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  • Writer's picture2022 Global Voices Fellow

Australia’s Future in Antarctica

By Lucy Burton, Department of Defence, GLOBSEC, 2021

Lucy Burton works for the Department of Defence as a policy officer. Her Policy Paper discusses Australia’s Future in Antarctica.

Executive Summary

When Australia considers its immediate strategic environment, it is framed within the concept of the Indo-Pacific Region. This region is referenced consistently in government strategies, action plans and policies, and ranges ‘from the north-eastern Indian Ocean, through maritime and mainland South East Asia to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific’ (Department of Defence, 2020). The southern border of Australia’s strategic environment is demarcated by the Antarctic continent, and in terms of strategic framing, is largely disregarded. Australia is a major provider of logistics and supplies to Antarctica, and a claimant to 42% of the continent – approximately three quarters the size of mainland Australia (Slevison, 2016). Australia’s proximity to Antarctica and growing geopolitical interest from global powers should draw a greater focus from Canberra. As the norms and rules that have governed Antarctica since the Cold War are challenged, Australia will need a coordinated strategy to prevent strategic disadvantage (Bergin, & Press, 2020).

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update recognised that Australia’s strategic environment had deteriorated more quickly than predicted in the 2016 Defence White Paper (Department of Defence, 2016, 2020). Canberra is responding to changing strategic circumstances; however, more must be done to focus attention on Antarctica. This paper makes three recommendations as to how the Australian Government can develop and execute a coordinated strategy, shape the strategic environment, and promote Australia’s interests and presence in Antarctica. To achieve this, Canberra must ensure alignment across government and private sectors. With a coordinated approach, Canberra will be in a better position to facilitate collaboration with similarly interested Antarctic states. To promote Australia’s presence and interest in Antarctica, Canberra should drive the development of a sovereign Antarctic industry, attracting international researchers, better integrating the Australian economy with Antarctic activities and ensuring resilient supply chains.

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