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Speech to the ASPI International Space Conference 'Building Australia's Strategy for Space'

Canberra ACT

14 June 2018

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Ladies and gentlemen – I am delighted to provide the opening address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – ASPI’s – 2018 conference.

What a wealth of expertise, experience and entrepreneurship from the Australian space sector we have represented here today.

With the talent and gravitas you all have - as a nation we can feel confident and incredibly optimistic about the future of the space sector.

ASPI’s 2018 conference is focused on ‘Building Australia’s Strategy for Space.’

And that is exactly what the government is focussed on with the creation of our first space agency – the Australian Space Agency – headed by Dr Megan Clark, and which is set to officially commence on 1 July – in a little over two weeks.


The global space economy is worth over US$345 billion and growing. Australia’s share of this is just 0.8 percent.

With the access to the global space economy that our Space Agency will facilitate – it is estimated that we can triple the size of our current domestic industry to approximately $12 billion by 2030, and create up to 20,000 new jobs for Australians.

The Australian Space Agency will therefore play a key role in Australia’s economic future.

Since the space race of the 1950s, the space industry has totally transformed.

What was once strictly the domain of government has now become a flourishing private market with far lower barriers to entry.

The current global market is filled with businesses – large and small - especially those dealing in satellite technology – a particular strength of Australia’s.

The transformation of the space market – and the economic opportunities it presents for Australians – is why the Turnbull Government commissioned the Expert Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability.

We needed to determine exactly what our comparative advantages are and how we can further support and grow them.

As Australians, we have a proud history in space.

Our unique position on the globe – looking right into space – has given us a huge advantage – helping us play key roles in tracking, from the great Apollo missions, right up to the biggest space missions of today.

In just the last year, our tracking facilities have provided crucial support to:

  • the Juno and Cassini missions;
  • NASA’s InSight mission to Mars that launched last month;
  • the Japanese Hay-a-busa-2 mission to the asteroid Ry-u-gu;

And we have several more missions to come before the year’s end.

This work continues a legacy spanning over half a century.

Neil Armstrong’s legendary steps were relayed to the world through Australian ground stations.

The Dish is part of our national folklore.

And the Expert Reference Group confirmed that Australia’s expertise isn’t confined to the history books – on the contrary, it is alive - and well positioned to grow.

The space industry in Australia currently employs around 10,000 people and has an estimated market size of just under four billion dollars.

Defence forms a great part of this, as does research, and our government agencies: the CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

And much of the commercial sector – from startups - to small businesses - to big corporates – is represented here today.

Global player

Australia already possesses the capabilities required to be a global player in the space industry.

Australian miners and farmers are the best in the world at using space technologies.

We lead the world in automated mining – driving haul trucks via satellite – and of course precision agriculture – using positioning and imagery technology to pinpoint where we need to work on our farms.

We are also an advanced manufacturing nation – making everything from advanced optical instruments used on satellites, to precision medical tools – products that require space capability to operate.

We make our own satellites, big and small!

We also keep the world’s satellites safe – as the only country in the world using lasers to shoot space junk out of orbit.

We are already recognised for our expertise in satellite navigation, data analysis, research and manufacturing.

We have substantial space-related infrastructure. And we have a proven capacity to commercialise.

The Space Agency will now enable our industries to participate in the world’s biggest space missions and projects.

Space Agency

What Australia has lacked to date is a co-ordinating body for our existing space activities – and a single doorway to international participation, of the sort that almost every other OECD nation benefits from already.

For the very first time, the Australian Government is creating such a body.

In this year’s Federal Budget, we’ve kick-started the Agency with an initial allocation of seed funding of $41 million.

This includes operational funding, which will be ongoing.

It also creates a fund dedicated solely to securing international partnerships and giving Australian industry access to this burgeoning global economy.

We have made an initial contribution of $15 million to this fund.

When the Agency commences on 1 July, the Agency’s first task will be to prepare a national space industry strategy and investment plan.

This work, which we aim to complete by the end of the year, will inform the Government’s continuing investment.

The Fund will enable the Agency to partner with international space agencies on strategic space projects; providing a platform for Australian business participation.

Involvement in these space projects and missions will provide an opportunity for Australian businesses to take part in international space-related supply chains.

Commencement of Agency

As I have said - the Australian Space Agency will commence operations on 1 July 2018. Its four core responsibilities will be:

  • Supporting the development of Australia’s space industry
  • Coordinating domestic activities in Australia’s space sector
  • Leading space-related international engagement; and
  • Providing strategic direction for Australia’s space activities.

In short, the Agency will be responsible for setting Australia’s strategic direction in the civil space sector.

In order for Australian businesses to engage fully with the global space economy, Australia needs to partner with other overseas space agencies through targeted investment in international space programs.

This will open the door to our businesses to participate in the world’s largest space mission and projects.  And of course, it will produce flow-on benefits that will be felt right across the Australian economy.

It will create high-wage, long-term jobs across the nation – including in rural and regional areas, and especially in STEM disciplines.

In the coming 12 months, we will see the Agency’s strategy crystallise.

