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Speech to the 13th Australasian Remote Sensing and photogrammetry Conference: [Canberra: 20 - 24 november 2006].

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Speech The Hon Bob Baldwin, MP

21 November 2006

Speech to the 13th Australasian Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Conference Good morning Dr Neil Williams, fellow presenters, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you Matilda for your warm and heartfelt welcome to country. May I also extend a special welcome to all of our international visitors.

It's a great pleasure to be in this room with such an august and authoritative group and to welcome you to Canberra for the 13th of these biennial conferences.

Like all good things, this conference just keeps on getting bigger and bigger.

I'm staggered by the breadth of topics your program will cover.

No doubt, the networking will be extraordinarily valuable; after all, cross-fertilisation of ideas is vital in an industry in which the rate of technological change and the range of uptake by the community are almost exponential.

Your conference title: Earth Observation - From Science to Solutions, reflects the way our use of imagery has changed from supporting pure research to operational needs.

I'm sure that many Australians have little idea or understanding of the broad spectrum covered by the spatial sciences, or indeed of the impact that it has on their daily lives.

Everyday use

I know now that the field of remote sensing has an impact on just about every aspect of what I do in some way.

The street I live on was probably laid out under the direction of a spatial scientist, but if it wasn't, as was often the case in years gone by, then a spatial scientist sorted out the mapping mess.

Each time I head off-shore for a spot of fishing I rely on any number of different packages of information to decide where I'll go, to ensure I don't run aground, and even if the weather is suitable.

As a part of this, I do my own spatial data gathering through my trusty FishFinder echo sounder and use the same satellites that you do to (for more important things I’m sure) to find my way.

Should the unthinkable happen, and I get lost or have a maritime emergency, the spatial industry has developed the means for the transmissions from my EPIRB to be interpreted to alert the search and rescue authorities that there's a problem and then to help them to come and find me!

All this and all I have to know is how to press the right buttons. I don't pretend to have much more than a general idea of how and why it works, because it's been made so simple and user-friendly.

And that's down to people like you who've taken the concepts, done the maths and worked out how to make the tools simple enough so that we ordinary folk don't have to have a PHD to work them.

(Although I'm sure, like me, many of you have sometimes found the manuals to be a bit of challenging fun though.)

But that's enough about me.

I've been doing a bit of background reading and I'm always amazed by the rate at which technology is moving and the way in which technology is changing our lives.

As with all change, the challenge is to ensure that the benefits outweigh the negatives, that technology enhances the quality of our lives and that it doesn't impose limits on our freedom.

Technology advances

I know, as a result of my portfolio responsibilities, that Australia has benefited enormously from the advance of technology in the spatial sciences.

From 1979, when we downloaded our first Landsat images at our ground station in Alice Springs, the use of satellite data by the spatial information industry has grown considerably.

The prediction in 1984 that satellites would be used for a range of applications from communications to meteorology, and to navigation and search and rescue by the end of the millennium became a reality.

Today, satellites are assuming more and more importance in the spatial sciences.

Around 94 per cent of the spatial science industry relies on either satellite or airborne imagery, with around 44 per cent of all imagery products being gathered by satellite and 55 per cent by airborne methods.

Mapping is by far the largest use of satellite and airborne images, followed by planning, engineering and natural resource management.

However, over time, the number of engineering and natural resource management uses is increasing as more and more sophisticated analysis of the data becomes available.

Satellite data is becoming ever more critical to so much of what we do.

Government users

The Australian Greenhouse Office's National Carbon Accounting System provides a comprehensive picture of how forest cover over the Australian continent has changed during the past 30 years, using data gathered by satellites like Landsat since the 1970s.

Satellite imagery means that Geoscience Australia, which leads the nation in providing spatial information, has a cost-effective way to ensure that its topographic map products are kept up to date, regardless of whether they're in hard copy or digital form.

GA spends in the order of $3 million on remote sensing which, when you think of the resultant national benefits, is extraordinarily cheap.

Accurate data is vital for infrastructure and regional development, navigation, emergency management, environmental management, homeland security and tourism.

But it's not only governments in the field, although they are the chief customers.

Private industry use

One of the key factors of the work more recently has been the use of commercial providers working within a standard quality assurance framework to perform the analysis.

Multinationals and small to medium enterprises alike are value adding and developing software to process the data.

We've come a long way from the early days when the major application of satellite data was to increase the mining exploration efficiency.

Changing technology, including new sensors, means that satellite imagery still plays a major part in mining exploration and a greater role in improving mine efficiency.

It's remarkable that applications related to your work include the possibility to track mine trucks to maximise fuel efficiency, reduce tyre wear and efficiently load them.

New technology enables the use of satellites to detect and monitor wild-fires and oil slicks and to protect our scarce resources through detecting illegal fishing, illegal land clearing and illegal clearing of wetlands.

I am staggered by the wide range of tools available to gather data for the spatial industry, from space and in air-borne capture using manned and unmanned aircraft.

