NICK GALES: Good morning everybody. The Honourable Julie Bishop MP, the Honourable Greg Hunt MP, senators, ministers, ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome.

My name is Nick Gales, I'm the director of the Australian Antarctic Division and it's my privilege to welcome you all here on this truly extraordinary day. It's a huge day, very exciting day for all of us as we look to sign on for a new icebreaker.

I'm just going to mention what the running order will be and then I will step aside. In just a moment I will introduce the Hon Julie Bishop MP who will speak followed by the Hon Greg Hunt MP and finally Mark Irwin representing DMS Maritime will speak.

We will then have a signing ceremony whereby a letter will be signed confirming the signing of the contract for the new icebreaker and we can then go to media questions So, without any further ado, I will hand over to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you. Good morning, it's an absolute delight to be here in Hobart. I am hosting a diplomatic corps visit in Tasmania over the next two days and so I'm delighted to see my colleague, the Environment Minister Greg Hunt, the President of the Senate Steve Parry, my other colleagues, members and senators, candidates, our representatives, the Ambassador for the Netherlands and Romania and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Today represents another chapter in the Turnbull Government's plan to drive a stronger economy through an embrace of innovation and scientific research and endeavour.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the Environment Minister Greg Hunt and I announced Australia's Antarctic Strategy and our 20 year action plan which establishes Australia as a leader in the Antarctic.

The treaty regime that governs the Antarctic is undoubtedly in Australia's national interest and we support that treaties regime and it's interesting to note that when the Antarctic Treaty was first signed in 1959, there were 12 signatory countries. Today there are 53.

We are a leader in the Antarctic because it's in our interests for the Antarctic to remain a natural reserve. There is no mining, no militarisation; it is for peaceful purposes, for scientific research and endeavour.

The centrepiece of our 20 year action plan will be the commissioning of a new icebreaker; a state of the art icebreaker for Australia to continue our ground-breaking Antarctic research.

The exciting news is that the icebreaker will be housed here in Hobart. This will be its home port and that will mean a significant amount of work for the businesses, it will mean more local jobs for the maintenance, the supply and the operations to Antarctic more generally.

We're very excited to be working with partners, DMS Maritime and other partners for the commissioning of this new icebreaker, a far cry from Sir Douglas Mawson's first effort in 1911 and this represents a new era in Australia's leadership in the Antarctic and in terms of the scientific research development and endeavour that we will be able to undertake.

So I am very pleased as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and responsible for our treaty obligations to be part of this signing ceremony today which really does mean an enormous amount for Hobart and for Tasmania reconfirming its status as the premier gateway to East Antarctica.

Now can I hand over to my friend, the Environment Minister.

GREG HUNT: Thanks very much to Julie and in particular for that overview of Australia's role in the Antarctic Treaty system and as a global gateway to the Antarctic.

To Julie, to Matt Groom, the Tasmanian Minister for State Growth and Environment, to our senators, Senate President Stephen Parry and Senator David Bushby who together have really been absolute drivers of the Antarctic vision for Tasmania, to our Senate candidate Jon Duniam and to our magnificent Tasmanian Lower House members, Brett Whiteley and Eric Hutchinson and our candidates Amanda-Sue Markham and Marcus Allan and of course to everybody involved with this project, it's an absolute thrill to be here at the signing ceremony for Australia's new Antarctic icebreaker.

The vision, as Julie has said, is to be a global gateway for the Antarctic, indeed to be the global gateway – and that's about Tasmania, that's about Hobart, but it's also about the great scientific vision.

Yesterday we announced $255 million for the overland transport, the capacity to search for the great million-year ice core – to be engaged in the search for the Holy Grail of Antarctic research and all of the funding which goes with it.

Today we are announcing a $1.91 billion lifetime contract for the new Antarctic icebreaker, so $1.91 billion for a new Antarctic icebreaker.

That is broken up in terms of $530 million for the construction and testing and delivery of the icebreaker and then about $1.38 billion for the lifetime operation, maintenance and development of the icebreaker of which $1.1 billion we expect will be spent here in Tasmania.

So that is a $1.1 billion benefit directly to Tasmania, one of the largest Commonwealth expenditures ever in Tasmania.

And it's for science, and it's for climate research, it's for environmental research and it's for education and health, all in Tasmania.

