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Doorstop - SeaSim, Australian Institute of Marine Science

23 November 2020

Subject: SeaSim expansion, COVID-19, US Election


George Christensen: Well, thanks very much for coming along here this morning to the Australian Institute of Marine Science here at Cape Cleveland. It's great to have Science and Industry Minister Karen Andrews here with us, and thank you to Dr Paul Hardisty and his crew here at the Institute, the premier, leading, not only national but global institute for marine science, proudly owned and funded by the Commonwealth Government. And today, Karen is announcing $36.5 million to expand the SeaSim program that we've got here at the centre that is doing cutting state-of-the-art research in marine life. It provides not only a benefit to the marine environment, but also to marine industries, including our ports and our resources sector, as well as fishing sector. But some of the state-of-the-art research I know that Karen and Paul are going to touch upon, but real big research that's being done in how to ensure that coral is hardier to withstand some of the impacts on it, impacts that end up [indistinct] seeing at the moment, coral dying. So, this is more research that we're going to be pumping through here at the Institute. But Phillip Thompson and I have been very keen on this project going forward and very keen on this $36.5 million being laid down, because what it means is hundreds of local construction jobs, and we know in the past that when money is being spent here at the Institute, it's gone to put on Townsville workers. And on top of that, something like, I think, 29 extra technical people on site, researchers and others doing work full time. So that's a real big boost for local jobs here in the Townsville region as we come out of this pandemic, and it's absolutely desperately needed right now. So, the money is very welcome. The work that's going to happen here at the Institute is very welcome. I'll hand over now to Science and Industry Minister Karen Andrews.

Karen Andrews: Well, thank you very much, George. It's an absolute pleasure to be back here at AIMS once again. It really is one of my favourite science agencies here in Australia. Paul Hardisty, as CEO, thank you so much for having us back here today. It's a very important day in the history of AIMS as we start on the expansion of the SeaSim, the Sea Simulator. So what this will do is effectively double the size of the Sea Simulator that's currently in place, that's been here for about five years now. Work will commence almost immediately. During construction, we envisage there will be about 300 people directly employed from the surrounding community. And of course, when the system is operational, there will be an extra 29 full-time permanent staff, scientific staff working here. Now, this is a great example of industry and researchers working together. So, the simulation work that is done here is so important as we look at restoration of the reef, and of course, particularly for North Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef provides so many jobs to our community. Now, understanding that tourism has been seriously impacted because of COVID, but we want to make sure that we are doing the right thing by the reef, that we are supporting those tourism jobs. And as we come through the COVID crisis, we will be making sure that we have a very strong and vibrant tourism sector here in North Queensland.

But that's not the only part of the industry research engagement that comes through this facility. Many of the mining organisations from across Australia, quite frankly, use the Sea Simulator to look at what the impact of dredging are going to be, what the impacts are of various contaminants in the water, what the thresholds are for that level of contamination. So this work is so important on so many levels. Now, the Morrison Government has made it very clear that as we come through the COVID crisis, it will be an industry-led recovery. We want to make sure that our scientists and our scientific communities are enabling that recovery. So, today's announcement of $36.3 million to double the size of the Sea Simulator here certainly locks in AIMS as the world leading marine research facility. So congratulations to AIMS. And I'll invite CEO Paul Hardisty to say a few words.

Paul Hardisty: Thanks Minister. Well, thank you, everybody, for coming. Welcome to AIMS. Thank you, Minister Andrews. Thanks, George, for coming down, our local member. We're absolutely delighted with this announcement, of course. What this does is really provides the basis for AIMS to continue to do the world-leading work that it does. And what you see behind you here is already acknowledged as the world's most sophisticated research aquarium complex, and this expansion will simply go to help expand on that and really cement, as Minister Andrews said, cements our position, as AIMS, as one of the leading research organisations in the world for tropical marine science. The other thing it does is it really provides critical infrastructure for us to deliver on our core mission, which is to help provide the science and the research and the understanding of the marine environment to help the environmental, social and economic development of coastal industries and communities, traditional owners across northern Australia. So it's an important mission and this is an important part of that.

