Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download PDFDownload PDF   View Parlview VideoWatch ParlView Video

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Economics Legislation Committee
Australian Space Agency

Australian Space Agency


Senator Canavan: This is Dr Clark's first appearance as the head of the Australian Space Agency—although she has appeared here before, I believe.

Senator KIM CARR: Not her first appearance at estimates?

Senator Canavan: No, but her first in the space agency role.

Senator PATRICK: We've had a fantastic announcement that the headquarters will be located in South Australia. Can you tell me what that means, what the time frame is for getting things up and running, and about any other activities that you are conducting now that things are moving forward?

Dr Clark : The Prime Minister announced in December that the location of the Australian Space Agency would be in Adelaide. We are pretty excited about this really important step for us. It means a couple of things. We will be located inside Lot 14, which is the refurbishment of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. That is going to be set out to be an innovation precinct, and we are looking forward to being part of that. In terms of the time line for that, we are anticipating that construction is being planned for the middle of the year and will be ongoing. It also means, for us, the capacity to work with what is a very vibrant SME community and space community in South Australia, as well as the connections with Defence and the defence work that is involved in space.

We've also progressed in our agreements with industry. The agency, in its first eight months, has already done statements of strategic intent with three industry partners: Airbus, Sitael and Nova Systems. Inside those agreements, relevant to South Australia, Airbus has agreed to relocate one of its satellites in the Skynet network and the control centre of that to South Australia. Sitael is an Italian satellite manufacturer, and has committed to manufacturing satellites up to 300 kilograms in South Australia. And Nova Systems, which is based in South Australia, is looking at areas to expand in space situational awareness—that is, the debris in space—and the analytics around that, next generation ground systems and, also, capability assurance services. So there's quite a lot going on.

Senator PATRICK: The building will take some time to complete. Will you set up an office in the interim?

Dr Clark : We've wasted no time; we're not waiting for the building to be complete. I relocated to Adelaide on the day of the announcement—I live in Melbourne but I'll be working out of Adelaide. We already have staff in Adelaide and we have established our presence inside the AusIndustry office in Adelaide. So we're not waiting for the finalisation of the construction.

Senator PATRICK: How many full-time employees do you have at this point?

Dr Clark : We have three people. I'm not full-time, but we have three people in Adelaide at the moment. We have a transitional plan that we are working on, once we have progressed the construction of the facility.

Senator PATRICK: Have you done any work with the entity that is looking to do launches from Whalers Way, in Port Lincoln?

Dr Clark : There are a number of activities on launches. Did you want to cover that, Mr Murfett?

Mr Murfett : Thanks. I think you're referring to Southern Launch?

Senator PATRICK: Yes.

Mr Murfett : Southern Launch has been speaking to the South Australian government, and the Australian Space Agency has also been speaking to that entity. The minister is responsible for the Space Activities Act, and we provide advice on the regulatory requirements around the ability to do both launch permits and launch sites, as well as provide launch activities overseas. We're engaging with those and reinforcing the need to ensure that we meet our regulatory obligations as they look at their activities.

Senator PATRICK: Do you do anything in terms of helping and promoting the business activity itself, in the way of assisting with grant applications and the things that a lot of these small start-ups need? Are any of those activities conducted by the space agency?

Mr Murfett : Is this specific to launch or are we talking about growing the industry more generally?

Senator PATRICK: I presume what you're going to do with Southern Launch will be standard practice. As an example—the devil's always in the detail—just looking at what you're doing with Southern Launch might inform us generally about some of the activities you're doing to help the Australian industry.

Mr Murfett : I might answer this in two parts. Broadly, with the industry, our purpose is to grow and transform a globally respected industry, specifically around launch. The view is that this is a commercial activity and those companies need to determine if there's commercial viability in the market, is there a market, what does the launch profile look like and what type of launches they would need to undertake. Our role in the context of launch at this particular point in time is in the regulatory environment, ensuring that there is low risk and safe operations.

The other thing we have been doing specifically around launch—the parliament has recently amended the Space Activities Act. What it aimed to do was better balance the entrepreneurship side of our space activities but also recognise that we need to balance the safety obligations and our international obligations. At the moment, particularly around launch, we're focused on that part of the equation. If we talk about the industry, that's a broader conversation about some of the things the agency is considering, about how to grow and transform, and that goes back to our purpose.

Senator PATRICK: If you're launching something into space, does that qualify for an Efic threshold for export?

Mr Murfett : I won't comment on whether that relates to Efic or not, but there are requirements around what constitutes launch; they're specified in the legislation. That's why we proactively work with the companies we're aware of, so that they're aware of their obligations.

Senator PATRICK: I'm aware that there are a number of government programs. With something like Southern Launch, they are relying on foreign customers, basically, but they don't export anything to those foreign customers they are effectively providing a service to. It sounds like a funny question, but is that an option for people; to go to Efic to get funding in support of these sorts of activities?

