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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 26149

Senator SCHACHT (7:41 PM) —I appreciate the minister's remarks. Before the dinner break I raised a question with Senator Ian Macdonald, and I spoke to one of your advisers just after the dinner break started. I am not arguing about the size of the $100 million commitment. I understand the competition and that this commitment had to be made. I understand the separation of nearly $70 million for generic infrastructure. I understand the $32 million that is to go to APSC for, as you have mentioned, telemetry, payloading, processing, down-range monitoring, et cetera. But one of the things I asked about was that, although they are putting in $800 million—or funds of about that size—for the launch facility that they are building, with the bits and pieces that government is providing, in the future someone else might come along and say, `Well, you have a spare three months here, can we use it to launch a rocket with a satellite?' This might be semicompetitive. In view of the fact that the government has made a contribution of $30 million out of $800 million, which is a small amount, what in the contract could be signed—and you may not want to respond because it is commercial-in-confidence, but I would hope that this would occur in negotiation of the contracts—so that there is some process if someone else wants to hire that facility to launch a rocket, even an Australian consortium? CSIRO might want to put up a satellite and get hold of a rocket on some research program. Is there some ability for the government to say, `We have put this money up. One of the returns we want is access, from time to time, to launch a rocket with a satellite'? I want it done so that APSC cannot block anybody from doing this by putting forward an unnecessarily high launch figure—$100 million, $200 million or $1 billion—just to scare the competition off, because we want to encourage more and more launches.

I wonder whether you could give us some indication that, in the negotiations for the contract, there will be some protection for the public to ensure that we get some further return on the money. Will there be an arbitration process so that, if there were a dispute because someone else wanted to hire and use it, because of our commitment we would have some ability to say, `An arbitrator should set a price if there is a big dispute between the people of Australia and someone else trying to bid to come in'? I know that they might say that the Brazilians were offering all or nothing—the $300 million—but the more we get people into Australia trying to launch from facilities, the better it will be. Senator Macdonald said that you could not build two facilities on Christmas Island because it would be too crowded. I understand that. But that puts them in a semimonopoly position on one of the very few sites in Australia that has the ability to launch equatorial orbits. Once you get that, you are in a commanding position in the future marketplace. I want to see that there is some ability for the government to negotiate—because it is a sizeable commitment that we are making—so that others who may want to come along and who pay a fair and reasonable price for access to the facilities can use them.