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Interview – ABC Radio AM

23 September 2019

Kim Landers

Subject: NASA Moon to Mars program, space industry, critical minerals, rare earths


Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews was interviewed on ABC AM.

Kim Landers: Well the Prime Minister has also used his trip to the US to announce $150 million to help the Australian Space Agency and local businesses be part of NASA’s bid to return astronauts to the moon within five years and then head on to Mars.

Karen Andrews is the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology and she joins me from the Gold Coast. Minister, if the goal is to make Australian businesses the partner of choice when it comes to fitting out NASA missions, what do you think we might contribute to these moon and Mars missions?

Karen Andrews: Well good morning and of course this is a very exciting announcement for Australia and particularly those businesses that are also working in the space industry. Now, what we will do as the first step, now that we’ve made the announcement, is work with NASA and talk to them about where we believe we have a key strategic advantage in supporting them.

Things such as automation are going to be very important to this mission and we have a lot of experience in automation and I’ll call on the experience that we have in the mining sector where for example in the Pilbara, we have mines that are being operated remotely from Perth. So we have experience in automation, we also have experience in robotics. So when we speak with NASA, we will talk to them about where we have great expertise, where we have opportunities to support the mission, but we will start with talking about automation and robotics.

Kim Landers: The Australian Space Agency has only been up and running for over a year. Dozens of other countries have well established space agencies. What makes you think that with a $150 million, Australia can get a significant slice of this space action?

Karen Andrews: Well I think it’s important to look at what has happened since the space agency was established, you know, 14, 15 months ago. Now, we have gone from virtually very little in means of the Government’s involvement in the space sector to where we’ve now committed over half a billion dollars to the space industries. So we’ve come a long way in the 14 or 15 months.

Now, it’s true that we’ve only had the agency in place for a short period of time, but we’ve had very strong links with NASA for 60 years. And 50 years ago, we played a very critical role in the communication relating to the first steps by Neil Armstrong on the moon. So we do have that relationship but it’s true to say that since we have established the Australian Space Agency, our connections and our relationships with the European Space Agency and NASA in particular have gone from strength to strength.

Kim Landers: And by taking part in these missions, does that give us a stake in anything that’s found? For example, mineral resources?

Karen Andrews: Well that’s actually a very good question and I’m sure that’s going to be the focus of some discussions between our space agency and NASA. But the critical part for us is to make sure that Australian businesses are going to be part of the supply chain which means working with NASA so that our businesses understand what the rigorous assessments are going to be of any Australian businesses and their equipment and technologies that are going to be part of NASA’s next mission. So our focus is initially on supporting Australian businesses, making sure that they’re going to be part of the supply chain.

Kim Landers: On the Australian Space Agency itself, it’s aimed mostly at helping with civilian projects like the Mars Mission or is it going to have more of a military focus?

Karen Andrews: Well I wouldn’t rule out anything at this point in time. Space is an opportunity …

Kim Landers: …participating in a space force that the President is touting?

Karen Andrews: Well look, I think that’s probably a long way off into the future if at all. But a lot of the technology from space, and this is where I was actually going with that response, is very important to our military and very important to our weapons. So that’s what our initial focus is going to be. So looking at those technologies that are going to support our defence capability and our defence industries.

Kim Landers: Australia and the US are also teaming up to exploit our reserves of rare earth minerals like lithium and cobalt which are used in everything from mobile phones to computer chips and batteries for electric cars, is this all to ensure that China can’t use its extensive rare earth mineral resources as leverage in the ongoing trade war with the US?

Karen Andrews: Well look, Australia does have an abundance of critical minerals, of rare earths, and we are working hard to make sure that we capture every opportunity that we can from those critical minerals. So Matt Canavan, as the Resources Minster, has already released a critical minerals strategy and what it does do is aim to put Australia as world leading with exploration, extraction and processing of these minerals. I’m looking at, as the Industry Minister, building the industries of the future.

Now, clearly many of the critical minerals are very useful and key components of batteries. So we’ve already announced funding for a CRC for future batteries. We’ve opened further rounds of funding for CRC projects that will look at critical minerals. What I’m determined to do, as Industry Minister, is make sure that we are not just digging these minerals out of the ground and exporting them, we are value adding to them.

Kim Landers: Alright, Minister. Thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

Karen Andrews: It’s a pleasure.

Kim Landers: And that is Karen Andrews, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.