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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
25/05/2015
Estimates
ENVIRONMENT PORTFOLIO
Department of the Environment

Department of the Environment

CHAIR: Assuming our minister is not too far away, I welcome representatives from the Antarctic Division. Would anybody like to make any opening statements before we go to questions? No?

Senator SINGH: There is a reduction in AAD's funding of around $30 million over the forward estimates as it is outlined on page 68 of the PBS. Could you just outline the reasoning behind that cut?

Dr Wooding : Yes, it is nothing all that out of the usual. First of all there is a measure in the budget maintaining Australia's presence in Antarctica which is only in the 2015-16 budget. That is worth $9.4 million, and then it is not in the years beyond that. So the budget drops down for that measure. The other issue in there is own source revenues—so, revenue from other sources, not from appropriations. Basically that is something that sort of accumulates during the year as we find various sources of revenue. Typically in the budget papers we do not have the full extent of that shown. Again, you will see that that drops away from the current year to next year, and that explains a lot of the difference between 2014-15 and 2015-16. Beyond that, it is a combination of not knowing about that revenue and also the maintaining Australia's presence not being in the years beyond 2015-16.

Dr de Brouwer : Can I just follow up on that? The maintaining the presence that the $9.4 million that Dr Wooding referred to has been an ongoing allocation in the budget each year. It has not been allocated on an ongoing basis; it lapses each year, and it has been allocated each year. That is why it does not appear in the forward estimates, but does in this budget. One thing that is underway as part of the government's consideration around the 20-year strategic plan is that the department, along with the Department of Finance, is doing a financing examination of the Australian Antarctic Division. Part of that discussion will be whether to regularise that $9.4 million, maintaining the presence, on an ongoing basis. It has been there for a number of years, so over the past several budgets it has appeared as a single-year proposition, and it has been agreed each year. It is whether as part of that financial review for the department, or for AAD, that that aspect is considered. The review will also look at some of the revenue items and the various ebbs and flows in revenue within the division as well, and will examine those matters. Do you understand the way I have explained it?

Senator SINGH: Yes. You are saying the $9.4 million is not included in the $30 million?

Dr de Brouwer : It is included in 2015-16, and each budget for a number of years, each successive government has considered this as a one-off proposition each year, but it has been there each year. The question is: should the $9.4 million, rather than every year being a lapsing program or lapsing funding, be made permanent? That issue will be part of the review that we are going through this year with the Department of Finance on the AAD budget.

Dr Fleming : It is exactly the same question as in previous budget cycles from the opposite side of the fence.

Senator SINGH: With respect to this financial review, what is the kind of time frame around that? What is going on with that?

Dr Fleming : It will start as soon as possible, and it will conclude in August.

Senator SINGH: Who is conducting the review?

Dr Fleming : The Department of Environment and the Department of Finance.

Senator SINGH: Hopefully they are completed by August?

Dr Fleming : Yes.

Dr Kennedy : If I could just add to that, there is an intention to bring the review and the response to Tony Press's report, together with the government announcing a full response and the ongoing funding for Antarctica, and also of course there is the matter around the ships tender to be settled, with all those matters perhaps coming to a head towards the end of the year or perhaps early next year.

Senator SINGH: You have pre-empted what I was going to ask about Tony Press's strategic plan. You are stating that a response from government on Tony Press's report and the conclusion of its financial review and the outcomes of that will all happen at the same time in August?

Dr de Brouwer : Not necessarily August. August is the review with the Department of Finance around the AAD budget. That would be one of the things that would feed into the government's 20-year plan as well as the issues around the icebreaker and those sorts of issues.

Dr Kennedy : A number of Tony Press's recommendations had financial implications or potentially had financial implications, so it was a matter of first establishing the ongoing financial circumstances in AAD and their ongoing cost pressures. As you know, there are a number of cost pressures—the pressures of diesel, running ships, those sorts of things. So going through and thoroughly reviewing the existing program which, as Tony said, is hoped to be finished by about August, and in the light of that, the fulsome response with a hope that this sort of ongoing rolling $9 million to $10 million supplementation can potentially be avoided so that financial planning can be perhaps a little further ahead than it has been in the past.

Senator SINGH: Before I pass on to my colleague, just on the $30 million reduction on page 68, what is the impact on AAD operations as a result of that cut?

