Labor pledge $7.5m for SKA telescope

James Riley
Editorial Director

An elected Labor government would provide $7.5 million towards a major telescope project in Western Australia in a “white coat meets blue collar” policy announcement.

The funding will be provided to the CSIRO and Pawsey Centre and will be used to boost the capability of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in WA and to pay for more workers on the project.

The SKA is a major radio telescope project that will be constructed in Western Australia and South Africa. Currently in a pre-construction phase, the telescope will have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre, making it 50 times more sensitive than any other existing radio instrument and allow astronomers to survey vast areas of the sky in parallel for the first time.

SKA: Labor’s $7.5m pledge aims to support local staffing and local procurement opportunities.

Construction on the telescope is set to begin next year.

The core site for the telescope will be at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory at Mileura Station near Boolardy in Western Australia. Operated by CSIRO, Australia will be hosting the low frequency component of the telescope.

The SKA-Low in Australia will involve 130,000 antennas spread over 800km, along with new data and power infrastructure that will be able to process huge amounts of data each second.

Labor’s funding would help to “ensure scientists that will deliver the SKA will have the skills and capabilities they need to analyse the data from what will be the world’s largest and most advanced telescope”.

It will also go towards developing a data science for the SKA strategy and a skills and workforce plan, along with the recruitment of additional data scientists at the Pawsey Centre.

The Opposition would also work to “maximise procurement opportunities” for Australian companies involved with the construction, and require that one in 10 workers in the project are local apprentices.

“The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has dilly dallied on support for the SKA and have instead chosen to wage a war on science, which Labor will end. This investment is a classic example of Labor’s 21st century innovation policy where white coat meets blue collar, with the best scientific advice translating into quality blue collar jobs,” Labor shadow ministers said in a joint statement.

“Unlike the Liberals, Labor understands that to create good jobs and keep pace with technological change, Australia must remain globally competitive and build the industrial structure of the 21st century.”

The SKA project received $294 million in federal funding as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda in late 2015.

Labor said the announcement brings its total pledged funding for the Australian space sector to nearly $80 million.

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