Mr Murfett : I think a good example, rather than Efic, is the work that the agency undertakes with Austrade. As we look at expanding activities, we work pretty closely with Austrade on how we can grow the space industry. As part of that, launch providers will fit within that particular mandate.

Senator PATRICK: That's about accessing markets as opposed to accessing funds, which is what Efic allows for.

Mr Murfett : At this point of time, we as an agency don't have funds available to support launch activities.

Senator PATRICK: I appreciate that, but being able to feed people on to other—a lot of the time, my office spends time helping people identify possible avenues for government assistance. I would have thought that that might have been something that your office could do as well.

Mr Murfett : Some of the things we are looking at, as the agency gets up and running, include the entrepreneurs program that the department has. Within that it has elements relating to advanced manufacturing and other services. There are avenues there, and what the agency will look to do is connect as appropriate to help grow the industry. The leverage in connecting across other government programs that are relevant to growing the space industry is something that's very much on our minds. If we want to accelerate the growth of the industry, we need to be mindful across it. One of the things we have done in the agency is second people from other parts of the government to help us coordinate our activities so we can drive and grow the industry.

Dr Clark : If you look at the funding that we do have for programs, we have been given $15 million of seed funding to support the commencement of international agreements and reaching out—being one door, one voice, internationally. That's the current program funding we have. We're doing the policy framework for that, and next year we will move into the commencement of that program.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much. That's very helpful.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you managed to deal with the asbestos in the hospital site yet?

Dr Clark : I have no knowledge of the asbestos issue in the hospital. The construction and refurbishment of that site is a matter for the South Australian government. We are not responsible for that—

Senator KIM CARR: You can give us an assurance that there will be no asbestos—

Dr Clark : As someone who takes safety very seriously, both on earth and in space, I understand the significance and importance of that question. Certainly as we liaise with the construction team, which, as I said, is the responsibility of the South Australian government, we will assure ourselves that those issues have been dealt with.

Senator KIM CARR: The government said it would have an MOU by August—that's all they would have.

Dr Clark : We're currently in the process of working with the project developers for the site to make sure that our needs and requirements are clear to them. They are currently in the process of incorporating those needs and requirements into their designs. We're at the very early stage of interaction with the team at the moment.

Senator KIM CARR: Given that you have to do so much international work and so much of the agency's work will be with other agencies, I take it that you'll have facilities here in Canberra as well?

Dr Clark : As per the announcement, we'll have 20 people in Adelaide and we're currently working on the transition plans for that. We're also mindful of maintaining all of the work that we're doing internationally.

Senator KIM CARR: But you'll need facilities here, won't you?

Dr Clark : I see no impediment to being able to do that from Adelaide. We've already I think established very good international relationships. We've been going for only eight months, but we already have agreements with the French space agency, CNES, who have agreements with the Canadian Space Agency; with the UK Space Agency; and just this month with the United Arab Emirates, so we are progressing quite quickly on opening that door for both industry and our researchers.

Senator KIM CARR: I notice that other states and territories had a view about the government's announcement in December. Have they been mollified by the agency's work now? They weren't too happy about the announcement. That would be a fair description, wouldn't it?

Dr Clark : There was some criticism, but I think it's important to note that we're a national agency and our purpose is to transform and grow a respected space industry, and that is a national undertaking. All states and territories are very keen to grow this sector. We have also been tasked by the minister to engage in discussions on investment opportunities with the states and territories, and we will be undertaking that work this month and in March. This is a national engagement, but a very important and quite exciting first step in Adelaide.

Senator PATRICK: The good news is that Mr Shorten has written to my office saying that he will honour the federal government's—

Senator KIM CARR: He will, but there have been three offices. I want to be clear that we're not going to put people in a building that has an asbestos problem. I want to know what the MOU actually says.

Dr Clark : We have not completed the MOU because, as I mentioned, we are at the stage of really just sharing, 'Here's what we need. Here are our requirements'—and the project team are considering those. So it's very early stages in the discussion. At the appropriate time we will formalise that in the appropriate way. I'm just characterising where we're at at the moment.

Senator KIM CARR: Sure. Dr Clark, this is, as you say a national agency.

Dr Clark : It is.

Senator KIM CARR: It is not a local government agency, is it?

Dr Clark : No, but our purpose of growing and transforming a respected space industry means we need to be connected in the states and territories because that's really where the industry is going to grow.

Senator KIM CARR: That's right.

Dr Clark : We have responsibilities that are broader than that, but there's no question that to deliver on our purpose to the nation we must commence that engagement—

Senator KIM CARR: And you'll have nodes in other states, will you?

Dr Clark : an important first step. Certainly our vision for the long term is we would have representation in all states and territories, but that's quite a way away. What's in front of us right now is executing and operationalising the decision that was made in December. We're moving forward a little bit ahead of plan on that.