Dr Wooding : As I said, it is not a cut. You are talking about over the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19. Some of that is in those bottom lines which are depreciation and amortisation, which are not appropriated. So if you take that out of the picture, you see a $25 million reduction and, as I said, that is explicable partly because of, as the secretary was saying, the $9.4 million disappearing after 2015-16. The rest of it is that we have much more conservative estimates about third-party revenue in our out years. I guess if we did not get more third-party revenue than is in that estimate, then certainly there would be an issue, but we expect third-party revenue tends to go up closer to the date because it becomes clearer where that will be coming from. I do not think you can talk about a $30 million, or even a $25 million, cut in that sense.

Senator SINGH: So you are really relying on third-party revenue to make up that shortfall?

Dr Wooding : It is not a shortfall. The appropriated amount—

Senator SINGH: Well, to make up the difference, however you want to put it.

Dr Wooding : In 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19, the core appropriation is broadly the same as we get now. The only difference in appropriation is the disappearance of that $9.4 million. It is really a question of how much third-party revenue we get. That does vary from year to year, but estimates become clearer as time goes on. So, for example, in the budget estimate we have estimated an amount of third-party revenue and we are already confident that we will get more than that. This is how it works in the AAD. It is a constant moving feast, as it were.

Senator SINGH: So reading that table 3.1 as it stands, will there be an impact on AAD's operations?

Dr Kennedy : The division, led by Dr Fleming, was recently discussing the program for the upcoming season. The department plans—the division is obviously part of the department—to run the usual program in 2015-16. The department is aware of the financial pressures that you are drawing attention to. This is, of course, within the department's full appropriation, so the extent to which the division was struggling within that appropriation, the department would appropriately have to meet that additional cost. But at this stage the plan is to run our usual summer season with the usual science attached to it, and to do our best to meet it within the monies, as Dr Wooding was talking about.

But the department accepts that we would have to look closely if that were costing more than the monies that are presented in this table. As I said earlier, the opportunity that is presenting itself with this finance review and also the response to the report, and the government putting forward a 20-year plan, is to perhaps, as Dr de Brouwer said, to regularise these arrangements where we have been year after year supplementing the AAD budget in order to run our usual program. But for 2015-16—and Dr Gales and Dr Fleming may wish to elaborate—we plan to run our usual season.

Dr Fleming : There are four voyages to resupply and our marine science; it is a usual season.

Senator SINGH: Is there still only one contender for the tender of the icebreaker?

Dr Fleming : Yes, we are doing a thorough evaluation of that proposal. We will go back to government later this year for one tender. It is a thorough evaluation process, and the department has added additional subject matter expertise to support from both the private and public sector. This includes significant commercial technical and maritime expertise, because there is only one tender. We will do a detailed cost investigation program as well as a clarification process with the tenderer in parallel with the tenderer evaluation.

Senator URQUHART: I just wanted to follow on, on page 69 of the PBS there is a table that looks at shipping dates, flights to Antarctica et cetera; can you tell me how you are tracking to meet those deliverables?

Dr Wooding : This year we have certainly met all of those deliverables. In fact, we have had more flights than 2015.

Senator URQUHART: How many more? Just tell me?

Dr Wooding : It is 19 or 20, I think. It is 20, indeed. We have certainly taken more than 400 expeditioners south. I can say that is probably more like 500, but I do not have the exact figure in front of me yet because we have not finalised that. The number of scientists I think was in that order. These are historical projections, as you can see. It is the same every year, but I think we have done well this year to meet that.

Senator URQUHART: So you have not gone below those numbers? In some cases you have actually gone above?

Dr Wooding : Yes, that is exactly right. I do not believe we have gone below those numbers this year. As Dr Kennedy and Dr Fleming were saying, I think next year we are also looking at running a similar sort of season, so I am reasonably confident, or very confident, we will meet those numbers again.

Dr Fleming : We had 186 shipping days this past summer.

Dr Wooding : We had 437 expeditioners this summer, I should add.

Senator URQUHART: Not 500?

Dr Wooding : No, 437. So we have gotten above 400.

Senator URQUHART: Is that an expectation for the rest of those years that are covered in that table, or is that likely to vary?

Dr Wooding : It varies from year to year. There are a lot of factors that determine how many expeditioners and how many scientists are active. Flights and shipping days are fairly consistent, but those figures do go up and down, depending on what projects and how they are being supported. But this is the historic trend.