Tasmania has the capacity to become the world's global gateway, but the world's premier Southern Hemisphere Antarctic research centre. And that's about building on our magnificent institutions here. So that's a huge contract, but what's the ship about?

The ship is the Millennium Falcon of the Antarctic icebreaking world – faster, stronger and more capable.

Its length is 156 metres. Its speed is 16 knots. Its capacity is 1.65 metres of ice depth which can be broken when travelling at three knots.

And so this is an extraordinary ability to transport people and fuel and logistics to our supply bases, so it makes them stronger.

But it's also a scientific platform in itself. It has bathometric capacity to map the seabed, to imagine what could be the case, to discover things which we never known, and which may never have been imagined.

And so what a vision of the future and scientific research and innovation – and it's real, and it's happening, and it's happening here in Tasmania.

It has a scientific platform, so it'll be doing in-sea trials. It will be doing work on krill, work on the Southern Ocean system, work on the impacts of climate change on our great oceanic system.

So this is the future – here, now, in Tasmania.

And so with that, I am delighted to say that the Commonwealth will today be signing the agreement with DMS Maritime, and to be built by Damen Shipyards.

It's a great achievement, and to our negotiators and Peter Block and David Sumner and team, marathon effort, great outcome, we thank you, we congratulate you.

And we say to Tasmania, you are now the future. Thank you.

NICK GALES: Thank you Ministers. I'd now like to introduce Mark Irwin, who will speak on behalf of DMS Maritime and we'll then go to the signing. Thank you.

MARK IRWIN: Nick, thank you. Thank you Minister Bishop, Minister Hunt, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

May I begin by paying respect to the traditional and original owners of this land, the Mouheneener people, to pay respect to those who have passed before us and to acknowledge today's Tasmania Aboriginal community, who are the custodians of this land.

I am very proud today on behalf of Serco to be able to sign this contract with the Government. It marks an important milestone as we journey towards delivering, as you heard from the Minister, a state of the art vessel; which will support internationally important research for our scientists to conduct over the next 30 years.

The signing of this contract clearly further evidences the long term commitment of our government to scientific research and innovation, and we know that it will benefit the whole world and improve our understanding of the southern oceans and the Antarctic region.

The contract signing, as you also heard from the Minister is the consequence of a marathon effort two years in the making, two years of intensive preparation where our client - the Australian Antarctic Division - really set the highest standards in terms of safety, in terms of research and supply capacity, operational and environmental standards, and through life asset maintenance, all of this done in a very rigorous framework of value for money.

So we're absolutely excited about the design. It's learned from the last 30 years of the existing vessel and it takes it even further. It'll improve on almost every aspect of the existing vessel, and we are absolutely confident that it will deliver an outstanding service to Australia for decades to come.

I'd like to thank the AAD for a process, which despite its length was always pragmatic, productive and thoroughly professional to bring us to this point today, and I'd also like to thank our partner, Damen Shipbuilding and our DMS Maritime team. We've all worked together incredibly hard to bring us to this point today.

Finally I'd like to say that Serco's had the privilege of providing maritime services to the Australian Government for over 20 years now, and we are honoured that this project allows us to continue that service.

Our work with the AAD is also a continuation of our partnership with Damen. In recent years we've delivered eleven specialty vessels to the Royal Australian Navy, including the submarine rescue vessel Besant, which was commissioned at the end of last year and early next year we will commission a new maritime aviation training vessel for the Navy as well.

All of these projects have been delivered on time and within budget, and our commitment is to do exactly the same here.

I'd like to conclude also by noting, as the Ministers have said, that we will not only be managing the delivery of this vessel but we will also operate her in service. We will put to sea a team of highly trained, well qualified, ice qualified crew and maintenance engineers who will ensure her safety and her effectiveness in service.

As a longstanding employee in Tasmania, I am pleased to confirm also that our ASRV team and all of the support resources will be based right here in Hobart.

So again, I'd like to offer my thanks to the Minister, to the department and to the AAD for the opportunity to continue to be of service.

Thank you.

GREG HUNT: Look, we’re happy to take questions on the icebreaker first, and then any other issues after that.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell me – the icebreaker will actually be built overseas – why is that?

GREG HUNT: So the icebreaker will be built in Romania. That short-listing process was carried out, it was begun, under the previous government – and at that point there were no tenders for an Australian build.

So all Australian shipyards were invited, so there were no tenders for an Australian build. And that’s simply because it’s a one-off, unique, specialist capability.

