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Interview – Sky News AM Agenda

23 September 2019

Annelise Nielsen

Subject: NASA Moon to Mars program, space industry


Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews was interviewed on Sky News AM Agenda.

Annelise Nielsen: Returning now to one of our top stories about the US visit and this recent announcement made there that the Australian Government will support the US ambition to get to Mars eventually with a $150 million fund. Joining us live, Karen Andrews, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

Karen, thank you for joining us.

Karen Andrews: It’s a pleasure.

Annelise Nielsen: The big push today is about the number of jobs that will be created from this announcement. How many jobs can Australians expect to come out of this?

Karen Andrews: Well, the Australian space industry is incredibly important to us. It’s currently worth about $4 billion and employs 10,000 people. Our aim during the period of time from now through to 2030 is to grow the sector to $12 billion and an additional 20,000 jobs. Now, the focus of this $150 million announcement is to grow our Australian businesses, to work with NASA and to further develop technologies where we are quite frankly already world-leading. So things such as automation and robotics are the things that we’re going to be discussing initially with NASA to see how we can engage with them further, use our technologies as part of the Moon to Mars missions.

So, in Australia, in the mining sector we’re world leading with a lot of technologies. And if I use the example of mining companies working in the Pilbara, a lot of their work is operated remotely from Perth – so some 1600 kilometres away from where the mining work is actually taking place. So we’re going to be using those as examples when we talk to NASA about how we can support their mission. So in terms of the number of jobs, we’re starting now from a base where we’ve got about 10,000 space related jobs here in Australia, growing those to 20,000 – an additional 20,000. And that’s what we’re going to be focusing on, the creation of jobs and developing technologies.  

Annelise Nielsen: When it comes to those- so if we’ve got 10,000 now and we want to grow it to about 20,000, so those extra 10,000 jobs, they’re likely to be just focused in Adelaide where the space centre is?

Karen Andrews: No, and it’s an additional 20,000 jobs. So it will be 10,000 now plus 20,000 over the next 10 or so years. Now, we’re headquartering the Australian Space Agency in Adelaide at Lot Fourteen, which is an innovation hub complex that they’re establishing in Adelaide. We’re also setting up mission control there and there will be a space discovery centre, because we want to make sure that our young people understand all the opportunities that are there from space. And quite frankly, people really love space and they find it exciting and they find it inspirational. So that work is happening in Adelaide. But also elsewhere around the country. So in Western Australia, we’re providing funding to work in conjunction with the Western Australian Government to look at extending our skills and expertise in robotics and automation. So this will be support for industry right across Australia. So yes, there’s a lot happening in South Australia but there’s also some great things happening in Western Australia, New South Wales and other states and territories around Australia.

Annelise Nielsen: Given that this is quite specialised work, can you guarantee that these jobs will actually go to Australians and won’t be farmed out overseas?

Karen Andrews: Well I’m very, very keen and absolutely committed to growing Australian jobs. So we will be looking at developing a pipeline, and we’ve done that work for a number of years now, particularly focused on STEM – so science, technology, engineering and maths – and growing that pipeline from school into either a vocational education pathway or into a university. So that’s important work that we’ve been doing now for a number of years. So absolutely we want these jobs to be going to Australians. But we also need to recognise that we will need to look at resources from overseas where we don’t have the specialist skills here in Australia or where we need to bring in that expertise from overseas to train Australians for the jobs of the future, so I would be working to maximise the number of jobs for Australians but being realistic and understanding that we will need support from specialist overseas workers.

Annelise Nielsen: So realistically, how many Australians are actually going to be getting these jobs? It sounds like there’s going to be a huge intake from overseas workers to get those specialist skills?

Karen Andrews: Look, I don’t think it’s going to be a huge intake at all because we’ve already got a number of companies in Australia  - I mean, we’ve got 10,000 people already employed in this sector. We’ve got here on the Gold Coast Gilmour Technologies that have already developed some world class technology with their sounding rockets - so the test rockets. There’s other examples with nanosatellites, Myriota in Adelaide is doing a lot of work in the space sector. And of course you’ve got the large businesses like Boeing, Lockheed Martin that are already employing in the space sector here. But we do have an emerging industry sector that we need to put resources into, hence the $150 million announcement to support NASA in the Moon to Mars mission. And let me be really clear, this is not $150 million that’s going to NASA. This is $150 million to grow Australia’s space sector and that comes on top of all the money that we’ve already put in to the space sector, which now quite frankly totals over half a billion dollars.

And that is an outstanding effort, given that the Australian Space Agency has only been in place for about 14 or 15 months. So we’ve come from, you know, quite a low base. We didn’t have an Australian Space Agency and 14, 15 months later we’ve got a commitment of over half a billion dollars from the Federal Government plus all of the money that the private sector industry is putting in to grow this sector here in Australia. So I’m very confident that we will reach the 20,000 additional jobs that we have targeted. But it’s too early to say exactly how much of that’s going to come out of a $150 million commitment to the NASA Moon to Mars project because we have to sit down with NASA and say, well these are the technologies that we have and this is how we can help you, NASA, in achieving the aim of NASA and also the United States. And look, we also need to be realistic and say at this point in time we don’t know precisely what’s going to come out of that mission. A lot of things came out of the Apollo mission that were not anticipated when the announcement was first made by the United States President that the United States was headed to the moon. Now, what springs to mind for me is kidney dialysis. That came out of the Apollo missions. Now when President Kennedy announced that the US was going to the moon, he didn’t know that that was going to come out of that. That wasn’t going to be a technology. So there’s lots of things that we will uncover that are so important to us.

Annelise Nielsen: So Labor’s saying that this $150 million would be better spent supporting those in drought-stricken parts of the country. Are they right?

Karen Andrews: Well, we do put a lot of money into supporting our farmers and they need every single cent of the support that we’re giving them and state governments and the community is providing to farmers. They are doing it incredibly tough. So the Future Drought Fund, currently- well it will be worth initially $3.9 billion and an additional $100 million will go in in July next year. That’s very important money to our farmers. What this announcement does is provide indirectly a lot of support for our farmers because the technology that will be developed – and in fact some of the technology that is already in place – helps our farmers.

So the earth observation- the information that comes from satellites will help farmers during the drought. It will help them with their sensors. They can now start to track cattle where they are on our very, very large properties here in Australia. All of that comes from space. And I think maybe we need to do some more work with the Australian public to make sure that they understand that each and every day, they use some of the things from space. Every time you look at Google Maps, that’s using technology from space. But that technology is critical to our farmers. And of course it will lead into support and manufacturing industries. And at the moment, 25 per cent of Australian manufacturing is food and food product related.

Annelise Nielsen: Do you see how farmers might be feeling a bit forgotten at the moment though, that they’ve got the Prime Minister off having very glamorous state dinner, announcing huge amounts of money for an international program when they’re really struggling just to get food on the table?

Karen Andrews: Well what’s important is for our farmers to know that we are taking every single step with them every single day and we do understand. All of Australia understands how hard it is for our farmers at the moment. I mean, the drought is having a terrible impact on their livelihoods and on their families. So it is a very, very significant issue. But we also want to make sure that we are helping our farmers now in the short term and in the long term, and the additional resources that we’re putting in to the space sector is designed to help them and to help other parts of Australian industry so that we are looking to the future as well as looking at how we help our farmers now.

Annelise Nielsen: Karen Andrews, Industry and Technology Minister, thank you for your time.

Karen Andrews: It’s a pleasure.