I recall marvelling at the way lasers were used to level land for irrigation.

Now, laser technology is available for the DIY market at the local hardware store, and at the other end of the scale, lasers are being mounted in helicopters to measure sag in power lines, no doubt saving electricity companies weeks of tedious work.

So, where are we heading from here … ?

Global choices

The growth in the number of space-faring nations operating remote sensing satellites stems from their recognition of the strategic importance of Earth observation data and information.

More and more countries have developed remote sensing satellites for national security or environmental reasons.

More than 100 remote sensing missions have either been launched or are scheduled for launch, with 24 programmed to be launched worldwide in the next two years. They will undertake tasks

ranging from Earth imaging to atmospheric sensing, potentially yielding a wealth of data.

The global proliferation of remote sensing satellites will dramatically change and influence how people view and manage the planet.

Just as public awareness of global environmental issues was awakened by the first space images of planet Earth, it's certain that access to free-of-charge data - such as services like Google Earth - will continue to reinforce concepts of global interdependence and fragile global ecosystems.

Satellite-based sensing increasingly offers a low-cost, easily available tool that greatly increases our collective ability to understand the nature and scope of issues such as climate change or the loss of biodiversity, or threats to national security.

International cooperation

Internationally, three Earth Observation Summits during the past three years have resulted in the development of a 10-year plan to implement coordinated cooperative Earth observations to better monitor the Earth using space, airborne and in-situ observations, for the public good, rather than commercial gain.

This goodwill bodes well for fostering international cooperation required for matters such as climate change and biodiversity.

At the same time, powerful remote sensing technologies are increasingly used in a national security context, initially during the Cold War, and more recently since September 11, 2001.

The opportunity for joint civil and military use of technology has created economies of scale, but has also raised issues relating to controlling access to some technologies and sensitive data.

Changing marketplace

The emerging Earth observation marketplace is changing.

Organisations that were once simply data providers are becoming information service providers, but to be successful they must be closer to user needs, demonstrate added value, be cost-effective, and drive technology development and marketing accordingly.

They need to be able to demonstrate that they can supply lower cost data and products, information solutions and packaged services.

When applications are time-critical, they must provide more frequent revisits.

The market place, both public and private sector, is seeking sustainable, reliable and affordable services.

Australia's opportunities

Australia is in a unique position to offer innovative down-stream solutions.

We don't have a domestic satellite industry and therefore, have no government-controlled Earth observation satellites.

However, we have a significant industry developed around the use of satellite data and that industry has a growing expertise in applying satellite-based Earth observations to land and resource

management issues.

And while some might consider the lack of a domestic satellite industry puts us at a disadvantage, it means that we aren't tied to particular suites of applications locked into discrete satellite technology and programs.

It means Australian suppliers can focus their investment on the data and related applications that best meet their needs.

The relatively small size of our remote-sensing community means that users and suppliers are familiar with each other.

This means they can work together more closely than in countries with larger programs where sometimes a significant disconnect exists between users and suppliers.

These mean that we have some critical competitive advantages over some of our competitors.

Global market

It is critical to positioning Australia for information-based resource management in the future that we understand how to best exploit these competitive advantages for Australia's benefit, while ensuring we are not constrained by the absence of a national satellite program.

We have enormous opportunities and choices about where we source our satellite data from.

To be completely frank, in a pragmatic world, we will not only be looking at technological capacity alone as we seek new sources.

Our choice of partners, and it involves partnerships, will be based on criteria recognising the need for long-term relationship building and the broader socio-political environment.

We would be ill-advised to rely on foreign data from a single source or a partner likely to raise foreign policy concerns over the long term because the fear of loss of access would deter users and investors.

Nor can we join every possible data supplier. Rather, the choice of two or three suppliers may open doors for potential Australian contributions to, or influences on, foreign satellite missions.

Whatever we do, our expertise and ability to work collaboratively on a local and an international level means we are in an excellent position to raise the profile of our remote sensing sector and to contribute strategically to emerging international ventures, thereby establishing our influence and supporting the export of Australian know-how and industry.

A case in point is our five-year agreement to become one of only four worldwide downlink nodes for the new Japanese Advanced Land Observing Satellite or ALOS.

Many of you will be aware that the first ALOS images will became publicly available through Geoscience Australia in the coming weeks.

We will be the first country to downlink this data outside Japan. ALOS will be a source of high quality, low cost Earth observation data.

In fact, the quality of the spatial data represents a quantum leap over that available from previous public-good satellites with a corresponding leap in the quality of GA's products.

It's estimated that the spatial information industry in Australia and New Zealand is worth more than $1 billion a year.

We have enormous opportunities to continue to grow this.

At the opening of my speech, I highlighted the importance of gatherings such as these in the development of ideas, networks and opportunities.

You have the next few days together, I wish you well in full confidence that there is enormous will to continue to drive this industry forward.

I have great pleasure in declaring the 13th Australasian Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Conference open and invite you to watch a short video presentation showcasing your industry.