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Environment portfolio appointments for Antarctic, climate science

Australian Antarctic Division chief scientist Nick Gales has been named as the successor to the organisation’s retiring director, Tony Fleming, who leaves the role this Thursday.

Nick Gales
Nick Gales

Gales, a former veterinarian whose main area of expertise is marine mammals, first joined the AAD in 2001 as a senior researcher. He led its wildlife conservation and fisheries program and played a lead role in the establishment of the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, before becoming the division’s chief scientist in 2011. He is also the chief science adviser for the whole Department of the Environment.

Gales also represents Australia on the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee. As the government’s leading whale expert, he acted as its key expert witness in the high profile 2013 action against Japan’s allegedly scientific whaling program in the International Court of Justice.

Speaking on ABC radio on Friday, he explained the importance of polar research to everyday members of the public:

“It’s really also important for everyday life in Australia and for all Australians because what happens in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean drives the climate we experience in Australia, and what happens in the ocean affects the health of the oceans around Australia, so it really is an important element of the work we have for all Australians.

“I think we should all be concerned about … what can happen in the ocean as things change with climate, and all human activities in fact, to ensure that fisheries are conducted sustainably and ensure we understand how the ocean and the life that lives within it interact, so that we can make use of that evidence in the best policy we can to manage everything.

“We go south to try and understand how the oceans interact physically and chemically with all of the life and bring that information back here to Australia to inform environmental policy.”

It’s “an exciting and important time for” the Antarctic program, according to Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Gales will be keeping an eye on the delivery of a new icebreaking ship which has mostly been arranged under his predecessor, but a much bigger job will be supporting the minister to deliver a new 20-year strategic plan for the frozen continent.

The plan will be based on a sweeping review by another former AAD director, Tony Press, which was delivered to the government last October.

“Australia has a proud Antarctic tradition and I have no doubt that Dr Gales will do an excellent job preserving the legacy of Australia’s commitment to Antarctica,” said Hunt.

In between completing PhD research on Australian sea lions and going to work for the AAD, Gales was employed in similar marine mammal research roles with the Western Australian and New Zealand governments.

The new director described the role as “an extraordinary opportunity” to “continue the great work” of Fleming and have an influential role in developing the new 20-year strategy, and expertly navigated the question of whether the AAD needs more funding.

“I feel really confident that we’ll continue on a sustainable footing and we’ll have enough of the resources to be doing a really good job, to continue the really important role of being a leader in east Antarctic science and operations and, you know, being in a position where other countries such as China and India do want to work with the Australians in the sector to our south,” he told ABC radio host Kim Landers.

Movement at the MDBA

Rhondda Dickson
Rhondda Dickson

Elsewhere in the Environment portfolio, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s CEO Rhondda Dickson is moving into a deputy secretary position with the department in September after four years at head of the water regulator.

“During this time I have worked with a wonderful team that has shown great professionalism and commitment through the process of developing a Basin Plan and undertaking the past two years of implementation,” Dickson said.

“I am extremely proud of our many staff who regularly travel the basin for the respect they show in taking the time to understand people’s views and concerns so we can get the best outcomes for all communities. I am honoured to have been a member of their team.”

In her new role, Dickson will have responsibility for two climate change divisions and take over leadership of the Office of Environmental Science and Economics from Steven Kennedy — whose reporting line includes the AAD director. David Parker is currently deputy secretary for climate change and water, so Dickson’s new role may be part of reshuffle in the department’s top structure.

She thanked everyone who has supported the historic Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which she said would “shore up” the communities and industries that depend on the river system:

“Securing a sustainable future for the basin can’t be achieved overnight, so I’d like to acknowledge and thank those who remain committed to this long-term process.

“In particular, the members of the MDBA’s advisory committees who play such an important role in shaping these reforms—the Basin Community Committee, the Northern Basin Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences, the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations.

“I would especially like to thank my fellow Authority members who have supported me and contributed so much of their time over the years. They all bring different perspectives to the task and this has been invaluable in helping to deliver these water reforms.”

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.