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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters
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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
CHAIR (Senator Gallacher)
Back, Sen Chris
Whish-Wilson, Sen Peter
Macdonald, Sen Ian
Lambie, Sen Jacqui
Dastyari, Sen Sam
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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 16 September 2014)
CHAIR (Senator Gallacher)
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Senator BACK
Content WindowForeign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee - 16/09/2014 - Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters
BINDOFF, Professor Nathan Lee, Professor of Physical Oceanography, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania
BOYD, Professor Philip Wallace, Researcher, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania
HODGSON-JOHNSTON, Miss Indiah, PhD Candidate, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania
JABOUR, Dr Julia Ann, Senior Lecturer, Ocean and Antarctic Governance Research Program, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania
Committee met at 08:44.
CHAIR ( Senator Gallacher ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. This public hearing is in relation to the committee's inquiry into Australia's future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters. Copies of the committee's terms of reference are available from the secretariat. I welcome everyone in the room here today.
This is a public hearing, and a Hansard transcript of the proceeding is being made. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of the evidence given to a committee. Such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.
I would like to emphasise that while the committee prefers all the evidence be given in public, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. If you would like any of your evidence to be heard in camera, please do not hesitate to let the committee know. If a witness objects to answering a question the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken. Then the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. As noted previously, such a request may be made at any other time.
I welcome representatives from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. Do you wish to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?
Dr Jabour : Yes, we do. On behalf of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies I thank you for inviting us to speak at this public hearing into Australia's future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters. IMAS is an institute of the University of Tasmania. At IMAS we conduct multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary activities, including undergraduate and graduate teaching, and academic studies in policy, law, international relations and most of the disciplines of marine and Antarctic science. Therefore, we are in a privileged position to understand the Antarctic holistically. This is reflected in the particular points that we would emphasise this morning.
Our understanding of future activities in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean leads us to believe that Australia's responsibilities will increase significantly over time. Therefore, under-resourcing or downsizing resource capabilities will also have significant impacts on security, search and rescue, fisheries enforcement, scientific research and, ultimately, sovereignty.
There is no doubt that the Japanese will continue their special-permit whaling under a new research program, and equally there is no doubt that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and possibly other protesters, will be there to challenge them. The International Court of Justice judgement has been misunderstood and misrepresented in the media, providing the opportunity, if not the grounds, for interest groups to heighten their campaigning against the Japanese when they return to the Southern Ocean this summer or next.
The established tourism industry to east Antarctica is small in comparison to other destinations on the Antarctic Peninsula. Nevertheless, a continuation or even a rise in tourism traffic, alongside increasing uncertainties about shipping hazards, such as fluctuating sea ice production—which we do not fully understand—and strengthening westerly winds, underscore that Australia's responsibilities in its extensive search and rescue zone will increase.
The scale of the illegal fishing problem is unknown, and this is a concern because Australia has not carried out fisheries patrols in the Southern Ocean recently. Fisheries monitoring by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources is so limited that a year ago Interpol's Fisheries Crime Working Group, in an effort to assist CCAMLR, began investigating the trade in illegal fish through the listing of illegal fishing vessels.
The 2013-14 Australian Antarctic season and also that of other national operators was disrupted a number of times. There were difficulties getting into Mawson and Davis stations because of higher than normal sea ice concentration. A helicopter crashed on the Amery iceshelf and a number of staff were injured and required repatriation to Australia. The Aurora Australis was diverted from its normal operations to rescue passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy. This is a tourist vessel which is flagged to Russia, chartered by New Zealand to a company to operate a quasi-scientific historic expedition organised by an Australian university and departing from New Zealand. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority also tasked China, France and the United States with assisting the vessel, which was beset in ice.
Finally, Australia's excellent standing in the international Antarctic community is based on its scientific credentials, which are also used as a reliable measure of influence within the Antarctic Treaty System. Underfunding and downsizing scientific resources will reduce our research capacity and ultimately undermine our leadership in the scientific community, an important currency in Australia's status in the Antarctic Treaty System. Without a commanding sovereign presence in the Australian Antarctic Territory and its exclusive economic zone, Heard and McDonald Islands and their EEZ and Macquarie Island and its EEZ, the validity of our claim to 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent and the maritime zones generated from that land claim will be more difficult to sustain.
