The now former prime minister Scott Morrison took major steps to fuel the space industry during his years as Australia’s leader, following almost two decades of lacking investment into the sector from the 1980s to the mid-2000s.
Under a new government, however, the work put into growing Australia’s sovereign space industry over the last few years is not expected to dry up.
“Quite the reverse in fact,” says Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who contributes regularly to space and defence articles.
“The future of the Australian space sector looks very positive, even with the change of government,” Davis told Space Connect.
“The Labor government, like the Liberal National Coalition before it, recognises the potential value of the space sector, both nationally and also the importance of Australia being competitive at a global level, in order to gain maximum benefit from that rapidly growing global sector.”
Labor will not undo the past
Before flying to Japan for the Quad summit, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his Labor government would establish a $15 billion reconstruction fund priority, providing loans and grants to invest in sovereign capability in manufacturing and defence, among other areas such as green energy.
While he did not mention space by name, Davis said he expects the Albanese government to “fully support the development of sovereign space capability”.
“I don't see the new government stepping back from this or reversing the previous government's policies to turn the clock back 10 years to a point where Australia was passively dependent on others to provide space capability,” Malcolm told Space Connect.
“We have left that behind and we are active providers of space capability for the ADF, and ultimately will be for our partners in the Five Eyes.”
Davis believes that it would be in the “political interest” of the Labor government to be seen “making faster progress in national space endeavours” more than the coalition, “given the importance of this sector”.
Labor has also already touted its backing behind the growth of the defence industry, in which space is vital for.
Under governments in the past, like former PM John Howard, self-sufficiency in space was not seen as a priority for Australia, according to historian Tristan Moss, who has studied the industry for decades. But, in the light of the Australian Space Agency’s establishment in 2018, and the growing supply chain, this is not the case anymore.
Space is not a top priority just yet – but this won’t last long
While it is expected Albanese will take hold of the growing space sector in Australia, it is not his main priority just yet.
“There are many pressing domestic issues which they will give their attention to first, and perhaps rightly so,” said Dr Cassandra Steer, a mission specialist with the ANU Institute of Space (InSpace) and a lecturer of space law.
Other issues such as climate change, wages and aged care has been on the lips of the new government more than space.
However, Dr Steer told Space Connect it is unlikely the space sector will “go quiet” amid a change in government, as it still needs time to “establish itself and determine its policies and budget”.
But she said “it will need to turn its attention to the importance of this sector fairly soon, including in research and education” – and others agree with this too.
Sally-Ann Williams, the CEO of deep tech incubator Cicada Innovations, said in an Australian Financial Review article that Anthony Albanese must answer to the pressing need of long-term R&D investment.
Australia’s big goal in space is to create 20,000 jobs by 2040. Many industry leaders have feared that while space funding has rapidly increased, it isn’t enough to fill the skill shortage just yet.
“Australia’s R&D investment is woefully inadequate at 1.79 per cent of GDP, and declining, by comparison to other much-touted innovation nations: Israel (4.9 per cent), South Korea (4.6 per cent), Germany (3.2 per cent), or the US (3.1 per cent),” she said.
With more funding under any government in office, more R&D programs, and an ongoing systemic policy to support high-risk technology development, Australia would be at the forefront of “cutting-edge deep technologies for decades to come,” Williams continued.
Labor must continue the work quickly
Amid the slew of new space projects the Liberal government spearheaded, it will be crucial to ensure recent reams of funding announcements take action soon.
Most recently, the National Space Mission was launched as part of the latest federal budget, which will see four Australian-made satellites blast-off into space for Earth observation. Then, along with the Australian Space Agency, the government announced a future Space Strategic Update which is set to create a more whole-of sector, after ongoing fears that the industry is directionless and fragmented.
Dr Steer hopes Labor will “own this process and push for an overarching policy” to ensure there is sufficient training pipelines for the thousands of jobs “we are supposed to see” in the space industry.
“The biggest opportunities will follow from coordinated decision-making,” Dr Steer said.
“We need a national space policy to connect our civil, defence, diplomatic and industry efforts in space, which are currently piecemeal.”
While the industry holds its breath as it waits for what Albanese will do, Labor has not been quiet when it comes to space at a state level in the past, Dr Steer said.
Many key space states, such as Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT have been under Labor governments for years and have pioneered many space breakthroughs in Australia.
“They all host or are developing new launch sites, new manufacturing sites, groundbreaking R&D, space situational awareness, networked optical ground stations, and education,” Dr Steer said.
“Labor is not new to space, it’s just not yet a federal priority, but I think that will change.”
Bella Richards is a journalist who has written for several local newspapers, her university newspaper and a tech magazine, and completed her Bachelor of Communications (Journalism) at the University of Technology Sydney in 2020. She joined Momentum Media in 2021, and has since written breaking news stories across Space Connect, Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
You can email Bella on: [email protected]
Receive the latest developments and updates on Australia’s space industry direct to your inbox. Subscribe today to Space Connect here.