Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: Establishment of a national space agency; Same-sex marriage survey

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, joins us now. Good morning, Senator Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David.

David Bevan: The space agency. Can you explain to us, what are we going to get for our money?

Simon Birmingham: Well, David, what we’re going to get is an increased capability in Australia to be able to drive our leadership as a nation in space industries. We’ve seen global space industries grow in terms of their economic activity at a rate of three times the global economy over the last couple of decades, but Australia hasn’t kept up in terms of our share of that activity. And if we just got up to our share of the space industry activity as we have in terms of our relative share of the global economy overall, that would be worth several billion dollars extra to Australia’s economy. So this new agency will be central in terms of delivering how it is we can better leverage Australia’s place as a contributor to space industries.

David Bevan: Andy Thomas, Australian astronaut, somebody who flew four space missions, he’s on the record as saying, look, don’t follow the NASA model. Do you have a model in mind?

Simon Birmingham: Well Dr Megan Clark, who is the former chief executive of the CSIRO, has already been tasked by the Turnbull Government to oversee an expert working group that is going to, by March next year, come down with all of the findings around exactly how the space agency should be set up, what its KPIs – as Martin called for – should be, the type of nature of this agency. But I do think it’s important for listeners to appreciate that we’re not talking about a NASA-type agency to put man on the moon; this is about recognising that the world of space has changed dramatically over the last few decades. It is now dominated in terms of investment by private companies, private businesses who launch satellites and other facilities to drive our IT, our technology, our communication systems and a range of other platforms, and Australia should be seeking to be a big, big part of that in terms of leveraging our very unique geography and other capabilities to help be a launching site, a science and technology leader, an innovation driver in terms of that space sector.

Ali Clarke: So then Minister Birmingham, how much money does Dr Megan Clark have to play with then, if she’s going to come back in March and tell you what this will look like? What have you budgeted?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we will see what Dr Clark recommends and then respond in next year’s budget in terms of exactly the quantum of dollars required to make sure this is effective. But we are fair dinkum about wanting to do this, because it’s really complementary to a number of the other things we’re already pursuing: $100 million in advanced manufacturing, the billions of dollars in defence technology investment, particularly in this state. All of that is quite complementary to the type of science, technology, engineering investment you’d expect to see in space industries.

Ali Clarke: So then if she comes back and says, great, what we need is $5 billion, you’ll say yep, no worries?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We are genuine about making sure that this is a robust national endeavour, that it is creating jobs and opportunities for Australians, that it attracts more investment to the whole country. But South Australia should absolutely expect to be a prime beneficiary of that.

Ali Clarke: Is it a bit strange though? I mean, if someone works out their business and wants to work out how to expand their business, say, or to start up a new product or something like that, they would sit down and think, okay, I can throw all these great ideas into the air and this is going to be phenomenal, but if we can’t afford to pay for it we’re going to end up having to scale it back, scale it back, scale it back. Should she not have some sort of parameters about what the KPIs are, how much investment we’re going to put into this to get our bang for buck?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we set this working group process in place some months ago. It’s been receiving more than 200 submissions already and really it generated significant interest across Australian industry, business, and other stakeholders. What’s become clear is that there is call for a central coordinating agency to play a leadership role in Australia, to drive policy, to drive investment engagement. So we’re accepting that as a starting premise, but of course the work that Dr Clark and her expert panel are doing goes on and we will obviously then make sure that what they recommend is financed appropriately to be able to do the job.

David Bevan: Is Adelaide going to get a slice of the action?

Simon Birmingham: It’s inconceivable that South Australia wouldn’t get a slice of the action, David, because we have so much in terms of the history of the Woomera Rocket Range, the nature of our geography here, the ability to play a very central role. So yes, I’m absolutely confident that SA will see clear benefits flowing.

David Bevan: But the expectation is that the brains of the operation, the administration, will be in Canberra?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I note the South Australian Government put forward a proposal with the ACT Government, proposing that the head office of this agency, if it were established, be in Canberra. We’re not jumping to that conclusion yet. We’ll go through with Dr Clark and hear from her in terms of how you can best guarantee effective collaboration with scientists, with researchers, with investors, with all of those you would expect to be key partners in this as to where and how it would best be structured.

David Bevan: And Simon Birmingham, before you leave us, according to the latest Newspoll support for same-sex marriage is eroding. Does that surprise you?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, I would just continue to encourage Australians who believe in change, who support delivery of equality to vote…

David Bevan: I know you’re campaigning, but the question is, are you surprised that support for same-sex marriage is eroding?

Simon Birmingham: We’ll see what the final results say. I see the poll that’s in The Australian. Of course, participation is key in this in terms of people actually choosing to return their survey forms. I’d urge all Australians to participate, but of course I encourage people to vote yes.

David Bevan: Of course, it’s also eroding as fast as support for Malcolm Turnbull.

Simon Birmingham: Well, we won’t be distracted by that as a government. We’ll keep on with, as we’re doing today, things that are in Australia’s national interest in terms of how we can create new jobs, new opportunities for Australia’s future.

Ali Clarke: That’s Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Thank you very much for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Pleasure. Thank you.