Press conference on funding for the Australian Institute of Marine Science

19 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Federal Government funding for the Australian Institute of Marine Science, research on the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville job opportunities.

 The Great Barrier Reef is the jewel in the crown of Australia's environment and the Australian Institute of Marine Science is the jewel in the crown of our scientific research on the Barrier Reef and our marine environment. Sadly, for the last decade, AIMS has been really struggling with underfunding from the previous Government. And I am absolutely delighted to be here today to announce that an Albanese Labor Government will almost double the funding to the Australian Institute of Marine Science over the coming four years. What we've seen today and what I've been aware of for some time is that the world-class research that is being done here could be so much better supported if the scientists doing the work had the facilities they really need.

So, today we had a very quick look at some of the laboratories that can't be used because they're in such bad condition. What you see behind you is not quite the state-of-the-art facility that we'd like to see our marine scientists using. And of course, the RV Apollo, the research vessel that is a floating laboratory for our marine scientists, is 18 years old and in desperate need of replacing. The cost of keeping it running is becoming more and more each year as this vessel outlives its natural life.

I'm delighted to be making this extra investment today because we know that the science that is done here is truly world-class. The people who are working here are committed, dedicated scientists leading their field internationally. And this additional funding gives them job certainty. It means that a hundred jobs that were at risk of going will be kept, and it means an additional hundred jobs, it means 66 jobs that were previously uncertain have been made permanent. All of this adds up to better science, better investment for the people of Townsville, and an investment that will protect our Great Barrier Reef and our precious marine environment for decades to come. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: What benefit will this have for Townsville’s local economy?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, of course, there's the direct employment here at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, getting people the certainty that they can stay in Townsville, settle down, put down roots so they don't have to be looking overseas or interstate for work opportunities, that they are safe here. That's a really important step.

But, there's are also upgrading of facilities here, we're not just talking about science jobs, we're talking about construction jobs, project management, all of the jobs that go into upgrading facilities as you will see on this side.

JOURNALIST: Over the next four years what sort of benefit will this have for conservation efforts of the Great Barrier Reef?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, we know that the Great Barrier has faced many challenges, and those challenges are becoming more extreme. In recent years we've seen the impact from climate change; we've seen what that's done - repeated instances of coral bleaching and so on. The science that is being done here at AIMS is absolutely ground-breaking. It is world-class. It is globally leading science on protecting the Great Barrier Reef and restoring and repairing the reef where it has been damaged. That's not just important for the Great Barrier Reef and the 60,000 jobs that rely on our Great Barrier Reef, it's actually vital globally. I've been with the AIMS scientists at global conferences, oceans conferences, where they are the experts being sought out for their insights into how we protect and restore reefs, not just here in Australia but around the world.

JOURNALIST: Those additional 100 jobs, where will they be? Is that construction? Is that research? Where will they be?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm actually going to ask the head of AIMS to speak in a minute about how the additional funding will be invested, but there's two elements to this: there is additional funding for capital, as I've said, upgrading the laboratories, the research vessel and so on. But most of the additional money is actually in expanding and securing the programmes that AIMS is already working on, the reef science that AIMS is working on. So, we might ask Paul in a moment to go into some greater detail there.

JOURNALIST: And is there any certainty for the future after this $160 million?

TANYA PLBIERSEK: Absolutely, the Albanese Government is absolutely committed to continuing the world-class science that is done right here at AIMS. Thanks.

DR PAUL HARDISTY, CEO OF THE AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF MARINE SCIENCE: Thanks very much. And look, the first thing I wanted to do was really on behalf of all of the staff here at AIMS across the country is to thank the Minister and the Government from the bottom of our hearts with this amazing transformational and historic investment in the future of this organisation. This funding literally guarantees the future of this organisation and its ability to continue to deliver the kind of world-leading science that the Minister was talking about, well into the next decade. It's absolutely transformational. I'd also like to thank, if I might, the staff. Their tireless efforts, their passion and commitment, day in, day out, to deliver, as the Minister said, the very best science in the world, science that the rest of the world is actually coming to us for leadership on, is just amazing. And their efforts are why we're here today talking about this.

For me and for us at AIMS, this funding announcement is a vote of confidence in who we are, in what we do and how we do it. So, we're absolutely delighted. In terms of the key science that is going to be able to not only continue, but to be enhanced by this funding, I just like to throw a couple of key examples out here. So, the first one is the world-leading efforts that the Minister mentioned upon helping reefs adapt to and recover from the effects of climate change. We are literally in Australia, leading the world in this area. The world is beating a path to our door in this area. And when we look at our Pacific Island Nation colleagues, they are really going to depend on this ground-breaking research. 

The other thing we're doing is we are looking at amazing new ways to sequester huge amounts of carbon emissions from the atmosphere in the deep oceans. If we can create those kinds of breakthroughs, it'll be a game changer for our ability to meet our net zero targets. The other thing that we're doing is we are - with this funding, able to continue and expand our work with our Pacific Island neighbours. What we do here is directly relevant to everything they do. Many of those nations, as you might know, are actually coral reefs, which is one of our areas of expertise. The other thing we're going to be able to do with this funding is create a major step change in the technology, the artificial intelligence, the robotic systems that we need to stay ahead of the pack, to do more with each dollar, to be able to monitor and cover a larger part of this country's vast ocean states. 

And then finally, I do want to mention the fact that this funding also contains specific and significant line items that help us expand our Traditional Owner programme. Our Traditional Owner Partnerships Program here at AIMS is literally ground-breaking. We have moved from engagement to true partnership, where all of our projects now are expected to enshrine free, prior, informed consent on any project in sea country. We're very proud that we're leading the country in applying this approach to working with our treasured partners. So, thank you very much again on behalf of everybody. This is ground-breaking, we’re so delighted. Thank you, Minister.