There are many pressures on the Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems, and Australia must continue to gain a better understanding of the dynamic marine and atmospheric environments, shipping operations and the economy of the region. Our capacity to investigate and understand helps build a legally significant sovereign presence and maintain our influence in Antarctic and Southern Ocean affairs. A sustained and supported presence will directly influence many stakeholders in the domestic community as well, from the businesses that support Antarctic research in this gateway city of Hobart, to farmers who rely on meteorological information gathered from the Southern Ocean, to the Australian licensed fishing operators who fish in the remotest parts of the world. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator Back, would you like to start?
Senator BACK: Yes. Thank you very much for your submission and for being here. I want to go to last year's sea search and rescue effort that you mentioned. We had an excellent visit yesterday afternoon to the facilities and had a look at the vessels. Is Australia biting off more than it can chew in 2014 with 42 per cent of the continent and its surrounds? We had a briefing yesterday of the number of countries with a basis of some description or representation in the Antarctic. Clearly that has increased over time. It would appear it is going to increase more. You mentioned tourism, the diversion of the Aurora Australis, the limited resources and the fact that AMSA has sea search and rescue responsibility. Is it reasonable that Australia is bearing that burden of responsibility into the future?
Dr Jabour : From an academic point of view, that 42 per cent claim to the Antarctic continent is enshrined in history and protected under the Antarctic Treaty. That will not change. We have that whether we are capable of doing anything about it or not.
Senator BACK: Sorry to interrupt you, but why won't it change? If other countries now have a greater level of interest, why can't it be imposed that they have a greater level of responsibility and accountability?
Dr Jabour : I do not think Australia would want to give up any of that 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent on the strength of a responsibility for search and rescue, which is covered under a different convention, in any case. Our responsibilities for search and rescue in the Southern Ocean derive from the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, which we are a signatory to. We have taken on that responsibility for search and rescue.
CHAIR: The information that you have given us, and what we learnt yesterday, is that we have no capacity at all—as sea ice concentrations increase and as there are increased interests in Antarctica from a tourism point of view—to be involved in the decision-making about the increase in the tourist activity. Yet we may well be called upon to use Australia's resources, including the Aurora Australis, which may be down there on scientific research work or on resupply work. It has to be diverted. That is something in terms of our planning for the future, which I imagine this committee is charged with looking at. We have no capacity to have any influence or control over that, despite the fact that it may well, and probably will, expand radically as the last frontier for people to visit. I am just keen what advice you would give to this committee in terms of coming to an understanding of that.
Dr Jabour : Australia's obligations under that search and rescue convention are to coordinate search and rescue, not necessarily to participate in it. In the case of the Akademik Shokalskiy, AMSA tasked other countries' vessels with assisting in that rescue. That is the best that you can do. This is a remote area and a massive ocean. By signing onto that 1979 search and rescue convention we accepted the obligation to coordinate search and rescue activities. From my point of view, Australian needs to ensure that it has capability certainly to coordinate, which it does, and perhaps even on-water capability as well.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can I just get clarification on that. When we are talking about SOLAS, we are not just talking about Antarctica; we are also talking about the Southern Ocean, where we have recently seen an illegal fishing vessel go down with all hands on board. So we are talking about a broad area of responsibility here.
Dr Jabour : It is not SOLAS; it is the search and rescue convention.
CHAIR: Miss Hodgson-Johnston, what is your PhD study related to?
Miss Hodgson-Johnston : It is looking at sovereignty in Antarctica of the Australian claims and whether or not it would stand up in court.
CHAIR: In the context of the discussion we have been having, do you have any advice for us? Is our sovereignty adequate? Do we have to enhance it? Do we have to substantiate it further?
Miss Hodgson-Johnston : The claim does exist. It is there.
CHAIR: Is it under threat?
Miss Hodgson-Johnston : It depends on what the question would be in a tribunal. Say another country wished to test the claim itself; it would come down to the intent and continuous display of sovereignty displayed by either country.
So Australia needs to have capacity to have a presence there. It needs to be continuous and it needs to be intentional. There are lots of aspects of that effectiveness of presence. There are many cases I could point to that talk about the scope of the potential presence. Having vessels down there and having search and rescue in this context would be incredibly important. The ability to rescue people within your area of responsibility has been one of the elements in an International Court of Justice case before.
