Three reasons Labor’s cuts to space funding are detrimental — Matter of Public Importance Debate Matters of Public Interest

I rise to address this matter of public importance because the decision made by the Albanese government to cut the funding for this program is significant in three areas which I will address: firstly, the substantive impact on Australia’s space industry; secondly, the secondary impacts for areas such as defence; and, thirdly, the diplomatic impact of the decision, made without transparency, that has affected not only Australia and our defence capabilities but also our allies.

To the substantive effect: the $1.2 billion National Space Mission for Earth Observation was an important program. The reason it was supported by the former coalition government was that we saw the benefit of having a sovereign satellite capability that would stretch over the next two decades.

Defence, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology saw the benefits in terms of security—particularly maritime security—weather observation, climate change, water quality assessment and environmental monitoring, as well as looking at things like disaster preparation. Importantly, what it meant was that Australia would have the funding and the investment in our own industry to be able to design and build four satellites so that we would have not only that ability to not only design the satellite payload, the satellite bus, the launch vehicle and the launch system but also the ability to tile that together and launch and operate these satellites.

Not only would that serve those domestic purposes but it would also mean that we would not be a free-rider in the world of satellites and strategic data services but a contributor to our own uses and to those of our allies, including the United States.

Cutting this program has built upon a pattern of behaviour by the Albanese government.

In March I spoke about the fact that in their national reconstruction fund bill, space was one area they overlooked—in contrast to the coalition, who in our national manufacturing priorities made space one of the primary areas. We invested in a whole range of areas such as international space investment, the Space Infrastructure Fund, the Moon to Mars mission and Australia’s first national space mission.

The CEO of the Space Industry Association of Australia, James Brown, has said that the National Space Mission for Earth Observation was ‘the most strategic and significant space public policy in 40 years’. ASPI’s Malcolm Davis has highlighted that this decision is political, it’s a short-term money grab and it ignores the long-term benefits to the economy, to defence and to our national interest.

The remarks attributed to the minister’s office say there’s nothing to see here.

They say ‘there were no commercial contracts entered into’. Importantly, and this is emblematic of what it means for the space industry, the CEO of the Space Industry Association of Australia has highlighted that as a result of this cancellation, investments that were planned for Australia’s space sector already being cancelled. So there will be no more commercial arrangements entered into if this is the way the Albanese government proceeds.

Going to defence, we see in the media recently that a number of nations are creating capabilities to disable satellites, which means that in a conflict where we may need our own industry to be able to launch satellites with both ISR and communications packages, we will no longer have a pathway to enable them to do that in a timely manner, because this program has been cut. Lastly, on the diplomatic side, by not being transparent with the US and, importantly, by cutting this program, we’ve actually severed a relationship with one of our strategic partners.

I notice in the speaking points were the key messages that were uncovered only through freedom of information: key message 23, subparagraph (c), from the Albanese government said ‘we appreciate this likely poses challenges for Congress on appropriations and complicates your planning’.

Congress, at this exact moment, is debating whether or not they pass legislation to support Australia with things like the AUKUS agreement.

Given how important AUKUS is, memo to Minister Albanese: you and your decisions are not helping.