Monday, July 8, 2013

HOBART's waterfront is being dramatically transformed.

The $7 million Tasports redevelopment on Macquarie Wharf No.2 is converting an abandoned storage shed into a world-class terminal for both cruise ships and Antarctic research vessels.

When finished, the eastern end of the building will play an integral role as an Antarctic hub, with the help of a federally financed cargo and quarantine centre with offices, cold storage and fumigation areas.

The western end will be a world-class reception terminal for cruise ships.

Just a short walk away, on Princes Wharf, the rejuvenation of another disused shed is creating a $45 million home for the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. Also financed by the Federal Government, the IMAS centre will house 120 staff and 170 students in a site that will make science accessible to the public.

This year the RV Investigator, a new $120 million replacement for the Southern Surveyor, will call Hobart home.

The federally financed vessel -- which is being built in Singapore and is about the size of the Antarctic supply ship Aurora Australis -- will be operated by the Marine National Facility, a part of CSIRO Ocean and Atmospheric Research.

To cap things off, a full-scale replica of the Antarctic hut that explorer Douglas Mawson used more than 100 years ago is being built, with the help of $350,000 in federal money, in Launceston. When finished it will be placed behind Lark Distillery, opposite Mawson's Pavilion on the docks.

These investments are expected to enhance Hobart's international reputation as an Antarctic gateway and global research hub.

Hobart already boasts the world's biggest single concentration of Antarctic and Southern Ocean research scientists.

The sector, which employs 1100 people, is estimated to be directly worth $187 million to the state, with indirect add-ons of $444 million.

Tasmanian Polar Network chairman John Brennan says it would potentially be worth more to the state if federal backing were increased.

Provision of finance may be a federal election issue.

The Coalition touched on the subject of more long-term backing in its discussion paper Building a Strong, Prosperous Tasmania, launched in Devonport last month.

Mr Brennan said the momentum created by the docks transformation could lure China, Korea or the US to base their Antarctic research in Hobart.

"The advent of Australia's air link between Hobart and Casey Station and our ability to share some shipping capability has already brought many Chinese, Korean, US and Italian expeditioners through Hobart," Mr Brennan said.

Hobart is home port for the French Antarctic program, and host to three international secretariats -- the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, and the Southern Ocean Observing System.

Hobart Lord Mayor Damon Thomas said the council was negotiating with Shanghai Pudong to form a sister city relationship. The Tasmanian capital's reputation as a gateway to Antarctica could be the catalyst because Shanghai Pudong is home to the Polar Research Institute of China.

"You cannot afford to underestimate the value of Hobart's reputation," Ald Thomas said. "I regard it as a top priority to attract sensible, sustainable investment capital from Asia, places like China and Korea."

Ald Thomas said there was enormous potential to expand private investment, in particular the development of Hobart's air links to the continent.

Hobart businessman Bill Lawson, who began advocating Hobart as an Antarctic gateway in the mid-1990s, rates the city as the world's premier port for the icy continent.

"Because we live in Hobart we take it for granted that it is the centre of planet Earth for Antarctic and Southern Ocean science," Mr Lawson said.

"Our side of Antarctica, known as Eastern Antarctica, is far more pristine and unexplored. Our laboratory is the best in the world."

Hobart boasted wealth of intellectual property in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research built over decades.

"This scientific IP and intellectual capital is extremely valuable," he said.

Tasmanian Industry Group spokesman Daniel Leesong said it was important to draw private investment into the mix. "There's significant economic activity in Hobart surrounding Antarctica in areas such as tourism, science and education. This investment creates significant commercial opportunities," he said.

"A mix of private enterprise will help ensure we maintain our reputation."

Mr Brennan said the polar network's determination to maintain Hobart's pre-eminent position in ocean, Antarctic and climate research was vital to attracting private investment.

This meant government backing must be maintained, if not increased. The Federal Government's recent promise of a further five years' backing for the Co-operative Research Centre for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean was welcome.

But any slowdown in federal investment could jeopardise the momentum.

"The Antarctic Division is the keystone on which Tasmania has built its gateway reputation," he said. "Significant international standing is created by (our) political, economic, social, scientific and environmental investment in Antarctic and Southern Ocean activities."

But there was rising pressure on the division's operating budget.

"The sector is at a crossroads. With disinvestment in place for the Australian Antarctic program, the potential attraction for other nations to interact with the sector in Tasmania will diminish," he said.

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