The federal government has unveiled plans to invest in drone fleets and helicopters to fly over Antarctica’s inland, amid concern about growing competition on the continent.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said the government would spend $804 million in the next decade to boost Australia’s strategic position and scientific capabilities in the region.
“The money we are investing in drone fleets, helicopters and other vehicles will enable us to explore areas of East Antarctica’s inland that no country has ever been able to reach before,” Morrison said in a statement.
Foreign affairs minister Marise Payne said the package would reinforce Australia’s commitment to the Antarctic Treaty system.
“Our investments are a clear marker of our enduring commitment to the Antarctic Treaty system, its scientific foundations, and Australia’s leadership within it,” Payne said.
The funding includes $130 million to assist inland traversing, charting activities, mobile stations and environmental protection.
Drone fleets and other autonomous vehicles worth $60 million will help map inaccessible and fragile areas of East Antarctica, while $35 million will be spent on new helicopters and $44.2 million will be directed into additional shipping support.
China has had an increasing role in the geopolitics of Antarctica, expanding its presence in the continent’s interior.
Environment minister Sussan Ley the importance of Australia’s strategic leadership was clear.
“We need to ensure that the Antarctic remains a place of science and conservation, one that is free from conflict and which is protected from exploitation,” Ley said.
“Science is the key to that future. This investment, together with the window of discovery that is already being opened through RSV Nuyina, will reflect Australia’s commitment to our sovereignty in the Australian Antarctic Territory and its leading voice in the region.”