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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5265

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for the Arts, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water and Population and Communities) (20:52): I have been dared again to answer questions which are not on the agenda for this part of the proceedings. I said previously that I am not going to do that and the answer is still that I am not going to do that. Similarly, if I am asked fascinating questions about the health portfolio, I am not going to answer them. I am not going to answer questions about the finance portfolio. But there is an opportunity to ask questions about what is within the budget papers of the environment portfolio. To make sure that we have a straight, factual to-and-fro going, I am, in some cases, delaying some of the answers to make sure that I can provide the highest level of precision possible on the questions that are asked.

On the issue of Caring for our Country, large amounts of Caring for our Country are unallocated in advance. It has been designed as a very high-level program which allows a high level of discretion to the minister of the day to determine how to allocate between different priorities. That means that, when money for different purposes comes out of Caring for our Country, the simple question, 'What are you cutting as a result of doing that?' cannot be simply answered. That is not how the program is run. It is not how it has ever run. That was basically true as well of its precursor, the Natural Heritage Trust. The minister of the day sets a number of priorities—some of them set jointly with the agriculture minister and some of them set personally. The program design allows that opportunity. If it were designed otherwise, it would be the case that, if you take something from here, you have automatically taken it from elsewhere. But that is simply not the way Caring for our Country works.

There was a question from the member for Lyons about our commitment to Antarctica. The additional funding in the budget which has already been referred to in the question from the member for Flinders about the Aurora Australis is extraordinarily important. Planes can get the people in and out, but it is your vessel which gets your supplies in and out and gets your materials in and out. One thing which surprised me a lot when I became the first of our environment ministers to make it out to Casey Station was that most of the people working there are not scientists. Most people working there are working on logistics—and the logistics of just keeping the operation going are extraordinary. Effectively, if you do not have both an air capacity and a sea capacity, you do not have an Antarctic operation.

Additional to that, there was a joint announcement which was made by myself and Craig Emerson, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, regarding the continuation of the Cooperative Research Centre. While their work is housed within the education portfolio, there is a very strong interaction with the work that the scientists, who are employed by my department, do within the Australian Antarctic Division. There had been a great deal of doubt for a long time as to whether that would be able to continue, but it does.

The budget also provides $9.5 million to ensure Australia's continued contribution to broad research and Antarctic operations staged from Tasmania, including the running of four fully operational Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations. Up until this term there has, on many occasions over previous decades, been a view within the government of Australia from each side of politics that we had a number of gateways to the Antarctic, and Fremantle was often referred to as an alternative to Tasmania. My view, very strongly, and I followed this through as minister, is that for Australia Tasmania is the gateway to the Antarctic. Tasmania has the highest concentration of scientists that Australia has anywhere, right there in Hobart. The work, combined with the marine division of my department being based there, means there is a scientific overlap in Hobart and the suburbs surrounding it which is second to none. It ensures that a whole lot of the analysis and experimentation is able to continue on what has been retrieved, monitored and learnt from the work in the field in the Antarctic itself.

In addition to that, a $7.9 million allocation in the budget means we can start to explore options which I have referred to before for the Aurora Australis as it remains available over the next few years. Finally, the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook had previously allocated $1.7 million for the development of a detailed business case for new Antarctic shipping capability, including essential associated infrastructure and support.