Monday, 11 September 2023
Matters of Public Importance
I too rise to speak on this matter of public importance. I congratulate Senator Fawcett for bringing this matter to the attention of the Senate and to the attention of the Australian people, because this is a very important matter. Why is earth observation important? Others have talked about the environmental benefits of earth observation but for my home state of Western Australia—also the home state of my colleagues in the chamber, Senator Dean Smith and Senator O'Sullivan—earth observation is key to the economic development of Western Australia. It's key to the mining industry, in understanding what resources are where, and it's key to the agriculture industry in terms of predicting weather patterns, weather events, bushfire risk and the like. So it is absolutely key to the economic future of our home state of Western Australia, and that is why the National Space Mission for Earth Observation program, which was announced in the March 2022 budget and allocated funding, was so important. It was something that was embraced by our key ally, the United States. I think what is most disturbing and what really needs highlighting is the fact that this government, the Labor government, has treated that alliance with such disrespect.
I want to quote from the FOI-ed emails directly. This is from an adviser in Minister Husic's office, issuing a direction from, apparently, the Prime Minister 's office and Minister Husic to this effect:
Washington, DC post—
to notify US system under strict embargo. Only those who need to know. Note that it was an express preference from the Minister and PMO that US be notified no earlier than Wednesday AU time …
Think about that for a moment. 'It was an express preference from the minister and PMO that the US be notified no earlier than Wednesday AU time.'
Later in that same email it goes on to say, 'MO Husic to brief'—MO is ministerial office, so Husic's ministerial office—'caucus colleagues and select media.' When was that? It was on Wednesday. So the minister and the Prime Minister 's office are directing post to keep the US in the dark so, apparently, the minister can brief caucus colleagues and select media outlets. Does that sound like the way to handle your key geopolitical, geostrategic relationship? You are keeping the US in the dark so the minister has time to brief his caucus colleagues and media outlets. Is that really the way any government would be expected to handle such a sensitive and important matter as space industry development. And it was a commitment made by the Australian government. That should never be forgotten. We should not walk away from our commitments in such a cavalier fashion.
The post in Washington was clearly disturbed by the government's action when they send back an email a bit later on and they use these words—remember, these are diplomats, and in my experience diplomats always choose their words very carefully. How did the diplomats respond? They said: 'Our strong feeling is that we need to brief the NSpC this evening.' For those listening, what is the NSpC? It's the National Space Council, a policy body of the White House. So the diplomatic mission is coming back after being told to keep this quiet to give the minister time to brief caucus and select media outlets. Meanwhile, our diplomatic mission in Washington is saying, 'No, we should be telling the National Space Council this evening.' This is an inappropriate use of power.