- The Guardian
- Issue #2070
Dr Plummer examines a length of the shallow ice core. Photo: Simon Payne – antarctica.gov.au / facebook.
Almost half of the staff in the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) have signed an open letter calling on the Department of Climate Change, Environment, Energy and Water (DCCEEW) to urgently abandon severe budget cuts to the Division. They’ve warned that failing to do so, would risk critical science work and the safety of staff.
It can take years to develop the capability required to run a scientific program, and even more years to deliver it. Disruptions to funding in the short-term, have significant long-term consequences.
The AAD received a substantial $802 million funding boost via the sustainable funding review (SFR) in 2022, but were told in mid-2023 that the division was now $25 million in the red. Without adequate funding AAD are planning for a significantly scaled back season of science in Antarctica.
Staff at the AAD, who have witnessed the diminishing scientific capacity of the Division over many years, have had enough, and are calling on the Department to:
Provide adequate funding to complete the recruitment process for the 40 scientific positions identified in the Sustainable Funding Review.
Guarantee that staff on short-term contracts will have their positions fairly assessed, and re-hired as ongoing staff where their work is essential.
Provide adequate contingency funds be set aside by the Department, should alternative shipping or logistics be required to maintain stations.
Provide a clear and transparent explanation as to how the sudden funding shortfall occurred and the principles behind funding decisions for the Australian Antarctic Program.
The work of the AAD is reliant on continuity. Science programs in Antarctica are built on regular monitoring and data collection, and they require highly specialised staff, appropriately trained researchers and technical experts.
Those who work within the AAD, supporting science both directly and indirectly, are passionate about the work that they do and are concerned about the consequences of disruption to critical science work in a changing climate.
Beth Vincent-Pietsch, Community and Public Sector Union Deputy Secretary, said that the scientific work of the AAD is becoming increasingly neglected, and staff are calling on the Department to reverse their planned cuts.
“CPSU members have been raising concerns about the diminishing capacity of the AAD’s core work for many years. Recently the planned recruitment of 40 new science positions provided a glimmer of hope, that quickly turned to disappointment as recruitment processes were put on hold and a 16 per cent budget cut was announced,” said Vincent-Pietsch.
“This has understandably angered many of the staff in the AAD who care deeply about the work of the Division, and were hoping that this funding would see things head in a new direction.
“After years of watching the scientific capacity of the AAD diminish, staff have had enough. CPSU members want to see the Department prioritise the rebuilding of scientific capacity and the establishment of secure funding arrangements moving forward, including recommencement of the recruitment process for the 40 positions that are currently on hold.
“Long-term scientific projects in Antarctica need continuity and certainty, not a funding tap that is turned on and off on a whim.
“Science is meant to be the bread-and-butter work of the AAD, but it can’t be done without adequate resourcing.”
Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU)