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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 4320


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (12:52): The opposition reluctantly supports this bill which funds a partnership that gives Australian astronomers access to one of the world's most advanced telescopes at the La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile. This will cost the Commonwealth $26.1 million over the forward estimates from 2017 to 2021 and $119.2 million over the two years from 2017. The Academy of Science's decadal plan for Australian astronomy 2016-25 calls for access to eight-metre telescopes, which are not available in Australia. The plan also calls for support of Australia's domestic capability, including the Australian Astronomical Observatory, an agency within the Department of Innovation, Industry and Research.

This bill transfers management of the AAO's main assets, the Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran and the optical instrumentation laboratories at North Ryde, from the departments to two university based consortiums. On paper, this will save $26.1 million over the forward estimates. But that simply shifts the burden of funding the AAO from the Department of Innovation, Industry and Research to the Department of Education and Training. Labor is relieved that the AAO's assets will be funded for the next seven years but we are concerned that their future beyond that date is not assured. Yet again, Australian scientists are finding that, sadly, when one funding cliff disappears it is replaced by another.