Dr Smith : We also use our AusIndustry offices in particular state capitals as a mechanism for engaging on the Space Agency. Given that a quarter of the department's footprint is outside of Canberra, I think this is a good initiative and one that extends that.

Senator KIM CARR: Dr Smith, you'll be maintaining a regional structure, won't you? There will be AusIndustry offices in all the states?

Dr Smith : It's really important that we are outside of capital cities as well.

Senator KIM CARR: I agree.

Senator SINODINOS: I want to follow up on what Senator Carr and Senator Patrick were talking about on the Space Agency. We have been talking about having an industry development framework because we want to maximise domestic opportunities out of this, but we've also got a very big defence spend, so clearly there will be synergies there. Are you looking at linkages with the various defence innovation programs and how that might fit into your vision about how you develop the space industry?

Dr Clark : Yes, the defence plans for some $10 billion over the next 20 years in the space sector will form a very important platform for our engagement as a country in building this industry. We are not only connected with the two Defence programs, in terms of the innovation hub and next-gen technologies; we also have within the Space Agency an officer from the Royal Australian Air Force who has been seconded to the agency to facilitate that engagement with Defence. So, it's a very important one for us.

Senator SINODINOS: When we look at how much is actually going into the sector, in terms of potential government support, the pool is much broader than what's going in through the department and the agency. Clearly you can also draw on other parts of government when looking at potential sources of funding and potential partners for doing work in this area. Is that right?

Dr Clark : Absolutely. We saw that in the 2018 budget, when some $300 million was announced with the announcement of the agency. Importantly, there are two priorities: the national civil space priorities, in terms of position, navigation and timing, which Geoscience Australia will look at, with 10-centimetre accuracy across our land, maritime and air space but also the possibility of three-centimetre accuracy where we have the additional capacity of being able to use the mobile phone networks—most of those programs are very substantial; and additional funding for the Digital Earth Australia platform. So, not only was the agency announced but also this funding.

The nation was very clear to us in its view that it didn't want the agency to do everything. It wanted the right parts of the system to be able to be the home of these programs. The agency has a role in setting and advising on national space civil strategy and policy. We certainly want to facilitate that investment, not necessarily bring it all into the agency.

Senator SINODINOS: So for other states like mine, like New South Wales, essentially it's a case of the state government or companies located bowling up proposals to you about developments relevant to your charter?

Dr Clark : We've been engaging with all states and territories to get an understanding of their strengths and capabilities, and we are continuing those discussions with each state and territory on how we support them in building those strengths and capabilities. We have also set ourselves the goal of attracting some $1 billion of inbound capital into the sector to grow an additional 20,000 jobs. We're already starting to attract that. For the next three years the project pipeline is just under $1 billion, with around half a billion dollars of that being inbound capital. We're already starting to see momentum in the states and territories in engaging in growing this sector quite quickly.

Senator SINODINOS: So, in future estimates, Senator Carr and I will be able to track your progress against these milestones?

Dr Clark : We will absolutely provide you with updates and—

Senator KIM CARR: Hopefully I won't be doing it from this side!

Mr Murfett : I was going to add that, with the way the agency is delivering on its purpose, it's not about companies putting their money forward—one of the main premises of setting up the agency was to open those international doors, identify opportunities, because for the sector to be successful in the long term it's the business investment that will need to drive that. What we're looking at, through our investment plans, is: what are the best mechanisms to open those doors? One of the ways we're doing that is through international MOUs, which identify our competitive strengths. The other thing we're doing, as we look forward, is looking at what NASA and the European Space Agency are doing in their 10 year missions and identifying the gaps and matching them to our capabilities, because, if we can open up those particular insights, they will be opportunities for our Australian space companies to export internationally. So, our spectrum of activities is quite broad, and we've got a number of avenues that we can pursue to grow the industry.

Senator KIM CARR: Following on from what Senator Sinodinos said, the critical problem here is: how do you maintain effort for all the states? While we've made a commitment to have the office in Adelaide, if we're to build the industry, how do we maintain effort, given that South Australia has only about eight per cent of the nation's capacity? How do you maintain the effort of all the other states in that circumstance, particularly when so much of the activity is in other parts of the country?

Dr Clark : We absolutely see that our mandate is a national one and we will be looking to grow the space industry in all states and territories. We also have many overarching responsibilities both nationally and internationally that we'll undertake, as Mr Murfett outlined. We will provide national policy and strategic advice. We will also coordinate Australian domestic civil space activities. As Mr Murfett outlined, we have a role to establish the appropriate legislative framework to enable this industry, and we are progressing on that as well. We updated the Space Activities Act 1998 through the Space Activities Amendment (Launches and Returns) Act, and modernised it. We have a number of activities as an agency that cover the sector nationally, not just the industry part. But there's no question that to connect effectively with the industry we need to have a foot on the ground in the states and territories.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you.