Labor’s big fat space promise

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James Riley

Federal Labor has unveiled a $35 million policy package to support the burgeoning Australian space sector, with a goal to double the size of the industry in five years.

Clearly the Opposition wants to get a jump on the Federal government in detailing its plans for the space sector a long way out from the next election.

While both parties have committed to forming a national space agency, the government is waiting on an expert committee to report its findings before it makes any big announcements on its plans for space.

Big spender: Labor has promised a huge boost to space sector support in Australia

The committee is expected to deliver its report by the end of this month, and further details and funding commitments for the space agency would be expected in this year’s budget.

Labor on Thursday announced its own set of policies for the space sector, focusing on research and industry.

The Opposition’s Australian Space Industry Program would “promote the development of the Australian space industry”.

The package included the creation of four Australian Research Council Space Industry Research Hubs to “advance capabilities in emerging areas of industry-focused space research and technology”, and two ARC Space Industry Training Centres to provide for 25 industrial PhDs.

It commits $18.5 million to the scheme through the Australian Research Council from its existing Industrial Transformation Research Program, along with the $13 million it has already pledged towards its national space agency.

The aim was to stimulate rapid growth in the local space sector, shadow innovation minister Kim Carr said.

“Labor wants to double the size of the Australian space industry, estimated to be worth $3-4 billion annually in revenues, within five years of the establishment of a space agency,” Senator Carr said.

“This should create around 10,000 new high skill, high wage jobs in advanced manufacturing, research, earth observation and space technologies.”

Labor is positioning its big space push as being all about jobs, and on the use of space technologies in everyday life, like with mobile phone calls and ATM authorisations.

“Australia is one of the most space dependent nations on Earth. Without access to satellites and other space-based applications much of our economy and critical national infrastructure could grind to a halt,” a Labor fact sheet said.

“Australia has the science, technology, infrastructure and skills to punch significantly above its weight in the global space industry. Australia has highly regarded capabilities in astronomy yet no equivalent is to be found in other space technologies.

“It has become clear that we have to rapidly build our capabilities in space to capitalise on the emerging economic opportunities and create new jobs.”

The new policy package focusing on industry and research comes on the back of Labor’s announcement that it would create the Australia Space Science and Industry Agency last year, with $13 million in funding to 2021.

The space agency would “drive investment and coordinate the activities of state governments, scientists, industry and universities to boost the opportunities the global space industry offers”.

Labor’s iteration of the space agency would be based in Canberra, with nodes in each capital city around Australia to “support and liaise with initiatives developed at a state level”.

The Opposition also planned to create a Space Industry Innovation Council to act as the advisory board and set an industry-wide agenda, along with a Space Industry Supplier Advocate to open up opportunities for companies in the space sector.

Australia’s growing space sector is waiting eagerly for the government’s expert review group’s report this month, which will guide the federal government’s policies in the space, and the details of its national space agency.

The delay in any substantial information relating to the space agency has been criticised by Labor.

“The Liberals have been dragged into reluctantly agreeing to establish an Australian Space Agency, its budget, scope, mission and resourcing are as yet unknown, five months after the announcement,” Senator Kim Carr said.

The South Australian Labor Party has also made a big move in the sector as part of its election campaign, with a promise to create a dedicated space industry precinct in Adelaide at the Technology Park in Mawson Lakes.

“Our state is transitioning towards a high-tech future and by fostering innovation we will attract global investment opportunities and increase our share of the multi-billion dollar space, defence and cyber industries,” South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said.

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