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Chief Executive Officer's review

As the national public sector geoscience organisation, Geoscience Australia delivers trusted information and advice on Australia’s geology and geography to support faster and smarter decision making.

We develop innovative applications and solutions in response to Australia’s most important challenges by bringing together observations, data and knowledge from across geoscience disciplines.

At the beginning of 2019–20, we launched Geoscience Australia’s decadal strategy, Strategy 2028, that sets out the impacts our science will deliver over the next 10 years to support Australian government, industry and communities. Our impacts will focus on six key areas:

  • building Australia’s resource wealth
  • supporting Australia’s community safety
  • securing Australia’s water resources
  • managing Australia’s marine jurisdiction
  • creating a location-enabled Australia
  • enabling an informed Australia.

Strategy 2028 sets out what we want to achieve and how we will achieve it, so that Geoscience Australia remains a resilient and agile organisation that can respond to Australia’s emerging challenges. We will achieve our impacts by focusing on science excellence, making the most of our data, fostering strong partnerships and collaborations, and developing a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

Our milestones and achievements across the year span the breadth of our science and impact areas.

This year we wrapped up the first phase of the Exploring for the Future (EFTF) program, one of the largest and most complex geoscience programs globally. In its first four years, the EFTF program delivered 250 datasets describing the mineral, energy and groundwater resource potential of more than 3 million square kilometres across northern Australia. Geoscience Australia delivered this program by harnessing our own scientific and data analytics capabilities, and partnering with a range of organisations, including state governments, to maximise the benefits of the data generated.

In 2020–21, Geoscience Australia will focus on commencing phase two of EFTF, which will expand the geographic reach of the program to include southern Australia. This next phase, supported by an additional Australian Government investment of $125 million over the next four years, will focus on driving investment in Australia’s resources sector and strengthening our agriculture sector, as part of Australia’s post-pandemic recovery.

We continued our work in understanding critical minerals resources, supporting the Australian Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy through our collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Geological Survey of Canada. These collaborative agreements enable Australia to share our scientific capabilities with US and Canadian colleagues to better understand our respective geological resource potential and improve our shared understanding of critical mineral systems.

Geoscience Australia established new governance arrangements for AusSeabed, as part of our continued development of the program. The Executive Board was created to oversee the strategic direction of this national collaborative program in seabed mapping that includes partners from government, marine industries and the research community. AusSeabed also enhanced its Marine Data Portal, improving the discoverability, access to and analytics of seabed data. These enhancements increased data downloads by almost 50 per cent in 2019–20.

Geoscience Australia continued to develop and deliver geospatial data and platforms throughout 2019–20, to support faster and more informed decision making across government, industry and communities.

Our Digital Earth Australia (DEA) program partnered with several Australian businesses for the first round of small-scale industry grants through its new program, DEA Labs. From these partnerships grew a number of innovative and commercially viable products that integrate DEA’s satellite imagery and analysis for Australia’s agriculture sector.

Geoscience Australia led the Australian Government aid program, Digital Earth Africa, which progressed to an operational Earth observation platform for the African continent. This year, Digital Earth Africa released a continental map of surface water for Africa and delivered analysis-ready satellite data for all of Africa. These datasets come at a time when Earth observation is playing a key role in building systems to support the response and recovery of critical challenges in Africa, including food security, locust plagues, drought, flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Positioning Australia program wrapped up the 18-month pilot of Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) technology, which trialled new precise positioning technologies across 27 projects in Australia and New Zealand and demonstrated the potential economic benefits of a range of location-enabled applications. We further strengthened our relationship with New Zealand in early 2020 when we entered into a partnership with the New Zealand Government to expand SBAS coverage across both countries.

Like so many organisations, the latter half of our year was shaped by two significant events: the 2019–20 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Geoscience Australia deployed a range of geospatial capabilities to support the Australian Government’s response to the bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia. We worked with federal and state government entities to produce a national bushfire scar map, and a national bushfire boundary map that showed the growth and extent of bushfires during the 2019–20 event.

We enhanced our Australian Exposure Information Platform (AEIP) to enable the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) and other users to simulate fire movement over a 24 hour-period so that emergency services can respond quickly as a fire progresses, and plan and prioritise responses.

The bushfire event also saw a significant increase in the number of users of DEA Hotspots, an application produced by the DEA program that uses satellite imagery to locate potential active fires, or hotspots.

Geoscience Australia also provided geospatial support as part of the Australian Government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, working with the Department of Health to map the locations of testing facilities, and with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to map key locations and assets globally during the pandemic.

As part of our continued focus on community safety, Geoscience Australia collaborated with state and territory partners to assess the vulnerability of infrastructure to inform earthquake responses across Australian communities.

In 2019–20, Geoscience Australia educated more than 7000 Australian students and 700 teachers in Earth sciences through direct and virtual interactions, and provided digital resources to students, families, teachers and the public. Our shift to virtual teaching in response to COVID-19 restrictions meant that, although site visits to our Education Centre necessarily ceased, our digital resources grew and we were able to broaden the diversity of our audiences.

Our Geophysical Archive and Data Delivery System (GADDS 2.0) redevelopment project improved the accessibility and usability of our primary data products and services. The project included converting more than 6800 geophysics datasets to Network Common Data Form (netCDF) format and storing these on the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), metadata remediation and GADDS portal web development. The new platform is an integrated system—from data acquisition to data delivery—that enables our national geophysics data collections to be more findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), so we can maximise the benefits of this data resource for our stakeholders.

In response to an Australian National Audit Office performance audit of cyber resilience in Geoscience Australia, the Treasury and the National Archives of Australia, we established the Security Improvement Program in 2018. The program implemented additional business-enabling and physical security initiatives and has improved the security culture and overall security posture of our organisation. We have substantially improved our cyber resilience, including our compliance with the Essential Eight (see www.cyber.gov.au/acsc/view-all-content/essential-eight/essential-eight-explained). As the threat landscape evolves, we will continue to adapt to changing compliance requirements.

Although our focus throughout 2019–20 was on the quality and impact of our geoscience across Australia’s industries and communities, we also continued to embark on a strong diversity and inclusion agenda, in line with our commitments to enhancing organisation culture in Strategy 2028.

In February 2020, we marked a significant achievement when we were awarded the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Athena Scientific Women’s Academic Network (SWAN) Bronze accreditation. Attaining this accreditation is an important step towards creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace. Geoscience Australia has a four-year action plan in place to address gender equity in our science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

We also launched our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2019–22, which builds on our Inclusive Culture Program. The Strategy is a deliverable under our SAGE action plan, and is supported by our People and Culture Committee, and our Diversity, Culture and Inclusion Champions Group.

In all, 2019–20 was an exciting year for Geoscience Australia, as we built momentum towards delivering on our Strategy 2028 commitments and demonstrated the many ways that Earth sciences can benefit communities and industries across Australia.