Senator URQUHART: You have had five extra flights, from 15 to 20 this year. If there is now that extra $9.4 million for research and expedition activities and the operations of the stations, why would there not be anticipated extra expeditions to Antarctica in the other years above the 15?

Dr Wooding : We basically have a capacity issue there. We only have so many beds in our Antarctic stations that we can accommodate people. Numbers often depend on the rate of churn. Fundamentally, we have somewhere between 250 and 300 permanent beds in Antarctica and Macquarie Island, and how much above that you get depends on churn and how many people go on a marine science voyage. In the end extra flights or extra shipping days do not necessarily equate to extra—

Senator URQUHART: So it is about the number of people that you have there?

Dr Wooding : There is a sort of capacity limit on how many people we can have there at any one time. In the end, the numbers go up and down depending perhaps mainly on the rate of churn. We cannot run more than a certain number of flights. We would not have the beds in our Casey Station where all the flights basically go to, to accommodate more people.

Senator McGRATH: In relation to the icebreaker, is it fully funded?

Dr Kennedy : Yes.

Dr Fleming : It is fully funded for the design and build in the contingency reserve.

Dr de Brouwer : And the operate and maintain funding. It is the biggest ever investment in Australia's Antarctic operations.

Senator McGRATH: How much?

Senator Birmingham: That of course is in the contingency reserve because we are going through a tender process. All will be revealed in the foreseeable future.

Senator SINODINOS: Investment in people.

Senator McGRATH: Why do we need a new icebreaker?

Dr Fleming : The icebreaker is the backbone of our program. It supplies heavy equipment, food and personnel to our stations.

Dr Wooding : Our icebreaker has been operating for more than 25 years now. Typically when vessels of that type get above 25 years, they start to experience more problems. The government has had to invest money, about $8 million in the last few years, in refurbishment. At a certain point we are going to have to invest more and more money in refurbishment, and at some point the icebreaker will become untenable. So at some point we have to look at a replacement.

Dr Fleming : The icebreaker is also the marine science platform in the ice zone.

Senator Birmingham: In truth it probably would have been preferable to replace it and these steps had been taken at an earlier date to avoid some of that extra expense of maintaining the existing vessel. But this government is getting on with the job.

Senator McGRATH: What other funding is being provided to support the Antarctic operations, such as through the National Environment Science Program and the Gateway Partnership, and what research did that achieve over the past summer?

Dr Fleming : The Chief Scientist can answer that question.

Dr Gales : I will go to the gateway fund first. This was a special research initiative of the Australian Research Council of $24 million over three years. It is managed through the University of Tasmania in partnership with CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Division. It is funding quite a wide range of Antarctic work. It is employing scientists in Hobart to conduct a good deal of the research, and it is supporting the operations that get scientists out and about, especially into the deep field. This last summer is probably quite a good example of the way it is operating through its three-year life. It contributed a significant amount of funds, a little over half a million dollars, to support an ocean acidification experiment we ran at Casey Station. This was an experiment pumping down treated water effectively to look at the effects of the potential future ocean on animals that live down on the sea ice bottom. It is a very ambitious project, so it supported that.

A similar amount of money, just under another half a million dollars, went into supporting a piece of work way out to the west of where we normally operate, in a place called Enderby Land, looking at the way the crust of the earth is responding to changes of the ice cap, sitting on top of it, and changes to the thickness of the ice cap. So we conducted that work this last summer. The main investment went into a very large marine science trip down to the front of two large glaciers in East Antarctica, the Totten and the Mertz glaciers. This is actually the first time a ship has operated in front of the Totten glacier. It is the largest glacier, the largest catchment of ice in East Antarctica, and it was investigating how hot water, warmer water, in the oceans may or may not interact with the ice shelves as they protrude out from the continent. So about $2.3 million of gateway money went into supporting that.

Each of those projects was made up of funding from the Australian Antarctic Division, out of our core funding, from the Antarctic Climate and Eco System CRC for the marine science one, and significantly the gateway money. So the gateway money works across the three institutions as I mentioned—the AAD, the University of Tasmania and CSIRO—but its sole focus is around Antarctic research. Another example of where that money is going is the development of equipment that can travel around under the ice and take measurements. That is a future capability out of Hobart that we are hoping will be developed. That is how the gateway money is used.

Senator McGRATH: The National Environment Science Program.