And finally, I'd also just like to mention that with the expansion here of SeaSim today, we are really providing the basis for the effort to underpin the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program, which the Federal Government has significantly invested in and which is a five-year world-leading effort to help protect the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs, coral reefs, around the world from the effects of climate change, to help it adapt and recover to the effects of the warming oceans. Thanks very much for coming, everybody. We really appreciate it.

Karen Andrews: Well, thank you very much and we're happy to take questions on today's announcement.

Question: When you say that construction will start almost immediately, like, have we engaged a construction company?

Karen Andrews: Well, the process is actually starting now. As you can imagine, a lot of work needs to go into the preparations for that. I’ll actually invite Dr Hardisty to provide more of that detail for you, but the process starts now. And, of course, we are very keen to make sure that as many locals as possible are employed in that process as well. So, yes, the planning will commence and we will be shovel ready as soon as we possibly can for the process. Paul would you like to add to that?

Paul Hardisty: Thank you, Minister. Yeah. Thanks for the question. Actually, the design process and the master planning is already underway. So, there's already significant work being done on that in anticipation of the announcement, so that we can get going as quickly as possible. That's part of the deal. We are anticipating that within 18 months, the facility will actually be, we hope, finished and operational. So, we’re looking forward to inviting you all out again and hopefully in less COVID affected times and in sometime in 2022, which is our 50th year anniversary to open up this next stage of SeaSim.

Question: And is it 29 extra staff members, like, science sort of people?

Paul Hardisty: Yes. 29 technical staff. So, SeaSim, actually you can see when you're walking through, we've got all kinds of people who have to run this and build the experiments. They're working Craig Humphrey's team. So, we've got aquarists and marine technicians and plumbers, electricians and programmers because it's all computer controlled. So, there's a variety of high quality, quite significant jobs that have to come to just keep this thing operating.

Question: What we saw today, where does that actually end up? The coral that we saw today where- I know you guys have been replanting some of it, but where does it go, kind of thing? Like the little things that you saw -

Paul Hardisty: [Interrupts] Yeah, so it depends. But, basically, there's a couple of different scenarios. Some of the things that you saw there, quite a few of them actually are multiple generations spawn here, spawn, grow up here and have babies and so on. So, we've got multiple generations of corals that we have grown here. Some of the ones you saw earlier that were heavily pregnant, ready to spawn, those have come from collection sites out on the reef. And with our traditional owner colleagues, we actually recognise that that's traditional owner sea country. Even when it's here, for instance, there's some Wapabara people corals from a Keppel Islands. They're still part of the Keppel Islands when they're here, we recognise that, and when they're finished doing their thing, we put them back out in the Keppel Islands to re-join their ancestral mates and friends.

Question: And I know it’s in the release, but physically how much bigger will this facility be?

Paul Hardisty: As the Minister said, it’s going to be about twice the size.

Question: And is it going to be onsite? Are you building new out-buildings and that kind of stuff?
Paul Hardisty: In fact, this section here with this small aquarium rooms that you may have seen, this is going to push out all the way to the road there and the back part where we're looking at the Tritons, that's going to push out another hundred metres or so down in that direction. So, it'll just be basically added on to the existing facility. And I should also mention that one-third of the facility would be open access. So, anybody in Australia can come and use it on a merit basis and it's paid for as part of the funding, which is another great thing. But I shouldn’t be hogging the -

George Christensen: [Talks over] I think there was another part of the question that was asked there. So, I think, can you elaborate just a bit on the planting of coral and the hardier species, and I think that was what you might be getting that, the ultimate aim of some of this.

