House debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2024


Treaties Joint Committee; Report

6:30 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's Report 217: AU-US space launches.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—I am pleased to make a statement on the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties' report Report 217: AU-USspace launches. The report focuses on JSCOT's inquiry into a new major treaty action, the agreement between the government of Australia and the government of the United States of America on technology safeguards associated with the United States's participation in space launches from Australia.

Australia is an active contributor to space activities, and, through the Australian Space Agency, we continue to remain engaged on the matter of space regulation. Australia is committed to safe and secure space operations with the aim of transforming and growing a globally respected Australian space sector.

The aim of the agreement is to provide a legal and technical framework to protect US launch vehicles, spacecraft, related equipment and technical data. This will better enable US companies, government organisations and universities to undertake commercial space launch activities in Australia.

Australia is an attractive partner for space collaboration and space flight because of our geography; our ability to access different orbits that are not available in other parts of the world; our wide open ranges; and, of course, our stability, effective regulatory framework and skilled workforce. The committee received evidence that, by collaborating with a global space heavyweight, like the US, Australia will be able to increase our space launch capacity and capability and open new partnerships with other like-minded nations, which, in-turn, will expand our space sector across the board. The value of the global space sector is expected to rise to US$1.1 trillion by 2040, and the reduction in space launch payload costs will mean that Australia is well positioned to be involved in collaborative space industry endeavours. It was the committee's view that ratification of the agreement will assist not only the development of our space sector but also the Australian economy more broadly through related manufacturing and service business activity.

Given all these benefits and opportunities, and considering a range of related factors, the committee believes that ratification of the Australia-US Space Launches Agreement is in Australia's national interest. JSCOT conducted its inquiry into the agreement through a public hearing during which officials from the Australian Space Agency, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade participated. Other key stakeholders from the space industry, law and governance sectors also gave evidence, as you can imagine.

The inquiry did cover key issues, like expanding the scope of our bilateral relationship with the US, regional engagement, economic benefits, capacity building for Australia's space industry and the significance of the US in the space sector. More specific issues relating to the agreement were also canvassed by committee members, like the need for a collaborative approach between industry and government alongside the appropriate safeguards and protections, management of relevant reviews and reporting under the auspices of the agreement, the use of segregated areas within Australia to conduct space activities covered by the agreement and related intellectual property rights.

The 'controlled and segregated areas' part of the agreement will be a matter of interest to some in the community. It means that US space launches in Australia have access to areas that will be highly restricted, in the main. That, understandably, raises questions of sovereign control, appropriate land management with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and whether such restricted access could, in practice, provide benefits to the Australian space industry. The committee was provided with evidence that the tight control of these areas is critical to provide assurances that US technology will be protected, but through the agreement Australian authorities retain—and this is important—facilitated access to segregated areas to conduct all of the usual official duties and functions, particularly in exigent circumstances such as fire, police or health emergencies.

On that basis and for all those reasons, the committee supports the Australia-US space launches agreement and has recommended that binding treaty action be taken. I thank the deputy chair and other committee members for their work, and of course the secretariat for the way they support what we do through this important process. On behalf of the committee, I commend the report to the House.

6:35 pm

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I rise to commend this report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties to the House. The agreement between the government of Australia and the government of the United States of America on the technology safeguards associated with the United States participation in space launches from Australia was signed in the USA on 26 October last year.

The global space industry is growing rapidly and is predicted to more than double in value over the next 20 years, so it makes sense that if our close ally the US is keen to partner with Australia for launches, we should absolutely do all we can to encourage that. That's what this treaty is about. It's about ensuring sensitive US technology is protected. Not only will it protect US interests, but it will help build the Australian space industry, creating new jobs and providing opportunities for companies. We have previously ratified all five space treaties, and we have multiple other treaties with the US already.

It's important in all this that our own national interests are upheld, and the committee is satisfied that they are. However, the opposition is keen to see the Australian space industry does receive a tangible benefit from partnerships like this. During hearings, we heard evidence that regulatory barriers could hinder the development of Australia's space industry. The government must ensure that it prioritises Australian industry. We do not want to see a situation where Australian companies are facing higher regulatory barriers than international companies. We must ensure there is a balance between facilitating international participation and fostering a strong domestic industry.

We'd also like to see a clear strategy in the government to foster an Australian space capability with government programs to help local companies establish their credibility and capability rather than just relying on the market forces to develop the sector. So while not directly related to the treaty, we encourage the government to do more to facilitate domestic growth in this sector in a timely manner while maintaining appropriate safeguards.

I would like to thank all those involved in the public hearing—those who provided submissions, the chair, the rest of the committee and the secretariat, who have been back and forth since 4.30 this afternoon to hear this. Thank you. You do an amazing job, and we thank you for your support. I commend this treaty report to the House.

Debate adjourned.