Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Statements by Senators

Western Australia: Space Research

1:13 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to talk about something that we don't talk enough about in this place, and that is space. As a senator for the great state of Western Australia, I have so much to be proud of in our great state. But, first and foremost, I am always proud of our spirit of enterprise, innovation and ingenuity. Over my three years as a senator I have come to know many of WA's leading researchers, innovators and pioneers of future industries who are involved in a wide range of groundbreaking projects, particularly relating to space exploration research and space technologies.

Many Australians might not know, and I believe most Western Australians don't know, that Western Australia already plays a significant role in Australia's space capability. In fact, Western Australia has been involved in the WA space industry since 1960, when the Muchea Tracking Station was built. Last week the WA opposition leader, Dr Mike Nahan, and I made a joint submission to the government's review of the future of Australia's space industry capability. In our submission, Dr Nahan and I recommended we establish an Australian space agency based on the UK Space Agency model but incorporating aspects of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory—which I had the pleasure of doing a 12-month project for, so I am familiar with that organisation. I believe that Western Australia would be very well placed, in fact is very well placed, to host such an agency.

Since the opening of the Muchea facility in 1960, Western Australia has become home to a wide variety of civilian and defence space facilities, many of which I have had the pleasure of visiting. Probably the most exciting new development in this area is the fact that Western Australia is co-hosting the Square Kilometre Array with South Africa. When completed, it will be the world's most powerful telescope. Evidence of that is that its precursor facilities in the Murchison region are already unlocking secrets of the universe and are going back further and further towards the big bang.

There is no doubt that the SKA is already cementing Western Australia as a leader in the global space industry, but it is, as I said, a welcome addition to many other existing facilities we have right across Western Australia. They include the Murchison Widefield Array, the Desert Fireball Network, the European Space Agency's deep space antenna in New Norcia, the Perth International Telecommunications Centre, the Western Australian Space Centre and the Learmonth Solar Observatory. WA is also home to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, a joint venture between CSIRO, Curtin University, UWA, Edith Cowan University and Murdoch University, and it is supported by both state and federal governments. There are a also a large number of significant space-related research and development initiatives happening at both Curtin University and UWA. In fact, so much work is now happening at Curtin University that NASA now recognises Curtin University as the formal representative of Australia's planetary science community.

Even more excitingly, Curtin and UWA have now joined forces to form the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research. This is an exciting new development that provides a great opportunity for Western Australia to continue to grow as a global leader in this space. ICRA scientists are working on projects with the European Space Agency, with NASA and with other research teams in Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom. The centre currently has 100 staff and 34 graduates across a wide variety of disciplines, and it is growing fast. Since it was founded, ICRA has published more than 900 peer reviewed journal articles and has grown into, in a very short period of time, one of the most globally renowned centres of its kind. The centre also works with the team at the SKA, the Australian SKA Pathfinder, the Murchison Widefield Array and of course the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. Unsurprisingly, given our extensive facilities and research initiatives, the WA workforce already has a strong presence in the space sector with an enormous potential to expand. In fact, back in 2015 an independent report commissioned by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science found that WA was the third-largest employer in Australia in the space industry, but this didn't include the government employees, the researchers and those already in WA employed by foreign space agencies. Today, there are thousands of people in Western Australia working right across this sector in a wide variety of disciplines.

Another advantage Western Australia has is that our advanced manufacturing and fabrication industries—over 8,000 companies—also have the potential to contribute to this growing national space industry, just as they are now turning their mind to supporting the burgeoning defence industry in Western Australia. WA has some other unique features which make it uniquely placed to take an even larger share of Australia's space industry—in particular, our geographic location. Our extensive remote areas make it a very attractive place for major space projects. WA possesses the perfect combination of low population density, minimal electromagnetic interference and high air quality, which all come together to create ideal conditions for radio antenna, telescopes and other sensitive electronic measuring devices needed for both Defence and civilian space projects. It is clear that in Western Australia we have it all. We have the prime location, the existing facilities, the skill base and the capability to grow.

Australia is currently the only OECD country that does not have its own national space agency. Our cousins over the ditch have one because they, too, recognise the benefits to the economy, the research endeavours and the technological developments. The bottom line for us here in Australia is that it is a growing industry of the future where there will be thousands and thousands of jobs for Australians. Consistent growth in the global space industry paired with Australia's current activities and capabilities in the space sector, a decision to form an Australian space agency will provide exciting opportunities to develop new industries and jobs across Australia, particularly in Western Australia. This, of course, means jobs for the long term.

Identifying key priorities in line with global trends and the foundation of an Australian space agency would bring all these activities together under one roof, and it would give our universities and industry a much greater level of guidance and focus for research and implementation. Critically, providing the appropriate resources to industry and academia in terms of advice and funding would also enable Australia to take advantage of a greater share of the burgeoning global space economy. It would allow our nation to contribute to global space capability and, particularly, to further engage with a number of international industry and research bodies.

I'm delighted to say that I'm currently working with Western Australia's universities, and we are preparing a proposal to put to the Commonwealth government which could see, very quickly, a state-of-the-art industry and space research centre in Perth. This Australian space technology industry and research centre would bring together the best and brightest minds in Australia under one roof with international agencies, government and industry, all applying their knowledge and capability to building a national space centre. If approved, the facility would be based in structure and concept on NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We envisage that it would employ initially at least 500 staff, and it would either be able to operate within the construct of an Australian space agency or be a stand-alone facility, if that wasn't to proceed. I would particularly like to commend all of Western Australia's universities for working together so harmoniously on this proposal and for acting quickly to take advantage of the Commonwealth government's current review.

Given the significant capability and global leadership Western Australia has demonstrated in the space sector, I don't believe that it is a matter of if Western Australia will be involved in any future national endeavours because, quite clearly, we already are. The real question for Western Australia now is: how can we value-add and enhance what we already have to take advantage of these exciting new opportunities and create thousands and thousands of jobs for the long term? Watch this space—the future of this industry is very bright indeed.


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