I was host minister for the 68th International Astronautical Congress to the Adelaide Convention Centre in September 2017 and Australia’s first dedicated Minister for Space Industries. Successive federal governments had done little to plan and budget for a national space agency before the SA Government attracted the 68th IAC complete with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and a veritable who’s who of world space agencies and people. It was our government’s intention from the outset to use the IAC congress to compel the federal Coalition Government to commit to funding the establishment of an Australian Space Agency an opportunity in which they had shown little interest. Martin was appointed the country’s first dedicated Minister for Space Industries.
In October 2016 I posted on behalf of the government a new policy blueprint titled SA’s ‘Space Strategic Plan’, which detailed our space innovation and growth plans positioning Adelaide as a national hub for the industry. The plan detailed key directions, missions and actions needed to create a space enabled economy in SA. On the 25th of October 2016, Martin signed a collaborative partnership with Italian Space Agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) in Rome. On the 10th of November he formally launched the ‘Space Innovation and Growth Strategy (South Australia) Action Plan 2016-2010 complimented by a ‘South Australian Space Capability Directory’ which listed all SA space industry stakeholders and companies.
In December 2016 I announced on behalf of the government a new trade strategy for Europe, and we opened a new trade office in Paris to complement the work of our Agent General in London. Both initiatives expressly focused on defence and space industry cooperation. In early 2017 The Space Industry Association of Australia released a White Paper titled ‘Advancing Australia in Space’ which called on the federal minister for Industry, Innovation and Science to commit the federal Government to a permanent space programme and to establish an Australian Space Agency.
To formally commit government to this path I took that White Paper to Cabinet with a recommendation that the SA Government advocate for the establishment of a national space agency with SA as its operational base. That position was subsequently thrust into the State Parliament and the national press. I recommended that we start by filling the vacuum left by Canberra’s inaction. In the absence of federal government leadership, we announced that SA would ‘go it alone’. Since the nation had no Space Agency, we would create one!
I took to Cabinet a proposal to establish the ‘South Australian Space Industry centre’ (SASIC) to build on the work of the space industry office I had established within Defence SA. We provided funds for scholarships, industry development and research. During trade missions I made it my business to visit and in some cases sign agreements with national space agencies in the USA, Europe particularly Italy, India, Japan and the UAE.
I led a delegation from SA to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre the main US space research laboratory located 7 miles northeast of Washington DC. With the IAC looming international partners began identifying strongly with SA as the centre point of Australian space activity. Each of these initiatives was accompanied by ministerial statements in Parliament and nation media reporting all of which were scheduled to build the case for change in Canberra.
In mid-2017 he was tasked to ramp up on behalf of the SA government the national media campaign designed to pressure the Coalition into agreeing to establish a Space Agency. Although he had exchanged correspondence with federal ministers on this subject, they were not keen to meet with the SA Government and were unresponsive and disinterested, so he went to Canberra to lobby the alternative government, the Labor Opposition finding immediate support from ALP science spokesperson Kim Carr. On March 15, 2017, Carr announced on behalf of the Shorten Opposition that an ALP Government would create a Space Agency and an ‘Australian Space industry Program which would invest $35m on research hubs, training, an advocate, an innovation council and Cooperative Research Centres.
On 12 July 2017 after a concerted campaign through the national press from SA, the Coalition Government blinked. Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos announced a ‘review’ into Australia space capabilities which fell short of committing to fund space agency. The review would take at least six months pushing any decision off into 2018, well after the IAC. Sinodinos was a good minister, and it was a sign our campaign was working, but the announcement looked to me like a stalling measure to outreach the IAC scheduled for September 2017. We could not allow the delaying tactic to succeed. If we did with the IAC passed, the nation would achieve nothing.
For the remainder of 2017 the State Government mounted the pressure on Canberra in a vigorous public campaign which ultimately resulted in a rushed announcement by the Coalition on the eve of the IAC that Australia would indeed set up a dedicated agency. South Australia subsequently set about securing the agency headquarters for Adelaide. Since then, the nation has not moved fast enough.
Since 2018 the federal and state governments, industry leaders and the space agency have worked tirelessly together to make the venture a national and international success. The Australian Government must now establish a national space strategy which brings together all geopolitical and commercial interests into one national enterprise. Where practicable all government and commercial investment in Australia on space should be directed to Australian industry from launch to sustainment. Defence and civil space investment should be harnessed as one enterprise to ensure Australian sovereign capability over all aspects of space industry. The Australian university sector should be supported to become, in collaboration with international partners, a world leader in those aspects of the space enterprise where Australia can establish and maintain a comparative advantage.