It will build on Australia’s capabilities and competitive advantage, optimise our research and development opportunities, and identify growth areas in our civil space sector.

Our future investments will need to be well targeted to get our capabilities in these areas to world standard so that we are globally competitive.

Space Law Reform

As an adjunct to these ground breaking initiatives, the government has been working on ensuring that there are no legislative impediments preventing our industry from engaging in the international market.

We are reforming Australia’s space laws to make it easier for our domestic industry to participate.

The Space Activities Act, was first introduced over two decades ago.

Since this time business operations in the space industry have substantially changed.

The space economy of today is moving faster than ever before. We need our regulatory system to be equally dynamic.

Recently, the Turnbull Government introduced the Space Activities Amendment Bill into the House of Representatives.

As many of you will know well, this Bill is the culmination of comprehensive consultation that began with the review we announced in October of 2015.

I’d like to thank all of you who participated in that review process.

And I particularly want to express my thanks to Professor Steven Freeland – who is here today – for his advice throughout this process, and for giving our Government the benefit of his unparalleled expertise.

Through this bill, we are reducing red tape for space-related businesses in Australia.

The regulatory changes will include faster and simpler licensing arrangements for launches and returns – by streamlining the approvals process and the insurance requirements for these activities.

It will also provide better regulation for rocket launches to reflect modern practices around the globe.

These updates include new arrangements to facilitate the safe launch of high-powered rockets, and the safe launch of rockets from aircraft in flight.

The effect of these changes will be to bring Australia in line with global practice.

They will reduces barriers to participation, and encourage more private space investment in our space industry – ultimately helping our businesses create more jobs for Australians.

Agency’s Goals

When it comes to making Australia a bigger player in the global space economy, the Australian Space Agency has another important role.

We must demonstrate Australia’s capability and potential in the domestic and global space economy.

We will see the Agency address several strategic priorities through its work – including:

  • Lifting our satellite infrastructure to world-class standard;
  • Building on our world-leading earth observation analysis capability;
  • Developing communication technology, services and ground stations;
  • Excelling in space situational awareness and debris monitoring;
  • Building on Australia’s research strengths in quantum communications, astronomy, planetary science, space medicine, and antennae and sensor technology; and
  • Improving our world-leading capability in remote asset management that will link how we work in space to how we work on earth. 

The rigorous work of Dr Megan Clark and her colleagues over the last year informs these priorities, and underpins the Agency’s work for its first phase of operation.

Agency’s location

I have been extremely encouraged by the interest shown by all the states and territories in the Agency.

As you know, the Agency has an interim home in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science for its first 12 months of operation.

I look forward to Dr Clark beginning her consultations shortly with each of the states and territories, one on one, to properly ascertain what they can bring to the table; and to her further consultations with industry and academia.

This will be an open and collaborative process that will ensure the best outcome for our nation.

At the conclusion of this process – before the end of this year – Dr Clark will advise of the most strategic arrangements for the Agency’s long-term location.

Satellite investment

The Australian Space Agency funding is just one part of the Turnbull Government’s $300 million space investment package in this year’s Budget.

Complementing the Agency is the Government’s investment of over $260 million to provide Australians with world-class satellite technology.

These measures are critical to enabling Australian businesses – big and small, and across many sectors – to improve their products and services, and their global competitiveness. It is a big investment with the assurance of big returns.

Currently, through our GPS, Australians can only rely on accuracies of five to ten metres.

Our new funding will hone this to 10 centimetres across Australia, and to just 3 centimetres in areas with mobile phone coverage.

This involves the development of a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) tested across ten industry sectors, and the upgrade of the National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIC), which is Australia’s GPS ground tracking network and analytics capability.

What does this mean on the ground?

  • It means that farmers will be able to cut costs and reduce waste by remotely tracking livestock – and precisely target crops with fertiliser, water and pesticides.
  • It means that the Royal Flying Doctor Service will able to land more safely, and in more remote locations.
  • It means the world’s largest ships will have a quicker, easier and safer way to dock in busy ports like Sydney Harbour.

We’ve also made a further investment in Digital Earth Australia, a platform that uses satellite-recorded spatial data and images to detect physical changes across the Australian continent.

These observations will be available to governments and industry.

This digital platform is helping us understand environmental changes, such as water availability, crop growth and urban expansion.

It’s enabling better decision making and planning.

It’s increasing productivity in the agricultural and mining industries.

And it’s supporting a rapidly growing market – here and globally – for spatial information and services.


The government’s investment in the space industry is helping us make better investment decisions, improve our productivity, open up our markets, create new jobs, and build our skills.

It is literally revolutionising how we do business and how we live.

For the first time in Australia’s history, we will have a national space agency that will co-ordinate all these activities, and bring Australia’s businesses to the world.

The Agency will showcase our incredible talents. It will open the door for our businesses to create jobs by working on the biggest missions in the world.

And I am confident it will also help Australians see the endless possibilities of careers in space – and inspire our younger generation to pursue STEM studies.

I look forward to the exciting months and years ahead – working with you as the Australian Space Agency takes shape and becomes a permanent part of our economy.

– ENDS –