Paul Hardisty: Yeah, so-

Question: So, what’s the ultimate aim of the research? Obviously it’s good to have the science there, but what’s the aim of the research?
Paul Hardisty: The ultimate aim of the science is to help the reef recover from disturbances. So crown of thorns, cyclones, other disturbances including climate change, and also adapt to warming waters. So, some of the hybrid corals you saw in there are an attempt to find the hardy hybrids that are actually more resistant to rises in temperature. So, that they can survive better in the warming conditions that we know we're going to come [indistinct], you know, helping the reef out here adapt. That's one of the things I'll stress, is that often in the media you'll hear two stories: the reef is dead or the reef’s all fine. And actually, the truth is somewhere in the middle and that's where we fly. It's nuanced. There are parts of the reef that are incredible, that look as good as that tank that you saw down there with Nemo. And there are parts that have been really, really badly damaged by this variety of stresses. It's a complex, giant ecosystem, it's incredibly resilient. We have to do everything we can to help it stay healthy and resilient for the future.
Question: I’ve got some questions for Minister Andrews. Minister Andrews, do masks and lockdowns work to control the spread of COVID-19?
Karen Andrews: Well, as a Government, we have been very clear on the need to follow the health advice. So, there are quite different circumstances, for example, particularly in Victoria at the height of the COVID crisis, compared to here in North Queensland. In relation to mask wearing, where the view is generally if you cannot socially distance, then you are encouraged to wear a mask. But where there is no real risk, there is very low risk of there being community transmission, then it is not recommended to wear a mask. But I can say, for example, that last night on my flight up to Townsville from Brisbane, the recommendation from the airline was that we should wear masks. So, I did.

Question: And what message would you have to those who are spreading misinformation about this on Facebook?

Karen Andrews: Well, let's understand that there are always going to be different perspectives on every single situation. I think that what's important is that as Australians, we focus on doing the right thing, doing the best thing that we possibly can. We have managed to steer a pretty reasonable path through COVID, we cannot be complacent. The risk is not gone yet. We do remind people that they need to make sure that they are social distancing, they are washing their hands, sanitising their hands, following all of the guidelines. That have kept us reasonably safe here in Australia and that's the advice that people should be following.

Question: So, yesterday, Mr Christensen said on Facebook that masks and lockdowns don’t work. You’re Minister for Science, why do you allow this information from a Coalition MP?

George Christensen: I’m happy to answer that Karen. Thanks very much. Well, thank you ABC for coming to the SeaSim and asking questions about something else. So, anyway, that's your journalistic prerogative to do that. What I can say is that I referred to on my Facebook last night, an actual scientific study that was published in a medical journal that actually involved the US Marine Corps which had heavy lockdowns and still showed that despite those heavy lockdowns, there was transmission of COVID-19. Not my opinion, a fact. And so, there is now a question, I guess, given that over the efficacy of complete and utter lockdown. So, I’ve got to tell you, there's a question over the democratic right and human rights when it comes to lockdowns and whether governments, such as in Victoria, should have done what they had done. I think what we're seeing out of that is an issue. But I can give you like the unity ticket here from the Australian Government, of which Karen Andrews is the Minister for Science. The Health Department's Infection Control Expert group has a paper on this, and they refer to the World Health Organisation. The World Health Organisation gave a statement on 5 June that said: at the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the general community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence, and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.

Question: I’ve just got another question for you Mr Christensen, if that’s alright. Another unrelated topic, but do you still believe that the Democrat vote fraud cost Donald Trump the election?

George Christensen: I think that there's a lot that's going to play out in the US, there’s legal cases and all the rest of it. So, we'll see what happens; at the end of the day, it gets declared by, um, their institutions over there, their Electoral College. So, just let it play out.

Question: Do you recognise Joe Biden as the President-elect, now?

George Christensen: If the Electoral College elects him as President, he’s President. That’s a fact. So, the Electoral College is yet to meet, and they’ll do that, and then he’ll be essentially President-elect at that point, and then he goes on to be inaugurated, if that’s what happens. But that plays out mid-December.