Dr Gales : The National Environment Science Program is funded into a range of hubs. There is not a specific Antarctic hub, but there are in the marine biodiversity hub and the threatened species hub elements of the work there. The program is just in the process of being settled at the moment. The projects are currently under review between the department and the scientists who will run each of the hubs. Those projects are being evaluated, and a number of them do have an element that is relevant to Southern Ocean and Antarctic work, but particularly those two, the marine biodiversity and the threatened species hubs within NESP.

Senator McGRATH: Is there a figure for what our total spend or investment for 2015-16 for our presence in Antarctica? Is there a figure that you can tell me? I have page 66 here, but in terms of all the other programs that are going on, is there a figure that would be the total investment on behalf of the Australian taxpayer in our activities in Antarctic, probably including some of what is happening in Tasmania, too?

Dr Wooding : I provided an answer to a question from the last Estimates that we funded this year in the Antarctic program. The government funded us $114.1 million, and then the budget papers show you the funding for next year, which is $118 million in total. There is also money for the CRC which was mentioned, the Gateway Partnership and the Hobart runway extension that was all allocated. In total, that adds up to $87 million, but that is not in just one year, that is over a number of years.

Senator McGRATH: Why is the partnership with China important in terms of our operations in Antarctica?

Dr Fleming : We have a very close partnership with China in terms of logistics and sites. The partnership is doing globally significant sites. It is not a monetary value for the Antarctic Division, but we are negotiating a quid pro quo arrangement with the Chinese program. We fly some of their expeditioners down to Antarctica. The focus of the partnership is doing globally significant sites.

Senator McGRATH: Is it shared in terms of the data and things like that?

Dr Fleming : Yes.

Dr Gales : If I can just add to that, more or less now the major science work that goes on in Antarctica is almost always international. There are very few significant projects that are done by a single national polar program; they are nearly all done in collaboration. Since Australia has been operating in Antarctica in science for the last century, Australia has been a leader in a lot of those collaborations. In the sector in which we work, to our south-east in Antarctica, China is becoming a larger and more significant player and they are involved in many of these very large projects. So we work very closely with them—of course, not to the exclusion of the other operators there. We work very closely with Japan, France and the US and many other operators through that area.

But we do have a focus with the Chinese at the moment, and we have a meeting later in 2015—in October—where we will have a bilateral discussion around looking at particular science projects where it is beneficial for both China and Australia to work together. There will be things like having our ships operating in similar areas at similar times, the transfer of scientists, sharing of information, and there are a few candidate areas, but we will investigate those in October. That will roll around into the application processes both in China and in Australia for science that will be conducted in the next three or four years.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Just as a matter of interest, on the program Senator McGrath was asking about, are you seeing any—perhaps pressure is not the right word—but any movement towards commercialisation of science that you are doing down in Antarctica? I am watching it with CSIRO just how much public good science is being done versus science for commercialisation, and I understand that CRC that you are involved with is looking at this? Can you give us some sort of idea?

Dr Gales : In relation to the science, we select our science on the basis of excellent science and on the basis of its fit within our strategic plan. The strategic plan itself was based on what are the important science questions for government, and they are virtually all in the public good space. They are really principally around understanding the role of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica in the global climate system, and ensuring sustainable human practice in Antarctica across the wide range, both in the fishery space and in the activities we conduct on the ice and on the land. That occupies almost all of our program. We have about 10 per cent of our program in frontier science, which is just highly relevant, excellent science that can only be conducted in Antarctica. We have certainly not seen in the applications we receive any evidence of commercial push to that. It actually would not be a fit within our program.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In terms of the budget that has been discussed, you talked about—I do not know how to say this—'regularising the maintaining' of Australia's presence, which is about $9.5 million annually. That number looks pretty consistent over forward estimates. Has that been historically the case? How long has that item been there?

Dr Wooding : That item appeared first in the 2009-10 budget. In that budget it was for two years, $25 million over two years. It was reduced in two successive budgets. I think that was 2012-13 and 2013-14, and it came down to that $9.5 million level approximately, and that has been where it is.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: On that basis it has been reduced by about 25 to 30 per cent?

Dr Wooding : Since the 2009-10 budget, yes, that is correct.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: What about the expenses, 'other including previously budgeted', $106.8 million this year, and then forecast $107 million the following year and $104 million the year after that. Can you give us an historical quick time series on where those kind of expenses—

Dr Wooding : Are you talking about the expenses not requiring appropriation?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Yes, just total expenses.

