A$804 million against “Cold War” in Antarctica | Polarjournal
Headquarters of the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston, Tasmania. (Photo: Simon Payne, AAD)

The Morrison government will expand Australia’s presence in Antarctica with an A$800 million cash injection. The prime minister said the 10-year funding plan would put Australia’s “eyes on Antarctica” by improving the country’s ability to survey and monitor the frozen continent and surrounding waters with drones, helicopters and autonomous vehicles.

Australia has territorial claims to 42 percent of Antarctica, the largest of any nation, but is unable to reach distant corners of the continent. (Graphic: Australian Antarctic Division)

Increasingly, however, the Chinese and Russians are also taking an interest in Antarctica. Last year, China built its fifth research base on Australian territory in a bay of Terra Nova Bay (Ross Sea). China has long been suspected of undermining the Antarctic Treaty by exploiting fishing and tourism.

The 1959 treaty bans mining, protects fishing, confirms Australia’s territorial claim, and stipulates that the continent may only be used for scientific and peaceful purposes.

“It is likely that China is working under the cooperative surface of the treaty and preparing for a post-treaty Antarctic should the treaty expire,” Elizabeth Buchanan, of the ‘Modern War Institute,’ wrote last year in The Australian Financial Review.

Taishan Station, which opened on February 8, 2014, is the fourth of five Chinese research stations in Antarctica. The station is located 2,621 meters above sea level in Princess Elizabeth Land, which is also in Australian territory. (Photo: AAD)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the package would both strengthen Australia’s national interests in Antarctica and create jobs for Australians through local sourcing.

“The money we invest in drone fleets, helicopters and other vehicles will allow us to explore areas inland in East Antarctica that no country has ever been able to reach before,” the prime minister said.

“My government will continue to support our world-class scientists and expedition members with the funding and resources they need, as their research on the frozen continent and in the Southern Ocean is critical to Australia’s future.

“Our ongoing investments in Antarctica will directly support jobs at home, with Australian businesses, contractors, medical suppliers and providers reaping the benefits of local sourcing.

“Our A$800 million commitment supports the next decade of Australian operations in Antarctica and provides more opportunities for local businesses across Australia to support this work, particularly in Tasmania.”

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said: “The package will significantly enhance our scientific capabilities, which are at the heart of our leadership role within the treaty system.”

“As I sit down with world leaders to discuss Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the face of increasing pressure, the strategic importance of our scientific leadership becomes clear,” said Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

“We must ensure that Antarctica remains a place of science and conservation, free from conflict and protected from exploitation. Science is key to that future. This investment will reflect Australia’s commitment to our sovereignty in the Australian Antarctic Territory and its leading voice in the region,” Ley added.

To significantly expand the scope of research, A$35.5 million will be provided for four helicopters, each with a range of 550 kilometers, which can operate from the new, state-of-the-art Antarctic vessel Nuyina. The ship itself will receive A$44.5 million in support to expand its range so it can conduct extended science missions.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

Featured image: Australian Antarctic Division

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