Australia is in danger of losing its position as an Antarctic leader, as well as its claim over the frozen continent, unless it maintains funding for its scientific research program, experts said.
Countries including China and Russia were seeking to broaden their share and exert more power, ABC news reported on Tuesday.
The Australian program was currently “well-funded” but it’s crucial resources continued to feed the work scientists were doing.
Australia asserts sovereignty over 42 per cent of Antarctica, and has deep historic ties to the continent, but new players were emerging and challenging the traditional arrangements.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Anthony Bergin fears countries like China and Russia were playing for the long haul.
Bergin said both were up-front in their desire to exploit the continent.
“If the Antarctic Treaty were to collapse, then obviously all bets would be off in terms of countries legally being able to pursue a military presence in Antarctica,” Bergin said.
Australia was one of the 12 original signatories to the Treaty which ensures Antarctica remains a conservation zone: free from mining, exploration and crucially, military bases.
While the economic value of Antarctica cannot be measured, there could be massive mineral, oil and gas reserves beneath the surface, and a virtually untouched krill fishery off the coast.
Australian Labor MP and a keen Antarctic observer, David Feeney said the global rules governing Antarctica could be re-written in a few decades.
He said Australia needed to maintain its influence around the negotiating table to ensure the status quo remained.
While Australia has three scientific research bases and a replacement ice-breaker on the way, China is searching for a site for its fifth research base and building a new class of ice-breaker vessels.
According to Feeney, years of under-funding have eroded Australia’s standing in Antarctica and “we need to take far more seriously our presence there and investment in our presence there”.