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Australians are on the move – and they’re all heading north

15 December 2017

Joint media release with the Member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry MP

  • Australians are on the move and they’re all heading north – riding the Australian continental plate at a rate of seven centimetres a year

  • This continental shift means Australia’s mapping co-ordinates have been realigned approximately 1.8 metres north-east in an update to the national coordinate reference frame (the Geocentric Datum of Australia 2020, or GDA2020).

  • This is the first update to Australia’s coordinate reference frame in over two decades and is significant for applications that rely on highly accurate satellite positioning.

Australians are on the move and they’re all heading north – even though the vast majority won’t realise it.

The Australian continent is shifting north-east at the rate of seven centimetres a year and that is why Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan today announced the nation’s mapping co-ordinates are being updated.

“This is the first update to the mapping co-ordinate reference frame for more than two decades and has moved Australia’s co-ordinates approximately 1.8 metres to the north-east,” Minister Canavan said.

“This movement is significant when it comes to applications that rely on highly accurate positioning, such as precision agriculture, the emerging intelligent transport sector, mobile location-based services and automated mining operations.

“Updating this reference frame is a demanding technical task and the previous co-ordinates were set in 1994. Scientists have chosen to base the new coordinates – referred to as GDA2020 – on the projected position of the Australian continent on 1 January 2020, adding an extra three years of ‘working life’ to the new data.”

Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry said she was surprised to learn that Australia sits on the fastest-moving continental plate on the planet.

“I suppose most people would be surprised to learn that the Earth’s tectonic plates are moving across the surface of the globe in different directions at different speeds, and the Australian continental plate is moving north-east at about seven centimetres a year.

“So, to put that in a Central Queensland context, we have moved more than 11 metres north-east since Rockhampton was established in the late 1850s, over half the length of a cricket pitch.

“Since Aborigines first arrived in this region some 50,000 years ago, Australia has moved about three-and-a-half kilometres.

“In fact, at its present speed, all of Australia will be north of the Tropic of Capricorn in just 30 million years, massively changing the geography of the entire region,” Ms Landry said. “I think that’s fascinating.”

Minister Canavan said Geoscience Australia and the Intergovernmental Committee on Survey and Mapping (ICSM) had been working closely with other government agencies and private organisations that generate or manage spatial information to ensure a seamless transition.

Further information on GDA2020 and related issues was available on the ICSM website and the Geoscience Australia website.

Media contact: Minister Canavan's office 02 6277 7180
                             Ms Landry's office 02 6277 4373