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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7785


Ms MADELEINE KING (Brand) (17:20): I really enjoyed the comments from the member for Goldstein. I might reflect on them a little later. I also enjoyed the earlier comments by the member for Corio, who pointed out the importance of big science and big science projects not only across Australia but across the globe. That's why it's important that Australia does participate in significant and large public science projects that can inspire the young people of today to undertake science and mathematics subjects at our secondary schools and universities across the country.

I'll turn to speak on the Space Activities Amendment (Launches and Returns) Bill 2018, which is hot on the heels of the Prime Minister's announcement of the Australian Space Agency. I commend the government on their interest in levelling the domestic playing field in this space as well as on making a start on a regulatory framework in which this industry can function, particularly as a result of this bill. However, as per usual, it'll be interesting to see how much detail has gone into this bill, given the government's historic Han Solo-type of attitude of shooting from the hip first and asking questions later. This check-up will take the form of a Senate legislative inquiry and a report, which I look forward to reading at a not-so-far-away time.

I will backtrack for a second here and take a look at some of the context surrounding this bill before I go on to the specifics. Before the creation of the Australian Space Agency, we were one of only two OECD countries to not have a federal agency entirely dedicated to the space industry—the other being Iceland. To the north of our country, Indonesia has a space agency. In Africa, Nigeria has a space agency, and even North Korea claims to have a space agency. We have truly lagged behind for too long in this respect. However, we have not been drifting in space doing nothing entirely all this time.

Australia has an extremely proud history in the space industry. We have been at the forefront of many of humanity's impressive feats in the great unknown. If we can reflect on the famous dish in Parkes, New South Wales, that was the beating heart of Australia's fledgling space industry. It's been a crucial part of Australian space operations for nearly 60 years and, of course, immortalised in that great movie The Dish. It has studied some of the most distant entities in our galaxy and beyond. It's still far beyond the range of conventional instruments of its time. It helped Apollo 13 make it home against massive odds and brought the very first moon landing into the lounge rooms of the world. Of course, it's not just The Dish. In my very own state of Western Australia, industry and academic leaders are constructing the square kilometre array low-frequency radio telescope, one of the world's largest public science data projects. It's happening in Murchison, north of Perth, where our clear skies are the envy of the world.

Labor proudly fought for funding for this. It was first funded under a Labor government in this place, but it has been a bipartisan effort, and I'm very happy to say so. The Liberal state government run by Colin Barnett was an enthusiastic supporter of the Square Kilometre Array bid, that Australia then launched out of Western Australia, and then set up the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at the University of Western Australia and Curtin University. The Square Kilometre Array project is one of the biggest global astronomy projects of our generation. It represents a multibillion-dollar international investment in Australian infrastructure, and it's happening in the great state of Western Australia.

In 2025, Australians will also be proud to say we contributed significantly to the world's largest optical observatory, the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is another significant public science project. I might add, while I'm reflecting on these two projects—especially the Square Kilometre Array—that there is the importance of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Bentley. It is one of the largest supercomputers of the world and is funded by governments of both types in this place. Also, the state governments have broad bipartisan support for the importance of investing in large supercomputing efforts. It is how we keep up with the rest of the world in science, data and data processing. I congratulate the incoming CEO of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, Mr Mark Stickells, who's someone I've worked with for a long time at the Energy and Minerals Institute at the University of Western Australia. Congratulations, Mark. You'll do a great job, and Pawsey does such an amazing job in processing the extraordinary amount of data that comes out of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research and the Square Kilometre Array in the Murchison.

We have many examples of proud Australian achievements in the space industry, but they are spread apart. They're a bit decentralised and they're not able to light the way for future projects without outside help. The creation of the Australian Space Agency will greatly assist with this. I'd like to put in my two cents worth about the WA proposal to host the Australian Space Agency. Of course I would do that: I am a proud Western Australian, and a number of members in this House would back me up on this bid. It's a very important application. Clear blue skies, our fabulous weather and the expanse and range of geographic possibilities afford an opportunity like no other for Western Australia and for science in Western Australia. The bid has been spearheaded by the WA Minister for Science, Mr Dave Kelly. Western Australia's bid for the agency has been summed up in a report commissioned by WA's Chief Scientist, Professor Peter Klinken, another great Western Australian scientist whom I've had the very great pleasure of working with over the years. Professor Klinken concluded that WA's capability in the development and use of space derived application is very substantial. I would say it's unmatched. This, paired with WA's successful partnership with the European Space Agency, as well as NASA in myriad projects over the past several decades, proves that WA is best placed to take on the opportunity that could provide a significant economic boost to a state that needs it and is best placed to deliver.

To elaborate, the Western Australian state government has been working hard in connecting business, academics and industry, bringing them together on an unprecedented scale in this space. The oil and gas giant Woodside has a five-year partnership with NASA to explore the possibilities of remote operation and automation. I will quote directly from Professor Klinken's report on space industry capability in WA. He said:

This collaboration promotes the exchange of knowledge and expertise. NASA is benefitting from Woodside's experience in remote operation in harsh environments and Woodside is benefitting from NASA's experience in automation and the human robot interface.

