Boeing Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific president and former Australian Defence minister, Brendan Nelson, has urged the federal government to take a coordinated approach to growing Australia’s space industry.
“What there needs to be is an overall coordination of our entire space effort, which goes through not just the development and manufacture of sovereign domestic space-related technologies and capabilities, but also ensuring that everybody in every part of the sector is aware of the potential risks to our economic, social, and other forms of security,” he told the Standing Committee currently conducting an inquiry into the development of Australia’s space industry on Thursday.
“From our point of view, we think at the moment there is money in defence, there’s money in different parts of government and supporting programs, there are different areas of responsibility held in different portfolios for space, so ideally what should happen is there should be a single overarching process, which brings together defence, commercial, and institutional elements of space.”
He envisages that this could happen by establishing a council that would bring together “disparate elements of the sector” — including universities, the training sector, small startups through to big corporations and “everything in between”, publicly funded research institutions, entrepreneurs in the space sector, the chief scientist, representatives from different geographies, plus ministers in relevant portfolios — to develop a work program, so it’s not just a “talk fest”.
“You could have like a small G20 model where you have working groups that are tasked with doing work and delivering reports to the meeting in front of the relevant ministers on a regularly basis — I would suggest three times a year,” Nelson explained, assuring it would be a “substantive thing” and not a high cost to the government.
Committee chair and Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce agreed such a recommendation to the federal government was necessary, as he acknowledged that at s government level, when it comes to the space sector, it is “a bit disorganised”.
“I don’t think we’re good as we could be in saying let’s work out exactly what our objectives are and when we invest. We can have a scattergun approach and hope the money just falls into the right people, or we can say okay, this is where we’re deficient. This is where we need to concentrate on if we want to move quickly to a sovereign space capacity,” Joyce said.
According to Nelson, taking a coordinated approach could also potentially open opportunities up for smaller players to play a role in growing Australia’s space sector.
“At the moment, there are programs and bits of money in different portfolios, in different areas — that’s nobody’s fault — but it’s hard enough for a company like us, let alone a small startup, even ones in regional Australia, to work their way through the [current] system,” he said.
“We think this is what’s actually required. I think there is going to be more money that will need to be invested in the Australian Space Agency, but you’ll get more value out of it if … everything is actually coordinated.”