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Doorstop – Memorandum of Understanding between Australian Space Agency and Tasmanian Government

25 September 2019

Interviewer: 
Journalists

Subject:  Australian Space Agency, Tasmanian space industry

E&OE

With Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman and Minister for Science and Technology Michael Ferguson.

Will Hodgman: Karen Andrews, welcome to Tasmania. So much of what we are doing together fits very much in your areas of responsibility and it’s great to have you here along with your federal colleagues, of which we have Senator Jonno Duniam and Senator Claire Chandler with us today. I’m thrilled to be with my Minister for Science and Technology, Michael Ferguson, and also newly returned Member for Clark, Madeleine Ogilvie, who you may be aware was one of our state’s first MPs to start talking about our opportunities in space. So we thought it appropriate that Madeleine join us today as well and acknowledge that.

Anthony Murfett’s here. He’s the Deputy Head of the ASA [Australian Space Agency] and will speak in a moment as well. And I want to acknowledge the extraordinary collaboration already with the Agency in its early days and the level of interest in what role Tasmania may play. And you will talk a little more about that. And if you want to be inspired on this subject, spend some time with Megan Clark and Anthony and they’ll certainly open your eyes to what opportunities there are for Tasmania. To Jeff Aiden and to the University of Tasmania, who are also represented today, I want to acknowledge them as important partners and just briefly note the commitments – of not only our government but of governments across the world in being part of the opportunities that space and science presents. As I mentioned in our Parliament this morning, Tasmania is making great advances in a number of areas where we have strategic capability, some history of not only success in capability but also in innovation; and a lot of which will be progressed through this MoU that we sign today.

It is really important for governments to work collaboratively, and I again acknowledge the contributions of the Morrison Government to our state’s economic development and co-investments in important areas including in renewable energy, in building our infrastructure, supporting the education and training and skills base in our state; but also in exciting new niche opportunities such as advanced manufacturing and our defence industries. So the signing of this MoU today will prove to be a compact of our shared commitment. It will frame up our shared objectives and ambitions, and I’m very delighted that the state and the Commonwealth and our respective agencies and other organisations that will assist us come together today to explore some of the opportunities that my Minister and others will, no doubt, now speak about.

So I’ll leave my comments at that, and Karen, I invite you to speak.

Karen Andrews: Thank you. Thank you very much, Premier.

It is an absolute pleasure to be back in Tasmania to be a part of the signing of this very important and strategic Memorandum of Understanding, effectively between the Australian Space Agency and the Tasmanian Government. What this Memorandum of Understanding does is bring together and formalises the commitment of the Australian Space Agency, the Federal Government and the Tasmanian Government to grow the space sector right here in Tasmania. Now, we know that we already have a vibrant space sector here in Tasmania. We want to make sure that we’re growing that and creating economic and job opportunities. Now, you will have heard that there’s been an announcement in the last few days: $150 million that the Federal Government will commit to working with NASA as part of their next space mission. What I want to be very clear about is that this is not money that is going to NASA; this is money that will be spent growing Australian businesses. And as the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, I can assure you: I am very focused on working with the Premier here in Tasmania and with other states and territories to make sure that we are growing Australia’s space capability. We will be supporting businesses to develop their technologies and we will work with NASA to make sure that Australian technology is part their next mission.

Now, I will leave it to others here today to speak more fully about the work that is being done with remote health and what Tasmania is working on with Antarctica, because a lot of that technology, a lot of that capability is going to be very useful for NASA in its space missions. So we have opportunities for Tasmania to look at our space tracking capabilities, to look at space debris and to look at remote health opportunities. That will be the first discussions that we have with NASA in building our capability. This Memorandum of Understanding formalises the commitment between the Federal Government, the Australian Space Agency and the Tasmanian Government.

Question: So in a practical sense, what will this mean to Tassie people?

Karen Andrews: The Memorandum of Understanding establishes the formalities of a relationship that has been well and truly worked on for the last couple of months. So, I really want to congratulate the Tasmanian Government. They have been so keen to formalise this agreement because this is essentially the starting point of the space race for Tasmania. So what we will be doing is working very closely with the Tasmanian Government to make sure that we are creating the opportunities to grow existing industries, create new industries and create new jobs. Now, the areas that we are initially focused on are going to be in remote medicine, remote health, but we're also looking at the communications and the radio and optical telescope work that is done through Tasmania, and has been done for some time.

Now, Tasmania does have a strong relationship with NASA so we will be building on that. So what this means is that it's an opportunity for kids at school to be engaged in space, to learn about science, technology, engineering and maths, and know that there will be jobs for them in the future and maybe they’ll go to space themselves one day.

Question: On the ground, what are some of the things that will be actually rolled out from this MoU?