CHAIR: We have a 50-year treaty from 1991 to 2041. Is that correct?
Dr Jabour : No.
Miss Hodgson-Johnston : That is in regard to environmental protection of the Antarctic. That is not to do with sovereignty.
CHAIR: That means, simply, no mining?
Miss Hodgson-Johnston : Yes. That is the moratorium on mining. It will be looked at in 2048 but probably not changed.
CHAIR: So you are saying that we need to keep a continual presence up there. Are we doing that?
Miss Hodgson-Johnston : In my opinion, no.
CHAIR: Is there a comment by anybody else?
Dr Jabour : Australia has bases around the Antarctic coastline—Mawson, Davis, and Casey—and field camps. And we have a runway and a ship. That is a presence. And we do very good science, and that is also an indication of our presence.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could you flesh out a bit more this relationship between sovereignty and science.
Dr Jabour : There is a saying: science is the currency of credibility in the Antarctic. Australia's performance in Antarctic and Southern Ocean affairs can be measured by its scientific credentials. We do very good science and we have two excellent scientists here who can tell you more about that. As a result of doing good science we have a measure of influence because we are entrepreneurial in meetings. We put ourselves forward for chairing working groups. The Antarctic division, I am sure, will give you much more information about how that actually plays out. The science is very important. It is one good way of measuring your influence.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you feel that we are doing enough or do you think that that is under threat, with the current budget allocations?
Dr Jabour : I will defer to my colleagues on that question.
Prof. Boyd : I will say a word or two. I think the key thing here is our opinion that we are going to see increased responsibility foisted upon Australia. And with that increased responsibility there comes a stronger or stricter examination of the available resources. The request to move the Aurora Australis to assist in the search and rescue is one very concrete example of taking away from long-term planned science. Of course, search and rescue will trump that, but the diversification of finite resources that are available at present is certainly hindering some of those efforts and also frustrating some of the long-term planning that goes into building up, for example, a robust time series of observations. If you punch a hole in that, because the science has had to be deferred or because you have had to be taken off to do something else, that will probably cause harm in the long term.
Prof. Bindoff : If I can add something here, this is about the 20- or 25-year history of leadership by Hobart, through the collaboration we have here in Hobart with the CSIRO, the Australian Antarctic Division and the university and ACRC. Those organisations have led the way. We have created programs around Antarctica and the Southern Ocean that did not exist. The Antarctic program has existed longer, but a lot of these programs are relatively new, with a history of 25 years.
We have led the science around exploration of the Southern Ocean. We did not understand the state of the Southern Ocean in the early 1990s, and now we are understanding it to be evolving into a different state. This leadership is, to some extent, under threat. It is under threat in the sense that the amount of resources to undertake the research programs and to maintain that leadership is being eroded.
Senator BACK: I think funds have been allocated recently, have they, with the stewardship of the ARC?
Prof. Bindoff : Yes.
Senator BACK: The university, CSIRO and the Antarctic Division are all involved in that process. Can you just advise the committee as to what that level of funding is, and what the allocation is going to be?
Prof. Bindoff : Let me preface my last remark. It was about the logistics side of the funding that is available currently to undertake the programs that we have agreed upon. The Antarctic gateway funds that are administered from the ARC are for $24 million over three years—$8 million per year. That is a collaboration for doing research and science—mostly in Australia. The amount of logistic support in that funding is actually very low. So those funds, whilst very welcome, have not resolved some of these issues around the presence and capability to sustain the research activity in the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica.
Senator BACK: So how do you see that $24 million being divided or allocated—if not for logistics, then what will be the purposes?
Prof. Bindoff : That is a science program that is currently under development. Phil is leading one component of that activity. That will have a strong focus on the scientific activities themselves and new positions and some instrumentation. Do you want to talk to that, Phil?
Prof. Boyd : Yes, I can talk about that. Again, because of the $24 million actually being administered by the ARC they come under fairly strict funding rules through the ARC which would very much steer that money away from any logistical support or bridging that sort of gap. So the money will primarily go to funding some young career researchers in developing a longer technological capability that will hopefully enhance Hobart as a gateway for Antarctic science. As Professor Bindoff mentioned, a very small proportion of that will go towards logistics. That is not really part of the equation in terms of the discussion we are having about enhanced responsibility and decreased capability to do this wide range of different tasks we have—from search and rescue through to scientific research.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: You mentioned young scientists. Do you have any metrics for the funding for young upcoming scientists?
