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Wednesday, 5 May 1993
Page: 142


Senator JONES —My question is directed to Senator Schacht, the Minister for Science and Small Business. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to press reports stating that a consortium is proposing to establish a space port in Papua New Guinea? Can the Minister advise the Senate what impact that is likely to have on the Australian Cape York space program? Finally, how will this proposal in PNG affect our space program?


Senator SCHACHT —The press statement by the Prime Minister of PNG announced an agreement for a Queensland company, Space Transportation Systems (STS), to conduct a feasibility study over a period of a few months relating to the possibility of establishing a space port somewhere in PNG, obviously close to the equator. This proposal is one of a series of proposals from companies wishing to conduct a space launch facility in a near-equatorial location. They seek to capitalise on the cost advantages which those locations provide for the launch of geostationary communication satellites.

  While there has been significant interest in such proposals, no-one has yet managed to obtain the necessary financial backing. The PNG study is unlikely to have any immediate major effect on the proposals for establishing the Cape York space port. We are advised that the efforts of an Australian company to obtain funding for the Cape York space port are continuing.

  The firm of STS was proposed to be involved in a space port at Cape York, but it was withdrawn by the Queensland Government two or three years ago because I do not think it could show any ability to raise the money. I did note with some interest today that Mr Borbidge, the Leader of the National Party in Queensland, has attacked the Federal and Queensland governments for not doing enough for the space port at Cape York. Apparently he was the Minister for Space in the Queensland Government when Mr Ahern was the Premier. Mr Ahern is now the leader of the STS project to try to build a space port in PNG. In regard to the impact on Cape York, we have made it quite clear that if a commercial venture wants to invest the money, we will look at it. So far that money has not come forward from any consortium.

  As far as our own program is concerned, in the past six or seven months the Australian Government has appointed a new Space Council to take advantage of Australia's skills, where available, for a space program. Australia does possess a number of competitive and comparative advantages in space activities which we can capitalise upon, such as industrial expertise in aerospace and telecommunications, a very strong applications-oriented remote sensoring community, and a geographic advantage for launch services for low-orbiting satellites.

  The Space Council is now preparing a five-year program to maximise our ability to put together a space program. I hope that in the next few months that will be made a public document. I also hope that at some time in the latter part of this year, as previously promised, we will introduce legislation to make the Space Council a statutory authority, as previously announced. All in all, I believe that we have a considerable opportunity to maximise within our resources a space program.

  I would like to draw to the attention of all honourable senators the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure of April 1992 entitled Developing Satellite Launching Facilities in Australia and the Role of Government. It was a bipartisan report which suggested that there were opportunities for Australia to be involved in a limited space program within our resources. I expect to be given bipartisan support when the Space Council comes down with its five-year program.