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Govt offers lifeline to Macquarie station

AAP logoAAP 16/09/2016 Andrew Drummond

Talks with stakeholders including the Bureau of Meteorology has prompted the federal government to reconsider the planned closure of Macquarie Island's permanent research station.

After almost 70 years of permanent operation, the Australian Antarctic Division on Tuesday said it would shut down the ageing base in March, with scientists instead to make seasonal visits and stay in field huts on the island southeast of Tasmania.

But federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has offered a lifeline to year-round staffing of the sub-Antarctic island and is calling for more information before pulling the plug.

"I have had further consultations with key stakeholders, including the Bureau of Meteorology, the premier of Tasmania and my federal parliamentary colleagues, (and) I have now asked my department to provide me with options to ensure a permanent all-year-round presence on the island is maintained," the minister said on Friday.

"In the meantime, operations on Macquarie Island will continue as normal."

The decision to close the station was both budgetary and environmental, with AAD boss Nick Gales citing significant cost to make necessary upgrades to the existing base, and a long-term plan to reduce the human presence on the island.

But the move drew criticism from science and conservation groups with the Tasmanian government also blindsided by the decision involving part of its territory.

Former Australian Greens leader and Hobart-based conservationist Bob Brown said he looks forward to the announcement of a new high-tech base on the World Heritage-listed island.

"It's a good thing the minister has acted so swiftly, and this situation seems to indicate a deep-seated problem in the bureaucracy which should be promoting, not downgrading, Australia's Antarctic research program," Dr Brown said.

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