Opening remarks to the 68th International Astronautical Congress
Adelaide Convention Centre

Simon Birmingham:

It is my absolute pleasure to be here for the opening of the 68th International Astronautical Congress, and I do so bringing best wishes from the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, who extends each and every one of you from overseas a warm welcome to Australia, and to all every success during the deliberations of this congress.

Last year, one day I had the chance of taking my then-five-year-old daughter to school, and on the way to school Matilda said to me, daddy, after school today can we go to the moon?

I said, well, Matilda, it’s not that easy to get to the moon. She said, yes dad, but after school today can we go to the moon? I said, well, you need a rocket ship to be able to get to the moon. She said, well daddy, after school can we go get a rocket ship and go to the moon.

I said, well, rocket ships aren’t very easy to find and I don’t know that we can find one easily in Adelaide, and they’re very, very expensive and I’m not sure that mummy and daddy can afford a rocket ship. And she said, well daddy, you’ll just have to work harder.

Now, Matilda, I’m delighted to see, she has the sense of appreciation for strong work ethic – albeit mummy and daddy’s work ethic …

… but of course, also, it’s a wonderful sense of – yes, innocence – but also that sense of curiosity, of exploration, of wonder that has driven people all over the world in their curiosity, in their interest in the exploration of all it is that space has to offer.

Australia, as you’ve heard from the Premier, has a long and successful history in the space industry, as well as a strong reputation as a trusted partner in the international space community. As a South Australian Senator, as well as a Federal Minister, I am thrilled that South Australia and our capital city, Adelaide, have been integral to this history. We’ve heard and celebrated Andy Thomas; we’ve heard and celebrated with the Premier that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Australia’s first satellite, which was designed and built here in Adelaide and launched at Woomera in South Australia’s outback in 1967. The event made Australia the third country in the world to build and launch its own satellite. We did so working closely with the United States and the United Kingdom, demonstrating the value, the importance of international engagement in strengthening scientific research, in managing to reach out into space.

The IAC and its rich history of bringing together leaders in space from across the globe continues this tradition. Space is too large, too complex, too important for any one country to seek to navigate alone, and this conference presents yet another outstanding opportunity to share insights into the future of the global space industry.

I’ve looked at the outstanding programme the IAA has put together; it gives a sense of the incredible impact of space-derived industries on so many facets of our life and well-being, and of course the continual expansion of the space industry itself. As Australia’s Education Minister, I’m also particularly thrilled to see the education programme for school students associated with this congress, knowing that that will help to further inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – an important endeavour that Australia takes incredibly seriously.

Over the next few days you will showcase many new technologies that can create and expand the broad reach of the space industry. Among the high-profile exhibitors, the Australian Government is proud that our CSIRO have booths in the exhibition hall where you can see just some of Australia’s contribution to the space sector, like the Square Kilometre Array, Digital Earth Australia, and simultaneous localisation and mapping – better known as SLAM – technology. We have a proud history to build upon, not to mention research institutions and businesses filled with some of the leading minds and researchers.

Australia recognises the benefits of a strong space industry which is why our government – under the leadership of the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos – announced a review into Australia’s space industry capability. We wanted to ensure we were harnessing the full potential in this sector. That review, which is well advanced, has been undertaken by an expert reference group chaired by former chief of the CSIRO, Dr Megan Clark. Almost 200 written submissions have been received, 400 have been consulted – enormous engagement right across our country.

An important issue the review was asked to look at was whether Australia should have a national space agency, and while there is more work to be done in this review, from the extensive consultation process to date, one point is overwhelmingly clear. The case for establishing the Australian space agency is compelling, and so I am pleased today to announce that the Australian Government will be establishing a national Australian space agency.

This agency will be the anchor for our domestic coordination and the front door for our international engagement with so many of you across the world’s space industries. And I am confident that with our unique geography South Australia will naturally be at the forefront of an increased Australian engagement in space industries.

Senator Michaelia Cash, the acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, will outline further details of this tomorrow, but for now I commend the work of Dr Clark and her Expert Reference Group. I look forward to their recommendations to build the long term national strategy that will design and underpin this new agency and encourage all of you, particularly the Australian delegates, to engage with Dr Clark on ensuring its absolute success.

Australia is a proud country. We are proud of our scientists, our researchers, our Nobel laureates. We are proud of our contribution to global knowledge and science. We are proud of our role as a responsible international citizen promoting global cooperation in the interest of people throughout the world, and we are immensely proud to welcome you to the 68th International Astronautical Congress. Thank you very much.