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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4041

Senator KNOWLES(6.04 p.m.) —I, too, would like to make some comments in relation to the report entitled Australian Antarctic Foundation: annual report: 1995-96 . While I have listened carefully to what Senator Hogg has said about Antarctica, I have to say that, having visited Antarctica over Christmas, I can assure the Senate that the projects going on down there are certainly alive and well. The government fully supports everything that is being done down there. Having spent 6½ weeks looking at each of the three Antarctic bases and one sub-Antarctic base, I can inform the Senate that the scientific, meteorological and general scientific work being done is just first class.

Senator Patterson, Mr McDougall from the House of Representatives and I were fortunate enough to go down there in, as I say, last December and January and to have the opportunity to see first-hand what is being done down there, including the type of work being done with animals such as seals, penguins and birds. The intensity of the work that is done in a meteorological sense is of so much significance to Australia that it is something that I know Senator Ian Macdonald, as the parliamentary secretary responsible for Antarctica, does not want to see diminished, and nor does the Minister for the Environment (Senator Hill).

The work that is now being conducted over the winter months is even more challenging. It is worth noting the challenge in front of the people who are down there working for us and on our behalf. Just take the station leaders: Ian Sutherland, at Casey station; Peter Corchrane, at Davis station; and Bob Jones, at Mawson station. They are leading teams of about 19 to 20 people through the winter months.

It is only coincidental that I spoke to Ian Sutherland today. He was cheeky enough to send me the most wonderful invitation to attend the Casey station midwinter dinner on 27 June this year. It would be somewhat of a challenge to get from Australia to Antarctica in mid-June. You would need more than a few wetsuits and a rubber duckie.

Speaking to Ian today, I found it interesting to learn that they are now, even at this stage of the year, working in only four hours of daylight. That work has to be condensed into that amount of time. Yesterday, when they were out doing some work in the field, they were confronted with a blizzard. They could not see six inches in front of their noses, yet they are down there conducting this type of research for and on behalf of Australians. All I can say is that I want to assure the Senate, and Senator Hogg in particular, that the work is being carried on.

Senator Hogg —It's the foundation that I'm talking about.

Senator KNOWLES —Exactly, Senator Hogg; I know. But I want to assure you that any amelioration in any part of that side of it is not going to lead to any degradation in the work that is being done, the enthusiasm of the Antarctic Division, the personnel involved, the expeditioners or the government's commitment to Antarctica. Mr Rex Moncur, the Director of the Antarctic Division, would be the last person who would allow us to run down anything in terms of Antarctica.

It is a most fascinating place. It is one of those once in a lifetime trips that I will probably never repeat, because we do not have a runway down there. It was one of the things that we looked at in terms of looking at all of the options and the things that we need down there to get greater efficiency in the work that we are doing. Some of the scientific work that can be done down there could certainly be enhanced by us looking at the runway option—to be able to get some very highly qualified scientists in and out more quickly than can be achieved today by ship.

To have looked at some of the heritage issues as well, plus the scientific and meteorological studies that are being done down there, is something for which I will be eternally grateful. We should admire those people who give up anywhere between 12 and 15 months of their lives in some cases to go down there and do research on behalf of Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.