Dr Wooding : They went up. Basically there is no money associated with those. They are basically an accounting item.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: An accounting item—

Dr Wooding : They were increased in—which year was it, Matt? They were increased to some extent in funding regards?

Mr Sutton : The depreciation gets reassessed annually, and the finance costs represent future make-good costs, and they have been in the budget now for several years.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay, maybe the subtotal. I wanted to strip out the maintaining Australia's presence before we go into depreciation and approved operating loss. I am just trying to get an idea of your operating budget. You can take that on notice.

Dr Wooding : I can take that on notice.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I just want to know how that has fluctuated over the last 10 years rather than a short-term view, because you are talking about a long-term plan now. You mentioned that after August you will be looking at formulating it. My guess, Senator Birmingham, is that it will be before the next election that you might release your new budget and your 20-year plan. I would be interested to know how that would reflect the previous 10 years, not just a short time period.

Dr Fleming : Like the table in Tony Press's report, in the back.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay, go back and have a look at that. In relation to the CRCs—and I know you cannot give this detail until that report is actually released: my understanding is that the CRC's funding—that is, currently the CSIRO, IMAS and you guys—runs out in 2019. Will you be also looking in this report that you are going to release in August or whenever at standardising that and rolling that long-term budget into your numbers, or is that still going to be a separate item?

Dr Kennedy : We would be looking at all components in the Antarctic program, including the ongoing nature of the science program, how it is funded and from different sources. Just to clarify, the finance review is planned to be completed by August. The government's response, in other words, the government's 20-year plan that it would do in response to Tony Press's report, would then address the future for science and its associated funding, including the matters that you talked about.

Dr de Brouwer : That will also be later in the year, so they are not August.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: No, whenever you release it. With the CRCs, though, obviously they are really good at bringing in efficiencies, and that seemed to be a really good innovative structure to bring scientists to collaborate on different projects. I am just interested in how we budget for that if their funding seems to be short term, and they add so much value to your organisation and to our Southern Ocean research.

Dr Kennedy : One of the issues that government would look to address in preparing its 20-year plan is this issue of the extent of funding and the need for longer term planning, as Dr Gales has talked about in the past. It is not helpful, frankly, in having longer-term science programs to have little cliffs in the science funding. So the government moved to address that with the announcements that Nick spoke about a little while ago, but in that much longer term it is also minded to look at that particular issue and how we address it on an ongoing basis.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Just a couple of specific questions in relation to the extension of the Hobart runway; I have seen the numbers in the budget. Will the extension enable fully laden cargo planes to take off en route to Antarctica?

Dr Fleming : We are not responsible for that program. You can talk to the Department of Transport and ask questions, as they are responsible for that program.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Surely if it is in your budget, it is part of your—

Dr Fleming : It is not in our budget. It is in the Department of Infrastructure's budget.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I noticed in forward estimates for 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 $3 million allocated for 2015-16, $28.5 million for 2016-17, and $6.4 million—a total of $38 million is in your budget for Hobart International Airport. Maybe that is my spreadsheet.

Dr Wooding : No, it is not in our budget.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could you tell us in terms of the extension of the runway and what your understanding is, if Wilkins is at the other end in your budget or is that Department of Infrastructure?

Dr Wooding : Yes, Wilkins is in our budget. We produce Wilkins, yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In terms of landing on return, can these fully laden cargo planes land and take off at the Wilkins runway at the moment?

Dr Wooding : It depends what planes you are talking about. The only plane that currently travels to the Wilkins runway is the A319.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: With the extension of the Hobart runway, one of the reasons it is being extended is to allow for different aircraft to use the runway, including bigger aircraft. I am just wondering at your end if that has been checked off, if you are confident that those bigger aircraft can land and take off?

Dr Wooding : Sorry, at which end: Wilkins or at Hobart runway?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: At Wilkins.

Dr Wooding : At Wilkins—that is a hypothetical question at this stage.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It is very important, though, because we are spending $38 million on extensions to the runway. There is no point if we cannot land them at your end.

Dr Fleming : I can confirm that our cargo planes can land at Wilkins.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Of all sizes?

Dr Fleming : Hercules aircraft can land at Wilkins.

