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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4338

European Southern Observatory

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:56): My question is to the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator Sinodinos. Can the minister explain how the government's 10-year strategic partnership with the European Southern Observatory, announced in the budget, will benefit the Australian astronomy and industry sectors?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesMinister for Industry, Innovation and Science) (14:56): I thank Senator Fawcett for his interest in the topic not just of astronomy but also of space science. He is a former test pilot and does a great job for South Australia. The Turnbull government is providing Australia's astronomers with long-term access to the world's best optical and infra-red telescopes at what is known as the European Southern Observatory, in Chile. Apparently Chile is the best place in the world to do this sort of stuff. The skies there are really good. This global partnership will enable us to tackle big questions in fundamental science, to make groundbreaking and inspiring discoveries, and to lift international collaboration. As part of this measure we are providing $26.1 million of new funding for optical astronomy, research excellence, industry engagement and instrumentation, a commitment of $120 million over 10 years. It reflects this government's commitment to excellence in research and the benefits that it brings through stimulating innovation and opening doors to new types of industry engagement.

This has come after widespread consultation with our optical and radioastronomy organisations and provides a solution to the most pressing unmet need in Australian astronomy. We are particularly pleased to have the support of Australia's university and research sector, who will be co-investing in the project. Australian astronomers will have competitive, merit based access to all of the ESO telescopes at the La Silla and Paranal observatories. The benefits will spread across many industries, because Australian companies and institutions will have the right to tender competitively for valuable ESO work packages at the Chile sites. Australian astronomers and industry will develop their capabilities over the coming years to capture scientific and commercial opportunities in the next generation of extremely large telescopes. The detail of this significant, big-picture, big-future strategic partnership will be negotiated in the coming months. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a supplementary question.

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:58): Can the minister outline how this new measure presents an opportunity to reshape Australia's domestic optical astronomy capabilities?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesMinister for Industry, Innovation and Science) (14:58): The ESO strategic partnership is an opportunity for the advanced instrumentation capability currently part of the Australian Astronomical Observatory to be positioned for the future. New university consortia and institutional arrangements will be put in place to continue the Anglo-Australian Telescope operations and to deliver Australia's national instrumentation capability. Being part of a university-led consortium rather than a government department will give rise to competitive grant opportunities that are not currently available. The Australian Astronomical Observatory will be better placed to cultivate new industry linkages and to commercialise and develop spin-offs from technological innovations. Our domestic optical and radio telescopes, like the Anglo-Australian Telescope, will be important test beds for key technologies and new optical instrumentation, which can then be designed and built for the world-class ESO under competitive tender.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a final supplementary question

Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:59): Can the minister explain how the ESO strategic partnership demonstrates the Turnbull government's long-term commitment to supporting Australia's science and research capability?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesMinister for Industry, Innovation and Science) (15:00): The ESO strategic partnership is vital for advancing our scientific and industry capabilities. These capabilities take time and dedicated work to develop. This is a long-term measure. The initial phase will happen over 10 years, and we expect that Australia will then transition to full membership of the ESO. Support for astronomy and the development of innovative astronomical instrumentation is entirely in line with the Turnbull government's National Science Statement, which I released at the Press Club earlier this year. It outlines our broad agenda of investing in science and research, enabling ideas, innovation and commercialisation to flourish, growing businesses and jobs, improving productivity and, importantly, building globally competitive industries. It also complements the work that we have already completed with the National Innovation and Science Agenda. It will increase the capacity for research and industry to collaborate and foster new Australian skills and capabilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Senator Brandis: On that celestial note, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.