Monday, 11 September 2023
Matters of Public Importance
I too rise to speak on Senator Fawcett's motion on the National Space Mission for Earth Observation program, and I endorse everything that he said. Hiding the truth is just as bad as telling the truth to your friends and allies, and it is the surest way to lose their trust in our relationship, particularly in relationships that are as important as AUKUS. In addition to endorsing Senator Fawcett's comments, I also want to pick up Senator Ayres's points. He admitted that this was a cost-cutting measure, but it's somewhat incongruous, because in question time we had the finance minister saying what a fabulous surplus they're going to have. The two statements do not add up.
But, as a previous defence minister, I want to also add that this decision will not only impact our defence-to-defence relationship at AUKUS but also result in the degradation of defence space capability. In 2020, as the minister at the time, in the Defence Strategic Update I introduced a standalone space capability domain as a standalone defence operational domain. This is now critical and fundamental to defence operations, particularly to ADF's joint force, which relies on access to space systems and space situational awareness. The simple fact is that our potential adversaries are significantly increasing their offensive space capabilities in a range of areas, and no single nation, not even the United States, can tackle these threats on their own. Interoperability and every single nation, in terms of our friends and allies—we all have to do our own share of the heavy lifting. While this is a civilian space capability, those who have worked in this sector for some time know that, with our allies, the most successful defence and civilian space capability programs are those that operate together.
This program that the Labor Party have surreptitiously cut for budgeting purposes, as Senator Ayres has now admitted, will have a significant implication on defence as well. One of the things that the war in Ukraine has proven is how irregular warfare tactics work in the modern era. Part of that involves Russia operating in the grey zone in space when it comes to their tactics to block an impact on satellite systems of not just Ukraine but also their allies. So we are now well and truly in an era of irregular warfare in space, and we and our allies must adapt to this. As I've said, that not only requires defence capabilities. It also requires, increasingly, defence to work with civilian space capabilities.
To develop the right countermeasures, the threats must be identified and we must have redundancies in our defence systems in case they are taken out. Amongst the grey-zone space threats we now confront are cyberattacks against space services, attacks on commercial space capabilities during conflict, and the conduct of proximity operations. That may potentially be to coerce those you're in direct conflict with, as in the case of Ukraine. Alternatively, some of our potential adversaries could do that to us to intimidate us—something short of war. Cyberattacks against the United States satellite firm Viasat ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are an example of that. So cyberspace is a soft underbelly of our global space networks. Far from cutting the services for which we have gone into joint arrangements with the United States, we should continue to increase them.
Coming back to defence, as the minister I ensured that the Morrison government significantly increased investment in Defence space capabilities, including a plan for a network of satellites to provide an independent and sovereign communications network. But, as I said, for Defence the civilian satellite networks are also incredibly important. I also implemented an enhanced space control program and investment in space situational awareness, including sensors and tracking systems, and I also ensured that Defence worked more closely with the space industry here in Australia and overseas and with other relevant government agencies including, most importantly, the Australian Space Agency. Again, we stumped up an extra $7 billion for these space capabilities for Defence. Not only have Labor axed space as a priority in their National Reconstruction Fund, whereas it had been a priority under the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which was an initiative of ours; they are now— (Time expired)