Dr Wooding : It would depend on the type of plane. Wilkins is also something we prepare. We can vary the way it is prepared. There are lots of options there, but we are not at that point yet. That is something we can perhaps be looking to in the longer term.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The Hobart extension is potentially for all international flights for tourism, too. There is no doubt about that. But in terms of the implications for your guys down south, I would be interested to know what feedback you have provided as to what can land and take off at Wilkins.

Dr Wooding : Okay.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have just a couple of questions on the ice. Can you give us a quick update on the latest AAD science on the Antarctic ice cap losses? I have read a report that was released only last week, published in the Journal of Science, that caused a bit of controversy, so I was just interested in your comments.

Dr Gales : Some of the projects I referred to over the last summer were in relation to that, the work on the Totten Glacier, in particular. There are actually two pieces of science that have been published just in the last few months which Australia was a part of with US and other players; one was aircraft flying over with radar and finding effectively a deep trench coming right underneath the Totten ice tongue that is a potential route for warm water. The other was the work we did during the marine science which showed that warm water was going into that area. The results of those marine science projects are being worked up now, and effectively they will go into global models looking at the mass balance of the ice sheet. So each one of these is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, as you are aware.

Some of the Australian Antarctic Division scientists and at the ACRC are also involved in that global modelling of all of Antarctica and have been involved in some of the work on the western Antarctic ice sheet as well. What we know as a sort of summary over the last 12 months of what has changed is that we knew the Western Antarctic ice sheet was very fragile and changing rapidly, and was moving back over the lock it had on the land. As it does that, it is likely to accelerate. We knew that already. But we thought the East Antarctic ice sheet was perhaps more stable than it is. We are now seeing evidence of instability in a few areas.

That is on the loss side of the equation. With atmospheric temperatures warming, we are expecting more snowfall. That might add more to the gain side. I think there is a lot of important modelling that will go into that to look at what the net consequence is of the changes. It is still early days. The main point is that each of these pieces of work, in essence, should start bringing down the uncertainty over our projections of loss from the ice sheet and how that might affect global sea level.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Just more at home, how is the distribution of the sea ice affecting the cost of your operations in terms of access to the base? There has obviously been some talk in the media about the extra distance you have to go and how much more logistically challenging it has been. Is it as serious as suggested?

Dr Wooding : Certainly in 2013-14 we had a very difficult re-supply at Mawson, and we had to fly off fuel from 50 nautical miles away. Last season, this season just ended, we did not have the same difficulties. In the seasons where that occurs—and it will mainly be at Mawson we expect, but there could also be sea ice issues at Davis periodically—that can add hundreds of thousands, even potentially over $1 million to the cost of the operation because the ship is delayed, and you might also have to make more helicopter flights. So we will see how that goes. It is an ongoing unpredictable sort of factor.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In terms of the 20-year review, I know there are lots of recommendations there, but there is just one in particular I was interested in. It recommended a refit of the stations. Has there been any discussion about what form that could take?

Dr Fleming : There have been preliminary discussions about that, but there is no form to those discussions. There are energy savings that we can achieve if we redesign the stations.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Has there been any discussion about Heard Island research activities in terms of restarting up the research program there?

Dr Gales : We have been quite active in the research around Heard Island, particularly in relation to the management of the fishery in that space, and to looking at some of the important areas there. We have been quite busy, actually, in the last few years in looking at what our best opportunities are to visit Heard Island again and conduct some research. We are proposing to be there quite soon. We were looking at one option of shared shipping that disappeared for other nation's reasons. We are now looking at what opportunities there are over the next two to three years of having a party visit Heard Island and conduct some further work there. There is a lot of change going on there, so we are keen to get back.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is Heard Island an area of importance for krill?

Dr Gales : It is north of the main area where Antarctic krill are important. On the shelf, most of the marine science research has been around the fisheries for patagonian toothfish and icefish as well. That has been a lot of the focus, as well as some of the marine protected areas in the zone. The krill research tends to happen a little further south.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Senator Birmingham: As the Antarctic Division is finishing, I understand that this may be Dr Fleming's last appearance before Senate estimates, as he retires in August.

CHAIR: You must be devastated about that.

Senator Birmingham: Whilst he may not miss us terribly much, I am sure that members of the Senate and of the committee would want to acknowledge his fine service in his role, and thank him very much for doing so. We wish him well for the future, and acknowledge that we will miss him and thank him for his contributions to this committee and, more importantly, to Australia's involvement in the Antarctic over many years.

Dr Fleming : Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Fleming—cheers. Thank you, and goodbye.