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Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 12771

Dr EMERSON (Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, Minister Assisting the Finance Minister on Deregulation and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs) (9:12 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to establish the Australian Astronomical Observatory as an Australian owned and operated facility when the joint Australia-UK Anglo-Australian Observatory winds up on 1 July 2010.

Australia and the United Kingdom have been partners in the AAO for more than 35 years. Unfortunately, science budget cuts in the UK have led to the UK government’s decision to focus its astronomy resources on fewer facilities. In 2005 the Australian and UK governments agreed that on 1 July 2010 the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board would be disbanded and the AAO handed over to the Australian government.

The Australian Astronomical Observatory Bill is one of two bills being introduced today, to give effect to the 2005 agreement. The other is the Australian Astronomical Observatory (Transitional Provisions) Bill.

The UK withdrawal provides an opportunity for Australia to take over a world-class facility that is still producing leading-edge science. The observatory is an iconic facility with a strong record of scientific achievement and major discoveries. The four-metre diameter Anglo-Australian telescope provides over half of our national telescope capability in optical astronomy and was ranked by a recent independent international survey as the world’s most productive telescope in its class.

Innovative astronomical instruments, designed and built by the observatory, are installed not only on the Anglo-Australian telescope but also on other major telescopes around the world, including the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and Japan’s Subaru telescope in Hawaii. They are an important demonstration of Australia’s technological capabilities.

These are some of the reasons why the government announced, as part of the Super Science Initiative for space and astronomy in the 2009-10 budget, that the observatory will continue to operate under new governance arrangements, with additional funding of $20.9 million over four years.

This bill gives effect to these new governance arrangements, including establishing the facility, renamed the Australian Astronomical Observatory, as a business unit of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

The bill also establishes the position of the director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory. The intention is that the director will be a person with appropriate expertise both in astronomical science and in the leadership and management of a world-class science facility.

The bill formally confers astronomical functions on the secretary of the department but provides for these to be delegated to the director or to a suitable APS employee within the observatory.

Mrs Mirabella interjecting

Ms Plibersek interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order!

Dr EMERSON —The main functions will be to operate Australia’s national observatory—

Mrs Mirabella interjecting

Ms Plibersek interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! Can I just suggest to the member for Indi that there are other ways that she might wish to raise things, but she should not raise them across the table at this point in time. The minister has the call.

Dr EMERSON —Thank you. The main functions will be to operate Australia’s national observatory for optical astronomy, to undertake, support and report on astronomical research and to develop and manufacture astronomical observing instruments. The observatory will also serve the optical astronomy community in other ways, including by supporting Australia’s participation in future world-leading astronomical facilities.

The director will be supported by the Australian Astronomical Observatory Advisory Committee, which will provide independent expert advice on how the astronomical functions are to be performed.

This bill, together with the new funding announced by the government in the 2009-10 budget, will help to ensure that the observatory continues to host and support world-class astronomy, to be an innovative source of new astronomical instruments and to provide the expertise Australia needs to participate in international scientific collaborations.

Further details of the bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Mirabella) adjourned.