As you’d know, there have been an extraordinary amount of new Australian ship building announcements recently, which the Foreign Minister has been at the centre of.

So, the other side of it of course, is that there’s $1.1 billion of maintenance and operation which we expect to be spent here in Tasmania.

So that early part was determined under the previous Government – unfortunately they didn’t fund it. We’ve had to find all of the funding, and we’ve made sure that’s been done – all of the build happens overseas, but the operation and maintenance occur here in Tasmania, with as I say a $1.1 billion expected expenditure here

JOURNALIST: It’s taken two years to sign this contract. How confident are you that it’s enough money to take the icebreaker into the future?

GREG HUNT: Exceptionally confident. We have had a tough negotiation, and our negotiators are bruising negotiators, and the DMS negotiators are pretty tough themselves. So it’s been a grapple, but at the end of it it’s a tremendous outcome where everybody wins.

JOURNALIST: And whereabouts is DMS actually located, which state?

GREG HUNT: So DMS, I’ll let them answer their own questions.

MARK IRWIN: So we are headquartered in Sydney, but we have operations in Sydney, in Western Australia, and in the north.

GREG HUNT: Great. Any other questions?

JOURNALIST: Why have you called it the Millennium Falcon?

GREG HUNT: Well – that’s not its actual name Although it’s one of the options.

We will be asking and inviting school children from around Australia, but in particular from Hobart and Tasmania to put forward names – a public proposal, but ultimately a government decision. I think we want to exercise some quality control. We love our British colleagues, but we’ve learned from our British colleagues, and so public nominations and ultimately a government decision.

JOURNALIST: I meant more about the ship (indistinct).

GREG HUNT: (Inaudible) it’s not just a ship, it’s a mobile science lab and that’s what’s exciting about it. It’s faster than anything Australia has had before. It’s two generations of new ship on the advice that Nick Gales has given to me, ahead of the old Aurora.

And so we’ve gone forward at a tremendous pace, and we will have literally the world’s most advanced ice breaker when this new ship comes into service.

JOURNALIST: Just on the CSIRO, how much pressure did you put on them to create the new climate centre?

GREG HUNT: Look it really was the Chief Scientist who worked with them. So Alan Finkel was the person who worked across Government, and we acted as a Government as gentle brokers to suggest that perhaps a consolidated approach to climate science in terms of a National Climate Science Research Centre, a National Climate Science Advisory Committee, and then a long-term contract, and that’s what’s happened, a 10-year contract, could form a solid basis.

So ultimately it was CSIRO’s decision, the Chief Scientist really worked as an agent for the whole of government.

GREG HUNT: Alright, thank you very much. Oh, one more.

JOURNALIST: When is Manus Island set to close?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government was informed of the PNG Supreme Court decision, and we’ve also read Prime Minister O’Neill’s statement, and so we are currently considering the impact of those two events on the agreement that was signed by the Rudd Labor Government and the PNG Government back in mid-2013.

So, we will assess the impact of those two matters, the Supreme Court decision and the Prime Minister’s statement. In the meantime, I understand that those at Manus who have been deemed to be refugees can be resettled in PNG.

Those who are not should return home. But the point that the Australian Government is making is that none of them will be resettled in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Okay. So Minister Dutton this morning said that they won’t be settled permanently in Australia, but does that indicate that they may still come here?

JULIE BISHOP: No.

JOURNALIST: Is PNG’s announcement a play for more Australian Government assistance, and will Australia countenance that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that’s not a matter that we’ve discussed with the PNG Government. Currently, we are considering the impact of the Supreme Court decision on the agreement that was struck between the Rudd Labor Government and the PNG Government in mid-2013.

And so we will continue to have discussions with our counterpart ministers and representatives of the PNG Government.

JOURNALIST: Did the PNG Government warn Australia before this week it should shut the centre after the Supreme Court – would shut the centre, sorry, after the Supreme Court decision?

JULIE BISHOP: I’m not aware of that.

JOURNALIST: Do you still expect to reach agreement with Iran about taking involuntary returns, and if so, when?

JULIE BISHOP: We are continuing to work with representatives of the Iranian Government. There are a number of Iranians who are seeking to claim asylum who have been found not to be genuine refugees, and it’s our view that they should return to Iran.

So we are continuing to negotiate with the Iranian Government on the return of those who are not found to require protection. Thank you.

GREG HUNT: Alright, thank you very much.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555