Prof. Boyd : Within the gateway funding or in general?
Senator WHISH-WILSON: In general. I am interested in whether opportunities are there for younger scientists and how you—
Prof. Boyd : With the current ongoing renewal of the Antarctic cooperative research program, that will fund a number of primarily young career scientists. Similarly, the gateway funding will also fund scientists. We have to offset that with further cutbacks that have happened and contracts that have not been renewed for young career scientists at the AAD. Again, they will probably speak more about that in this hearing.
CHAIR: We heard yesterday that the IEU fishing was under control, that the Patagonian toothfish fishery was secure. I am pretty sure that was the advice we got yesterday. Are saying that is not correct?
Dr Jabour : I am suggesting that, if you do not monitor, you do not know.
CHAIR: I think they were monitoring. Are you saying they are not monitoring?
Dr Jabour : There is probably less monitoring than is ideal.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is a table in one of our submissions that shows there has been no IEU fishing for a number of years. You do not agree with that? Have you seen the submission? I think it is from Offshore Fisheries.
Dr Jabour : I have not seen that submission.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: They are suggesting there has not been any IEU fishing since 2007.
Dr Jabour : Are they talking about the Australian EEZ of Heard Island and McDonald Islands?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Probably. So you would agree with that but not with the wider Southern Ocean?
Dr Jabour : Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I heard someone talking about the legal position. I am always very interested in this. Apart from the Australian EEZ, really we have no legal claim over any part of the continent or the oceans—that is a question. Can someone who understands that give an answer. I will ask a few people during the course of the day, but I am sure that some of you have looked into that.
Dr Jabour : I will start by suggesting to you that Australia's claim to 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent is formal. It is adopted in Australian law. It is on maps. It is acknowledged by article 4 of the Antarctic treaty, which sets aside any argument about claims during the life of the treaty and, therefore, to some extent acknowledges the existence of those claims. To have a maritime zone you need land which has a low water mark to start measuring out to sea. So for all intents and purposes Australia's claim to Antarctica is very real to the Australian government. And because we claim the land we can then claim maritime zones.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: But effectively nobody recognises it—apart from Australia and those few people who—
Dr Jabour : Not many countries have ever been asked whether they recognise Australia's claim.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The United States does not recognise it.
Dr Jabour : No. The United States and the Soviet Union do not recognise any claims to Antarctic territory.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What is the view of ITLOS?
Dr Jabour : It is not actually dealt with by ITLOS as such. Under the Law of the Sea convention, as far as I am aware, there is nothing.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: But I often hear people saying we should be sending warships down to do things on the high seas. Do we have any legal authority to do that?
Dr Jabour : The Antarctic treaty prohibits military activity below 60 degrees south.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: You were the last person to send a ship down there, weren't you, Senator McDonald?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It was all done legally!
Miss Hodg son-Johns t on : The problem with it is the non-recognition of the Australian Antarctic Territory exclusive economic zone. I have not seen the submission from Offshore Fisheries on the number of IEU fishing vessels, but I imagine it would not include vessels that can go off the Antarctic coast, off our claim. And there would not be much you could do anyway; if they do not recognise those waters as being Australian, there is not much that Australia can do other than monitor it and keep abreast of the situation there.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: With the IEU fishing, of course, it is not always just what you see on the Southern Ocean. It is from around the fish markets of the world that you determine where the fish are coming from. Apparently there is a much smaller sale of fish that cannot be accounted for. Would you agree with that?
Miss Hodg son-Johns t on : I would not be able to comment. I have not seen the figures on that.
Senator BACK: Is there a concern by the French that they are shouldering more of the burden in terms of this monitoring because we have not had vessels in the Southern Ocean for some period of time? Is that criticism accurate?
Dr Jabour : I do not know. You would have to ask the French.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have.
Senator BACK: What did they say?
Senator WHISH-WILSON: They were very guarded about what they said.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Isn't the situation that we used to send a patrol vessel down there and the French would come with us for half the year and we would go with them. In recent years our patrol boats have been up in the north doing other things, so we have not been shouldering our burden. Is that your understanding?
Miss Hodg son-Johns t on : That would probably be my opinion. I do not know what the French patrols have done in Heard Island and the Australian Antarctic EEZ.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The plateau.
