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Labor 'lost in space' over agency pledge, says SA senator

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Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick has accused federal Labor of “the policy equivalent of a premature rocket launch” by pledging to base the new Australian space agency in Canberra – with “nodes” in various states and territories.

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ALP Senator Kim Carr is today committing his party to headquarter the agency in the nation’s capital if Labor wins the next election, according to The Canberra Times, while also telling an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference a bidding war between states was undesirable.

“This is the national capital and this is a nation-building mission,” he told the paper.

“Canberra is required because there are over 90 separate programs currently operating [which] require coordination nationally and internationally, and can’t be done at a state level in a way other than to add to the confusion.”

The Coalition Government has opted to establish the agency in Canberra initially, but is receiving strong interest from other states, including South Australia.

Patrick said today Carr’s announcement was “surprising” and “directly threatens the further development of South Australia’s growing space industries”.

He said it “involves a politically-driven breakdown of due process and a complete failure to acknowledge SA’s very strong claims to be the central hub of Australia’s space science and applications sector”.

“Senator Carr says he deplores a bidding war between state governments for the location of the space agency with its $26 million budget, but he then makes a purely political proposition ahead of any careful assessment of the national interest,” he said in a statement.

“If [he] were consistent he would be calling for the Federal Government’s decision-making process to be made more transparent and subject to rigorous parliamentary scrutiny… instead, he’s announced the policy equivalent of a premature rocket launch.”

Patrick argues “the larger part” of Australia’s space research and development capabilities are SA-based, and thus “that is where the new agency should be located”.

“It’s a decision that should reflect where the main scientific and technological capabilities are located, not where federal bureaucrats already live,” he said.

It follows yesterday’s media conference with Premier Steven Marshall and renowned Adelaide-born astronaut Dr Andy Thomas, who endorsed SA’s space credentials, declaring it the most appropriate state to host the national space agency.

“South Australia’s got the heritage, the technical resources, the educational background, the technical infrastructure, the corporate infrastructure the industrial base,” Thomas told reporters.

“I think we’ve got a very good chance.”

Marshall said the state would be putting in a “compelling and competitive” bid to host the agency.

Patrick said today he gets on “well” with Carr, adding he was “normally very grounded with his ideas”.

“On this occasion, however, Labor is somewhere in outer space,” he said.

However, the federal ALP policy appears consistent with a Memorandum of Understanding signed last year by then-Premier Jay Weatherill and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, committing to work together towards the creation of a Canberra-based space agency with a prominent presence in Adelaide.

Meanwhile, Patrick’s former Nick Xenophon Team-mate Tim Storer, who quit the party before awkwardly being installed in the Senate to replace the departed Skye Kakoschke-Moore, has applied to set up his own national political party.

The South Australian senator has asked the Australian Electoral Commission to register the name ‘Tim Storer Independent SA Party’ ahead of the next federal election.

In his application, Storer said the party’s four principles were integrity, fairness, prosperity and sustainability.

He faces an uphill battle to retain his seat at the next election, but is aiming to drum up support for his centrist agenda.

Gaining party registration would boost his chances as it allows the grouping to receive “above the line” votes in the Senate ballot.

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