Karen Andrews: What you’ll actually see is quite a lot of activity around the remote health areas. We'll certainly be doing all we can to make sure that the Australian Space Agency has a strong presence. We'll be doing some work locally with schools to make sure that we’re engaging, because a clear part of this is the inspirational message, that we do know that the jobs of the future require STEM skills so we need to be encouraging kids to study science, technology and maths subjects at school. But that's not the message they're interested in. What they're interested in is what space has to offer and to get there and to be involved in that, they need to have a solid grounding in science and maths. So we will be using the resources of the Australian Space Agency. We’ll also be using our Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, to make sure that we are encouraging the growth of the space sector here in Tasmania.

Question: Why choose Tasmania to roll this out?

Karen Andrews: Well, we will be working with every state and territory because this is an Australian mission that we're working on, but there are unique capabilities in Tasmania. So, we don't want to duplicate effort across every state and territory, so we are working on the areas that Tasmania has expertise in right here, and we'll work with other states where they have quite unique capabilities. So, the work Tasmania is doing is very important.

Question: What similar arrangements have you put in place with other states and territories?

Karen Andrews: We are looking to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with other states and territories and we will be looking at rolling out the space strategy. So yes, Tasmania is a key part of that but it is part of the whole picture for Australia.

Question: Is Tasmania the first one to sign it?

Karen Andrews: No, it’s not. Neither is it the last.

Question: What does this mean for Tasmania [inaudible]…?

Will Hodgman: Yeah. Look, I will ask Michael to make some observations as well because the capability that Tasmania also already has in addition to the opportunities are immense. And we have a unique position as an island state very close through our gateway to Antarctica to research- world leading research that occurs there, but also through the University of Tasmania, through the Antarctic Division itself and other key agencies. We’ll be able to offer extraordinary job opportunities for Tasmanians into the future. We've got the technological capability here but also immense intellectual capacity and I think that will be another of those niche areas that positions Tasmania very well to be a centre of excellence, and this MoU lays the foundations for that to occur.

Michael Ferguson: Look, I think the Premier has canvassed the field perfectly. I'd add that this is an exciting message, as Karen indicated, to young Tasmanians, to study science, love your science, and learn about mathematics and talk to your teacher about what these kinds of new opportunities could mean for your future career pathways. This is an exciting industry but it's also a growing industry. And when you know that an industry has a strong growth profile, we know that you can have not just a great and exciting career but longer job certainty. So, we want to encourage people to continue to pursue their studies at school, at TAFE and at university, to pursue the STEM subjects because we need you, and we're going to need these skills to make sure that this industry does grow, including here in Tasmania.

The second comment I’d offer is that this is about maturing Tasmania's existing capabilities and in that, I refer to our people, the relationships that they already have interstate and abroad, and the advanced manufacturing piece that the Premier has in fact been leading as one of his portfolios. These things taken together mean that Tasmania, as part of the global space community, can actually be seeing jobs here in Tasmania that are contributing to stellar missions and projects, which I think is very exciting. It places Tasmania firmly on the map but importantly, we get the economic benefits and the lifestyle benefits for Tasmania.

Question: Has this got anything to do with Scott Morrison being in the US at the moment and his NASA comments?

Michael Ferguson: It’s everything to do with that. And in fact, the timing is so perfect. We've been working with the Australian Space Agency with the Premier and with Minister Andrews even before that big announcement. But the timing couldn't be better. It actually adds so much more meat to the work that we've been doing and we're just thrilled about that because it again just adds so much confidence, knowing that this exciting industry is getting a significant boost from the Commonwealth with the capability that Tasmania is able to offer.

Question: [Inaudible question]?

Michael Ferguson: Well, actually we've got a decades long relationship between the University [of Tasmania], with its tracking systems and telescopes, optical and radio, with the existing space community and NASA, but also through the Centre for Antarctic Remote and Maritime Medicine – strong relationships there because although Antarctica is land based, as I indicated earlier, it's very remote and people are very far away from emergency medical help when they need it. So we’ve been building this capability, and NASA have been very interested in it, and there is an existing relationship which will now only strengthen.

Question: If we’ve already got an existing relationship with NASA, how will that evolve after this?

Michael Ferguson: Yes, it will, because the federal government are providing Tasmania out of this engagement with $1.2 million to further build the capability and improve the telescope network that University of Tasmania already have. And also importantly, this is about opening doors for Tasmania to gain access to these new and emerging markets, which will mean jobs for Tasmanians.

Question: Do you see opportunities in the north and northwest, or will it be predominately in the south of the state?

