Houston, we have a problem: Labor lightyears behind on space policy

I was just one year old when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, a feat made possible thanks to Australia’s world-leading space tracking capabilities. It was only a decade later when the Apollo-Soyuz mission united the Soviets and Americans in a physical – and metaphorical – handshake in space. I remember as a young boy peering up at the moon and stars from my friend’s telescope, in utter astonishment at mankind’s achievements in space.

From Carnarvon to Charleville, Australia’s enduring space and aviation legacy has inspired our nation across generations and geographies to dream big and to embrace global cooperation.

Some 50 years after the Apollo 11 mission, I was over the moon (so to speak) to see the Federal Coalition supporting Australian companies as part of the Artemis lunar mission. And from the Australian Space Park in Adelaide to the Bowen Orbital Spaceport in Abbott Point, the Coalition in Government continued to put Australia’s space industry on the right trajectory.

The Coalition backed space manufacturing and boosted space research. We understand that, just like cyber, space is an emerging and significant domain of greyzone and potential kinetic conflict. A cutting-edge space industry used to be a matter of national pride. It’s now a defence and national security imperative.

Space technology affects almost every aspect of everyday life. If you use Google Maps, shop or bank online, check BOM for the weather, or watch TV, you can thank space technology. Many Australians would not even recognise this; and apparently, neither does this Federal Labor Government.

While our competitors and allies are investing heavily in the space sector, Labor are ripping out incentives. The US Space Force, in less than 5 years, has amassed 16,000 military and civilian personnel with an operational budget of $24.5 billion.

In contrast, the Australian Navy, now in its 122nd year, has 15,200 personnel. The RAAF – in which you can find our own Defence Space Command – contains just under 14,500 personnel. 

We have a long way to go. And we must. But it will take more than roundtables, reviews, and red tape to get there. This is not rocket science!

While we’re not the guardians of the galaxy, Australians expect their Government to protect their interests at home, abroad, and in outer space. Protecting our national interest beyond the mesosphere is essential to maintaining our national security and way of life. 

Yet through their proposed National Reconstruction Fund, Labor are stripping space capability from our national manufacturing agenda. They’ve ransacked our manufacturing strategy to fund social policy experiments. And by his omission of space, including in his most recent National Press Club address, Prime Minister Albanese threatens to jeopardise years of growth in the sector, and its crucial role in our defence and national security. Labor talks the big talk about defence, but just dropped space as one of its critical manufacturing hubs worthy of incentivisation.

Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi once said that “the wise man looks into space, and he knows there are no limited dimensions.” Our competitors know this to be true.

The potential scale of conflict – and of achievement – in space is limitless. Will Australia be ready for take-off after two more years of a Federal Labor Government? Or will we find ourselves, as we did in 2013, grounded and dependent upon our great and powerful friends? Time will tell. 

Andrew Wallace MP is the Federal Member for Fisher and Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.