Miss Hodg son-Johns t on : Yes. I do not know what the French have actually done, but I imagine that they have been doing the bulk of the work.
CHAIR: I am getting a picture that you are not happy with the amount of investment or work that has been done. Has anybody categorised it? Are we doing 10 per cent less or 50 per cent less? What are we doing in relation to other people? Are we slipping behind?
Prof. Boyd : There are a number of things here. One is that, when we look at the next couple of decades and try to project what might happen, again from the presentation from Julia, we can see a range of different fronts—from Antarctic tourism to the potential for conflict around further visits from Japan. That responsibility will increase. Obviously that is a projection based on information that we have at present. It is difficult to put a percentage figure on that, to quantify it. But certainly in all of these realms we are seeing increased responsibility, more likely over the coming decades. And, stacked against that, it is going to partition resources even further—resources which in some cases are shrinking.
CHAIR: Shrinking resources and greater responsibility.
Prof. Boyd : That is it in a nutshell.
Miss Hodg son-Johns t on : I have reference to the Australian Customs Service annual reports where you can see that the number of days at sea per patrol vessel is getting lower. For example, the target is to have a presence in the Southern Ocean on 200 days per year with the assets that were given to the Southern Ocean—I think it is now called the Ocean Protector. If you look at the report from 2007, we were reaching that 200-day target in the Southern Ocean, but now you will see that the actual vessel is being deployed to the north. It is still getting its target of 200 days at sea, but it is all up north. It is not in the zone that we are talking about today.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I would like to ask a bigger picture question about some of the work that you are doing and what your priorities are and whether you are part of this big Southern Ocean research program that the US has announced. In other words, for those who perhaps do not understand, what is the key to the research you are doing down there—or the public good component?
Prof. Bindoff : First of all, there is a 25-year history of excellent science being led from Hobart around the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. One of the things that has occurred in the last 20 years is a growing understanding that the Southern Ocean, Antarctica and the environment around Antarctica—the sea ice—are changing in ways that we did not expect. In the early 1990s we actually imagined the oceans to be static, unchanging, fixed in time. Since then, because we have been able to establish very significant investments, collaborations, with the French, the Americans and the Germans, we have been able to monitor a variety of things. We have discovered that the deepest waters that are formed around Antarctica are actually spread through all of the ocean basins and are changing rapidly in relation to the other oceans. The heat is being taken up by the Southern Ocean faster than anywhere else except for the north Atlantic, where it is about the same. The sea ice, paradoxically, is actually increasing; we expect it to decrease if we have rising greenhouse gases. The Antarctic ice sheet we understood to be static and imagined that it could not change on time scales of thousands of years. Actually it is losing mass, and we can measure that better because we have had a revolution in the way of monitoring the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet and its mass. It is losing mass at the rate of a couple of hundred gigatons per annum. That might not sound like much but, if you wait long enough, it can translate to very significant sea level changes.
The challenge with the Antarctic ice sheet and the Southern Ocean is: how much will it change into the future? We already see it changing. We never understood how much the climate of Australia depends on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Some of the biggest dries—there are some beautiful records of the changing rainfall over the south-west of Australia—are connected to the ice cores that we collect.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: So your understanding of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica gives you a much better understanding of the global climate?
Prof. Bindoff : It is the global climate, it is the Australian climate, it is a driver of Australian weather. It is a key element in the climate system and it is actually a source of key risk, particularly around sea level but also against other parameters.
Prof. Boyd : Obviously one of the challenges we face is its remoteness. Hence the issue of logistics, hand in hand with the other science that we can do in Hobart, is very important. I think you mentioned a new American program. Is that the program about the floats in the ocean?
Prof. Boyd : Again, one of the ways we can try and overcome some of these logistical issues is to try and collaborate with international partners. Again, this helps to enhance Australia's reputation as a treaty partner and its scientific profile. Yes, we will be involved with the profiling floats. At present there are several hundred of these floats in the Southern Ocean. They profile up and down the water column remotely. As we sit here at this hearing, they are making measurements which will then be relayed back to satellites. These floats measure the temperature of the water and the saltiness of the water. The new ones that we are putting down there will have additional sensors to try and get us some more information. Again, this is trying to move us away from an overreliance on vessels, which do not always necessarily do science because they have to be diverted because of our increasing responsibilities. So it is not just a case of pulling our pockets out and saying that we need more resources. We are actively pursuing the best technological advances on the planet to try and enhance that stream of information which comes in which, again, will help us to be better informed and build up a picture of why sea ice is increasing in east Antarctica but rapidly decreasing in other parts of Antarctica, which is a conundrum.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: There is inherent tension between the funding that goes to logistics and science, and how you find that balance. How many days in the last year was Aurora Australis directly involved with scientific research while it was down there? Can you give us an idea of the asset utilisation.
