It is time for Minister Frydenberg to stand up for Tasmanian scientists and climate science - Senate Adjournment Speech, Tuesday 5 September
I rise to speak on a matter close to my heart and to my home state of Tasmania. As the Antarctic research season approaches, it is time for Minister Frydenberg to stand up for Tasmanian scientists and climate science.
This summer will represent the 70th anniversary of Australia's official Antarctic Program. Australia, under former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, was a key actor in the creation of the Madrid protocol, the global treaty that protects the Antarctic from mining. With over 14 million square kilometres protected from mining, this was the biggest conservation decision in our history. Through this treaty and Australia's diplomatic efforts, we have protected and promoted scientific investigation and the international exchange of scientific ideas, prevented the environmental exploitation of Antarctica and ensured the non-militarisation of the continent. Australian scientists based in Hobart have provided world-leading research in Antarctic climate and weather systems.
Yet, as the damage and challenges from human-induced climate change increase, the Australian Antarctic Division is in the middle of a crisis because of this Turnbull government, which has pushed the Australian Antarctic Division to the brink by pursuing further cuts to the division. It is disgraceful that Australia's premier Antarctic scientific research division is now just 'barely functioning'. Australia's primary activity in Antarctica ostensibly revolves around science, but the government's continued cuts mean that Australia's claim to leadership in polar science is melting—fast. Hobart's climate science hub, based out of the CSIRO and the AAD, has been gutted by both the Abbott and the Turnbull governments. Their lack of commitment to climate science and the role the Antarctic plays in mitigating global warming is extremely disappointing.
According to portfolio budget statements, average employment numbers at the AAD have dropped from 415 in 2012-13, when Labor was in government, to an anticipated 378 in the most recent statement of 2017-18. This reduction puts a huge strain across the division and severely reduces its capacity to meet its responsibilities. If the AAD is to maintain its role of leading the Australian Antarctic Program, it needs to be adequately resourced and staffed. Australia should be leading the world's climate research, not cutting jobs year on year.
The Community and Public Sector Union, which represent AAD employees, painted a bleak picture of the situation in their submission to the current Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories inquiry into Australia's Antarctic territory. They quoted an employee, who said:
The … Division is exhausted. I've been here for 30 years and I didn't think it could get worse, but it's worse this year.
How things have changed since the days of Bob Hawke's leadership on Antarctica. The government's cuts threaten Tasmania's status as a hub of scientific knowledge and research. Without appropriate funding, the AAD has no option but to scale back even further its activities and its commitment to climate science. This is an absolute national disgrace. The Turnbull government must fully restore funding to the AAD. It must start to support climate science and Tasmania's Antarctic scientists. It must commit to long-term funding that ensures Australia's climate research remains significant and respected, both here nationally and around the globe.
So, on behalf of Tasmania's remaining scientists, I challenge Minister Frydenberg to take a stand. Stop cutting jobs and invest in climate science rather than spruiking coal. Make a difference, Minister Frydenberg—make a difference instead of hunting headlines. Invest in climate science, invest in Tasmania and, indeed, my home town of Hobart as a science hub through the CSIRO and the AAD being properly funded. Stop walking away from climate science and our commitments to address global warming.