Hutchinson who I have to say, I know you are a very law abiding person but I'm certain you left New Norfolk after me and yet you arrived here clearly some time ahead of me. So I don't want to create any issues with the local constabulary, but it's either that or you have a very superior sense of Tasmanian geography. Maybe that's the key.

Look, Australia, as you know, has had a very long association with Antarctic exploration and research. It was over a century ago, in fact in 1912 when Douglas Mawson planted the Australian flag for the first time on the shores of Commonwealth Bay. We are a very staunch and committed supporter of the Antarctic treaty system. We are committed to Antarctica remaining a natural reserve devoted to science and to peace. We have always been recognised as a leader in Antarctica. The Australian Government is absolutely committed to that continuing. The Australian territory is a very large one, over 40 per cent of the Antarctic continent, but the commitment of all nations that are parties to the Antarctic treaty, whose signatories grow all the time, is to, as I said, treat Antarctica as a continent devoted to peaceful science and research.

Now recently we commissioned Dr Tony Press who is here with us today, a former Director of the Antarctic Division, to provide a full and frank assessment of our national interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Dr Press's report, for which we thank him, provides a blueprint for our continued engagement in the region and the options to expand our role and indeed expand Tasmania's role as a leading Antarctic science and logistics hub. We are carefully considering Dr Press's report and we look forward to sharing our vision for our ongoing role, our critically important ongoing Australian role in Antarctica's future.

In the meantime we have not been idle. The Government has already made $87 million in commitments to our Antarctic interests; which include $25 million over five years for the Antarctic climate and ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, $24 million over three years for the creation of an Antarctic gateway partnership involving the Antarctic Division, the University of Tasmania and the CSIRO, and $38 million for an extension to the Hobart Airport runway.

Now I mention that a lot has changed since 1911 when Douglas Mawson first led the Antarctic exhibition aboard the Aurora. We've got superior aviation capability, we've seen the introduction of the Wilkins Aerodrome near Casey Station in 2008 and there are now regular flights between Hobart and Antarctica during the summer operation period. But while aviation is more important, shipping remains the backbone of the program. It is funding a new icebreaker, it's clearly necessary, it demonstrates the Government's commitment to maintaining Australia's presence and influence in Antarctica and it is one of the key recommendations in Dr Press's report.

So today I'm very proud to be here as your Prime Minister, with the Environment Minister, to share with you the first view of what will be Australia's new Antarctic icebreaker. This is a new next generation successor to the Aurora Australis. Now icebreakers are very specialised vessels, as you know. There is a very interesting design challenge with icebreakers, because they need to have a rounded hull to ensure that if they get caught in the ice, they pop up, rather than getting jammed. That of course creates challenges when travelling, steaming in big seas. So how do you provide the stability in a vessel with a hull like that? That's one that we were talking briefly a moment ago about new stabilisation systems, in-hull stabilisation systems to do that. Perhaps we can have discussion about that later. It's very interesting because the two objectives actually work against each other. The objective of stability in high seas and the objective of not getting jammed in the ice on the face of it work against each other. There is clearly some very clever innovative technology that will enable us to do that.

Now the Aurora Australis has served us very well since 1990 when she made her maiden voyage. As Nick said, her orange hull is absolutely iconic, a symbol of Australia's commitment to the Antarctic. Now the next generation we'll unveil in a moment and I will ask Greg to come up and we will do that together.

Let me just say a couple of words more generally about the work that you do and how valued it is. The research that you do, the science that you practice, is absolutely central to the agenda, to the project of my Government. Can I say to you nothing is more important for the future of this country, for the future of our children and our grandchildren than that we become even more committed to innovation, to technology, to science, to research.

A successful Australia, a successful Tasmania in the future is going to be one which respects science, which is innovative, which is imaginative, which is more productive, which is able to seize the gigantic opportunities given to us today by this rapidly expanding global economy. We have never been in a more exciting and disruptive time than we are today and it is all driven by technology and science.

And so the work that you do as scientists is critical to our understanding of the world. It's critical to the work of science all around the world and you are global workers, no matter how far or how little you travel, you are global workers. But can I tell you what you do is so important because the countries that will succeed, the states that will succeed, the cities that will succeed in the future are cities of science, imagination and innovation. Every sinew of my Government is pulling as hard as it can to support that innovation, to ensure that in the years to come, we will remain and become more so a high-wage, generous social welfare net, first world economy. That's what we want to retain, that’s what we want to promote and we do that through innovation, technology and science.