Prof. Boyd : In terms of the split between base resupply and logistics and actual science days, I think it was around 80 science days last year. That has been reduced to around 12 this year with the cutbacks in the budget. It still has the opportunity for base resupply but it very heavily curtails the science in many cases. Some science can be done on base resupply because we try and maximise the opportunity. But it is a straight sail from A to B—from Hobart to Casey, Mawson or Davis—which in many cases is not ideal for doing the science that we may have had to give up because the 80 days has been severely cut back.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: The Investigator obviously cannot go into the ice pack, but do you expect that it will be doing more research down in the Southern Ocean?
Prof. Boyd : The problem with the Investigator is that it has to service all of Australia's waters to the north, west, east and south. The number of days has been severely cut. Despite the amazing platform it provides, it has been cut from 300 days to 180 days. As far as I am aware, there will be no more calls for research until 2017 because there is a backlog because of that reduction of almost 50 per cent in the number of ship days. So the ship will be languishing alongside the wharf. That is very much a false economy because it does not just sit there and not cost anything.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: I am a bit confused. The boat has only been allocated 180 days a year to do science. The rest of the time it is going to be—
Prof. Boyd : It will languish alongside the wharf. In my experience in other countries, that causes other problems. It is sitting there idling; and, when you take it out, there are certainly issues with the hydraulic system or the engine or—
Senator BACK: We asked yesterday what happens for the balance of the time. We were told that the vessel will in a sense be available on a contract basis to anybody wanting to undertake commissioned scientific research. I did not get the impression at all that is going to sit there for half the year doing nothing.
Prof. Boyd : It will unless it receives charter.
Senator LAMBIE: How many contracts have you got for the future? I guess that is the big question. You estimating that, over the next few years, it is going to sit there for 180 days. How many contracts have you been given or picked up for the next two or three years in forecast?
Prof. Bindoff : I can sort of answer that. There is a process. The process is around an assessment of proposals. The proposals are allocated 180 days a year. The original intent was to run at 300 days per year, so there is a 120-day difference. The prospect of researchers actually paying for research time on the ship is out of the question—in the context of me and Phil, for instance. So in talking about contracts we are really talking commercial ventures, or commercial research—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Or other nations.
Prof. Bindoff : Or other nations.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: The Americans are borrowing it. That is what has happened all the time, isn't it?
Prof. Bindoff : If you go to the American programs around ships, they and the Europeans actually have an arrangement for sharing ship time and sharing resources. But that is a knock for knock arrangement—typically, cash is not provided.
CHAIR: Is there any evidence of any private sector or philanthropic investment to pick up what you are saying is a shortfall?
Prof. Bindoff : Not in Australia.
Prof. Boyd : Not at present. This has all happened very recently, with the budget coming through and the ship just being delivered from Singapore a few weeks ago. So, really, there has not been very much opportunity to think about it. For most of the chartering agreement—unless it is very opportunistic or serendipitous—there is a very long lead-in time. So I think the prospect is quite real that, over this extra 120 days, although it might be available for some sort of charter or further commercial work it may not be taken up on that. Furthermore, the design of the vessel was based on 300 days of research. So some of the specialist equipment that it might need for, for example, exploration for marine resources may not actually be on the vessel, and that might incur additional costs.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: This has been the case for a long time, hasn't it? America has its own arrangements, but smaller nations that want to do Antarctic work have often hired our vessels on their off days over the years, haven't they?
Prof. Bindoff : Opportunities that have arisen have been used by the Antarctic Division to provide additional funds for the operation of the Aurora Australis—that is true.
Senator DASTYARI: It is an incredible ship. I know nothing about ships and it certainly impressed me. When the ship was first commissioned, it was planned that it would have 300 days of use. Is that correct?