I was very pleased to visit the centre at Woodside where they have their NASA robot and excellent staff and researchers around them, supporting the work of automation. It's a very dangerous environment. Having some automation saves humans from going into dangerous space to check on very dangerous conditions. I'm proud to say that the leader of that Woodside centre is a graduate of Kwinana Senior High School in my electorate. I wish them well in the science they are doing at Woodside, in the Perth CBD. It is very exciting stuff. It sometimes feels like it's straight out of a science fiction book, but it is a reality and it's happening in WA.

At the same time, Woodside is also working with Cisco, Curtin University and Data61 in data analytics, the machine learning program known as Innovation Central. Beyond Curtin, there's also the University of Western Australia. The Frequency and Quantum Metrology Research Group is working on the Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space mission for the European Space Agency, and the Microelectronics Research Group at UWA is conducting world-leading research in the innovative combination of microelectromechanical systems with infrared sensor technology for fourth-generation infrared systems. I was very pleased to visit the Microelectronics Research Group at UWA recently. I had a fantastic tour to see the quite remarkable things they're achieving. At Edith Cowan University, the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group is investigating different applications of deep-learning approaches for send and control methods. At Murdoch University—and this is really quite cool—they're developing a research program aimed at creating drones capable for use on Mars. They're making use of those technologies so that we can explore the harsh environments of distant planets and moons in our own solar system, which is not unlike exploring the wild outback areas of Western Australia, so it's the perfect place to mimic testing.

As well as the creation of a national agency, this bill will assist with centralising and regulating the industry in Australia. Indeed, its very objective is to modernise and update Australian domestic law covering commercial and scientific space activities. I do note the comments of the member for Goldstein earlier. He talked of the critical importance of private enterprise and how, somehow, with this bill private enterprise will be unleashed to do all the work in this space, but you've just heard me recount the work being done at public institutions around this country. I've just told you about the Western Australian institutions and I know there is work being done at universities around the country, so I implore the member for Goldstein and others on the other side; for this work to continue, you really need to maintain the support funding for our great institutions—the universities, especially the research-intensive universities—rather than take every opportunity to cut their funding and skimp on their science. It is very important. You cannot have science like the Australian Space Agency tries to—and it's great that it is trying to do that—without properly funding science and research in this country, and without properly funding universities.

The scope of this bill is extensive, but it doesn't need to cover solar systems. It covers launches from Australian territory, Australian launches from overseas jurisdictions, returns of vehicles from space, launches of Australian payloads, which are usually satellites, and—and this is quite exciting—launches of rockets from aircraft or launches of other high-powered rockets. This is an Australian first. The current regulatory and oversight systems needed an overhaul, and I'm pleased to see that this bill makes a number of changes in this regard.

I might run through them briefly. It reduces barriers to participation in the industry by streamlining approvals and insurance required for launches and returns, making things easier for established players and providing incentives for newer, smaller business and academic ventures. The bill provides that insurance required for each individual authorised launch or return will be specified in the rules, noting that each amount will not exceed the $100 million threshold. This is important as it is a significant reduction from the former requirement of the act of an amount of not less than an eye-watering $750 million. This is comparable with similar requirements in other nations.

It's worth noting that this bill is updating the original Space Activities Act 1998, which was one of the very first examples of a domestic law that was focused on commerce. It was prompted by Kistler Aerospace's plans to establish a spaceport at Woomera. Sadly, this did not eventuate. However, there is new hope. There are proposals in place to establish launch facilities across the country. One of them, Equatorial Launch Australia, is located in East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, expanding and diversifying employment opportunities and industry in the region. As well as this, there is an uptick in commercial interest in the launch of CubeSats, small satellites used for a range of applications.

This bill will see a flood of interest in the return of stakeholders. Indeed, many stakeholders have previously pointed to the current act and its regulations as a roadblock to development and investment in launch facilities in Australia, and the vast majority have indicated their support for the new proposals. However, they are keen for the bill to have a greater depth and scope that will seek to make the Australian space industry the brightest star in the solar system.

Many of these questions and commentaries do include the fact that this bill simply updates terminology and makes superficial name changes and many amendments. These operators have previously made the complaint that the original act was too vague, more difficult to navigate than an asteroid field and disincentivises with unnecessary compliance costs. I'm sure they would hate for this bill to be too similar to the act itself, and we want to avoid at all costs an Attack of the Clones-type situation! One of the most significant concerns held by stakeholders was the requirement for all permits to include a strategy of debris mitigation. There is a lack of clarity on compliance with this regulation as to how closely it aligns with the space debris mitigation guidelines of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

So, as you can see, it's a very wide-ranging piece of legislation. It's a wide-ranging industry that needs to deal with many complex matters. The bill tries. It might have to go further, and we look forward to more work being done in that regard to develop the space industry. We hope that the short Senate inquiry will bring the bill further into the light and show us more so we can assess the impact of the bill in its entirety. A short Senate inquiry should not unduly block the timely passage of this bill through parliament. It is an important bill. It's important to get moving on the Australian Space Agency. It's important to promote science in our community, to encourage young people and all people from around the country to think about science and maths as careers, and to develop great public science projects which will come out of an Australian space agency. That will be one of the good things that this parliament can do for the further and better development of this nation. I thank the House.