Michael Ferguson: I’m sure that Minister Andrews will want to add to this because she’s responsible for giving to Tasmania one of the most exciting opportunities in a generation through the Blue Economy CRC, which will be based in the north with significant funding. And it plays a role in this advanced manufacturing and advanced technologies that is going to only add to Tasmania. The answer to the question is: yes. This is not a Hobart announcement, this is a Tasmanian announcement, and it's very good for students everywhere. Importantly, every region will have opportunity to start up their space business, to be able to contribute to it, and in Launceston for example, we have specific businesses which have unique capability. For example, Definium Technologies, the like of which exists nowhere else in the state. So yes, this will be the benefits shared around our lovely state.

Question: Karen, do you want to add to the Blue Economy CRC comments?

Karen Andrews: Yes, I will. So the Blue Economy CRC which is based in the north part of Tasmania, is a $70 million commitment from the Federal Government, so it is the largest CRC that we have funded, Cooperative Research Centre. So it builds on relationships between the university and the private sector industry. It was only yesterday when I spoke to the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, and we were talking about advanced manufacturing opportunities related to the CRC, but also relating to space. So what you will see is that there will be growing opportunities for advancement manufacturing here in Tasmania, and Australia's growth centre for advanced manufacturing. We’ll be working closely with the Tasmanian Government to make sure that happens.

Question: Which other states and territories have already signed MoUs?

Karen Andrews: Western Australia, the ACT, and New South Wales.

Question: Do you guys have any expectations [inaudible]…?

Will Hodgman: Sky’s the limit.

Karen Andrews: Absolutely. Our prediction is that by 2030, the space sector across Australia will create an additional 20,000 jobs. Now we want to maximise opportunities in every state, so we will be sitting down and working with the Tasmanian Government about where the high growth opportunities are going to be for jobs. The $150 million that we have committed to work with NASA – not give to NASA – will be very targeted on making sure that we are working to create jobs that are needed, and that includes here in Tasmania.

Question: [Inaudible question]

Michael Ferguson: Just a really important point as he comes across that, from our Government's perspective this is not about putting a Tasmanian on the moon – but that’d be great – but really about the job opportunities, investment, the collaboration with the agencies, university and the division here to lift Tasmania's capabilities for generations to come.

Question: Anthony, what does this mean for Tasmania companies like [indistinct]?

Anthony Murfett: Well, I think we’re at a really exciting stage of the set up; just come back from the US, and seeing the engagement with NASA, with the Australian Government's commitment of 150 million, and what it shows – and it's like what happens here in Tasmania – is that the agency as part of our strategy is to open doors. And I can say what we've done now is open doors. And we can tell the stories about where Australia can participate with our technology and ideas, and the fact that there is a strong relationship in the areas of remote medicine means that we can turbocharge that engagement because we’re able to bring our researchers together, use the great expertise that we have so that we can support NASA, importantly put the first woman and the next man on the moon, but bring them back safely. And Australia can play an instrumental role in that in light of the great research that’s undertaken here in Tasmania.

Question: Is it likely any Tasmanian scientists could travel to the US to work directly with NASA?

Anthony Murfett: So, I won’t be able to answer specifically but I think the opportunities are there because one of the things that we do want to investigate is I do know that the AAD [Australian Antarctic Division] already has strong engagement, will be travelling with us to the International Astronautical Congress in October, and that's where we're going to start some of these conversations about what is the role that Australia can play; what are the roles that states such as Tasmania can play as we look to lift our engagement, and be part of NASA's return to the moon and on to Mars.

Question: How important is Tasmania’s role specifically in the space agency’s plans moving forward?

Anthony Murfett: So if we have a look at our civil space strategy, which sets out our plans to triple the size of Australia’s space sector to $12 million and 20,000 thousand jobs – every state and territory that Megan and I have seen across the nation have a capability that they can provide. If we come here to Tasmania, we’ve spoken through- we’ve got remote medicine. If we have a look at the ships that are just coming, we've got defence manufacturers here that are building cabinets for new frigates. Now, if we think about space, space is now just another place that we can operate, because access to space is a lot cheaper. And it means those manufacturers that are creating new cabinets for ships can now think about: what does that mean for new spacecraft? Because we have the capability and the Agency is here to work with, for example, the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, but importantly our international partners to really showcase what Australia can do. And that means jobs back here in Australia.

Question: So will this MOU kind of help to link up the Space Agency with the people here in Tassie to make sure we have those skills moving forward?

Anthony Murfett: The important thing about the Memorandum of Understanding is it's identified areas where we know Tasmania has strength that allows us to grow and transform a globally respected space industry. What that document then means for the Tasmanian Government as well is that when they’re engaging about opportunities, they can clearly identify the areas where the Agency has said: we know this is part of our broader strategy to grow and transform Australia's space industry.