Prof. Boyd : Yes.
Senator DASTYARI: The specifications, the plan, the proposal, the cost-benefit analysis—whatever process was gone through—was all done on the basis that it was going to be used 300 days a year?
Prof. Boyd : Yes.
Senator DASTYARI: So what happened to make it 180 days? Can you run through that process. Was it before or after the ship was built that you were informed that there was going to be a 120-day shortfall? Can you run through what happened there.
Prof. Boyd : Obviously there is a very long lead-in time from when a ship is first commissioned, before the drawings are done and so on and so forth. On the basis that they would run the ship for 300 days a year, it was then kitted out with a wide range of facilities that would accommodate research to the north, south, east and west of Australia across a wide range of things—from geophysics to fisheries and oceanography work. With that long lead-in time and with that major investment, it was really only before the last budget that decisions were made.
Senator DASTYARI: Was it at or before the budget that you were informed? Explain to me the interaction between government and IMAS and others. When were you actually informed? Was it one of those budget night situations where you heard that it was cut by 120 days? How does it work?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Before you answer that, who actually manages the ship? Who decides who gets it when, for what days and for what projects?
Prof. Bindoff : CSIRO runs MNF, Major National Facilities, which operates the ship on behalf of Australia. To answer your question: I am a user of the ship in previous years and also of Aurora Australis. I spent two years on the Aurora Australis, in one way or another, swanning around the Southern Ocean.
Senator BACK: Doing active research of course!
Prof. Bindoff : Doing world leading research! So it has been for less than six months that I have known we are reduced to 180 days per year. The communications come to me in the form of statements, emails, from the MNF updating us on precisely what is happening and when it will happen. We had about nine months of limbo because of the late delivery of the ship. This has caused all sorts of problems in the scheduling and arrangement of the ship. I have put in a lot of effort in writing proposals. Those proposals have been put in abeyance because of the late delivery. They have to shake out the ship and so on. It has come down to a rude shock in the last six months.
Senator DASTYARI: One final question on that. We obviously have the department coming this afternoon, so we can obviously talk to them about the other end of it. If you had have known two, three or four years ago when the process was being undertaken that the ship was going to be commissioned for 180 days, would you have built it differently?
Prof. Bindoff : I do not know whether I would have built it differently, but I would have planned my voyages a little bit differently. The expectations would have been shaped differently. We were expecting 300 days. It is not just about this ship of course; we have already had the discussion of less time on the Aurora Australis. My colleagues are in the position of having to rewrite proposals to actually get agreement, for a second time, for time on that ship in the voyages coming into the future years. So there is a shortfall in both areas for marine science time.
CHAIR: How much a day does it cost on the Investigator?
Prof. Bindoff : I have no idea.
Prof. Boyd : Around $140,000 a day. Again, you are just coming back to this issue of projected and enhanced responsibilities by Australia versus, in some cases, diminishing resources or a bigger spread of those resources. Again, with 180 days ship time, that has to be spread across all of Australia's marine institutes. So, again, effectively, even if 30 per cent of that time was to go into the Southern Ocean again, it would be considered to be diminished, relative to the anticipated 300 days.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for appearing today.
Senator LAMBIE: Chair, I would just like to ask another question.
CHAIR: We have just finished that session, Senator Lambie.
Senator BACK: Perhaps you could put the question on notice.
Senator LAMBIE: I will put the question on notice.
Senator BACK: Senator Lambie, you could ask the chair whether you could ask additional questions.
CHAIR: We all try to run on time out of courtesy to everybody but, if you want to have your question, that is fine.
Senator LAMBIE: Thank you, Chair. Because of the significant reduction in the days, this will obviously have an impact on your research. Have you lost scientific positions or manning because of the impact of reducing your days?
Prof. Bindoff : It is early days in this process but, in terms of some of the international collaborations that we have been trying to develop that go into the future, particularly in my case around the Indian Ocean and also the Southern Ocean, we have had to curtail our plans already or we are unable to do it. So the consequences have already been felt in our planning and aspirations to lead in particular areas.
Prof. Boyd : Also, there are a number of young career researchers in some cases who have come to work in Australia, with European funding. They are currently twiddling their thumbs, waiting to find out whether they will get an opportunity to do work in a joint project in waters south of Australia and the waters in the North Atlantic.
CHAIR: Thank you for appearing.