Greg and I, and my Parliamentary colleagues here today are honoured to be in the company of so many great minds committed to science. Thank you for your great work. Now we will unveil the model. Thank you.


MINISTER HUNT: Thank you very much Prime Minister and Nick Gales and your magnificent staff. As the Prime Minister was saying, this room is full of people with incredible capacity. There is arguably no other group of people in Australia with as high and sustained academic achievement as those in this room and so you are a source of immense pride as well as immense national value. I want to acknowledge my colleagues Stephen Parry and David Bushby, Eric Hutchinson, those that are associated with the academic and scientific community, Professor Peter Rathjen of the University of Tasmania the Vice Chancellor and Dr Tony Press who wrote and prepared the 20-year Antarctic strategy, as well as everybody associated with Tasmania's Antarctic program and future.

In fact this morning, Prime Minister, I was reminded of Hobart and Tasmania's history. I went for a run around Hobart with Charlton Clark from Parks Australia and we passed the statue of Louis Bernacchi down on the water front, we saw the images of Mawson and Amundsen, we went past Errol Flynn Park, that's another story and then we went past Hadley's Hotel. And of course that is where Amundsen return and showered and where he sent his famous telegram to the Norwegian King that he had been the first person to reach the South Pole and when the current Norwegian King Harald was out here earlier this year, I met with him and said in front of an audience in Sydney that we were proud that happened in Hobart, but there was a story that Amundsen was so excited he had left without paying the bill, either for Hadley's or the telegraph. So with compound interest penalties, if they could settle the cost of the new icebreaker for us, we would call it quits. He said that he would consider it. I am hopeful but the Norwegian Ambassador said I shouldn't expect a response anytime soon but we are trying to work on that side of it.

Let me put this very briefly in context. The big vision for Australia's Antarctic work was set out in the 20-year strategy and many of you contributed to that. That is of Australia being a leading global Antarctic nation. We are one of the nations charged with the preservation and conservation of the Antarctic continent. As the Prime Minister said over 40 per cent of that continent is within Australia’s Antarctic Territory. That is a deep responsibility. We are passionately committed to the notion of a non-militarised environmental zone where there will never  be any mining. I believe that future is both real and attainable and it's something which I am certain every successive Australian Government will support.

Now against that background, the work of Dr Tony Press really set out two fundamental tasks for the Australian Government. One is to make Hobart a gateway for the Antarctic, a global gateway and the global gateway. And the second was to acquire a state-of-the art icebreaker.

In terms of Hobart, what we can see is that we need the research and as the Prime Minister said, the Cooperative Research Centre funded to the tune of $25 million, the Gateway Partnership with the University of Tasmania, the CSIRO and the Antarctic Division with a further $24 million, the Hobart runway extension and only yesterday, we announced the new marine and biodiversity hub which will be based in the University of Tasmania, a $24 million, six-year program, bringing together partners from around the country.

All of this builds Tasmania as a research hub. But the international component comes from having an air link based out of Hobart, comes from the agreement with China and we want to see China be more engaged, to use Hobart as its primary base for its Antarctic operations, the French and the Italians, hopefully we will see other countries join us and have Hobart as a base. And critical to that is the new icebreaker and so this magnificent vessel that we see in front of us is going to be faster, with a maximum speed of 16 knots and an average cruising speed of 12. It's going to be longer at 156metres. It's going to be stronger, with an icebreaking capacity of 1.65metres. And it's going to be bigger in terms of the capacity to carry 96 containers or almost three times the payload of the current Aurora Australis. So it is, as Nick Gales said to me this morning, a vessel which when it is operating, will be the state of the art, leading platform for Antarctic research as held by any nation.

What does it do? Yes, it's a transport ship, but it's also a logistics ship. Most excitingly, it's a research vessel which will be equipped with technology beyond anything which we've had the capacity to deploy to date. The ability to scan the bottom of the seas, to investigate the marine life, this is the work and the opportunity for our great scientists to go forward from here and to study the climate and the marine environment and the polar environment together. But it's also a hospital ship and it's also a rescue vessel. The Aurora has returned from a successful rescue mission on Macquarie Island and that is part of the work in this dangerous environment. So it is not just fit for purpose, it is the best of its class and it's to be something which will allow you to be your best selves. I thank all of you for your work and I would invite you to view the video which will show us the future.


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