PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 6394

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER, OPENING OF TELESCOPE AT SIDING SPRING OBSERVATORY, WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 1984

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/05/1984

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 6394

CH-ECKZ AGAI'" ST DELIVERY -SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER
OPENING OF TELESCOPE AT SIDING SPRING OBSERVATORY
WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 1984
I am delighted to be here today on Siding Springj M'ountain tc.
perform the official opening of this new optical telescope.
The ANU is to be congratulated for its initiative in
developing this telescope which sets new international
standards in astronomical engineering and is the most
advanced optical telescope ever built.
There are good reasons for Australians to be pr'oud of this
achievement. The design and development of the telescope is very
much R co-operative Australian venture
Apart from several components which could not be
manufactured in Australia, construction took place
in the ANU's own workshops and involved a large
number of Australian engineering firms, supply ,2nd
service companies and consultants.
The astronomers, engineers and technicians at Mount Stromlo
and Siding Spring observatories, with the support of the ANU
and co-operation of industry, have created a facility which
clearly demonstrates Australia's capacity to contribute to
the advancement of high technology.
The telescope is a particular tribute to the
entrepreneurship of Professor Mathewson, for it is he who
sought out the elemen-ts from a variety of sources and has
been responsible for their synthesis into an impressive
piece of research equipment.
In these times of rapid change and the tendency to measure
our performance in termns of international comparisons, I
cannot but feel that we often give insufficient credit to
the many excellent achievements, of which this telescope is
an example, quietly taking place within Australia.

2.
Allow me therefore to highlight, without getting technical,
some aspects of this facility which makes it so important
and provides many lessons concerning Australian initiative,
ingenuity and dedication of individuals.
Let me at the outset refer to the factors which led to the
construction of the 2.3 metre telescope. As the admirable
booklet distributed today notes, the main factors were:
An acute shortage of observing time
the need for a large telescope versatile enough to
take-full advantage of modern instrumentation
the lack of advanced facilities for the training of
students, and
a desire to stimulate the development of astronomy
in Australia.
With these factors in mind, the original specifications
called for a versatile, precise, and efficient telescope,
equipped with advanced astronomical instrumentation, but
costing a fraction of the price of a conventional telescope.
The end result stands before us.
The convergence of interest of the scientific and
technological communities has produced a facility of
unprecedented versatility and power, bold in concept,
elegant in design and professional in implementation.
At a time when up-to-date research equipment is difficult to
fund, it is good to find an instance where the cost of major
equipment has been contained in such a creative manner.
This facility is noteably different from other comparable
facilities. The different physical appearance of the facility, compared
with the other telescope structures on this mountain, is
immediately apparent.
the building is cubical and rotates with the
teles cope inside allowing the building to be much
smaller and considerably less costly than the
conventional domed astronomical telescope buildina.
Other important differences between the 2.3 metre telescope
and its predecessors are its alt-azimuth mounting and its
thin mirror which allow a lighter structure, with consequent
reduction in complexity and cost.

And the final aspect of design of particular note is that
the control computer has been integrated into the telescope
systems so thoroughly that it is capable of controlling all
of the building and telescope functions.
The telescope has already attracted attention
internationally with visits by Japanese, Italian, American,
British, and Dutch scientists and engineers interested in
building similar telescopes in their own countries.
Its great advantage is its simplicity and relatively low
cost. Countries, which previously could not afford to build
conventional telescopes, can now participate in astronomical
research. In this respect, it is pleasing to note that
several countries in our own region have shown interest in
the telescope.
The development of this facility enhances the AN1U's position
as a leading institution in the field of astronomy. Its two
observatories, at Mount Stromlo and here at Siding Spring,
together form one of the world's major optical astronomical
installations. In scientific terms, the work of the
observatories places the ANU amongst the world's leaders.
Australians are proud of the achievements of Australian
astronomy. The radio telescope on the $ 50 bill and John
Tebbutt on the $ 100 bill are elequent testimony to this.
One reason Australia is'-so prominant in international
astronomy is because we have had men who have had the
foresight to push for the establishment of world class
observatories. Optical astronomy has grown in Australia as a result of
facilities established by two pioneers:
O r W. G. Duffield, who established Mount Stromlo
Observatory, and
Dr B. J. Bok, who established Siding Spring
Observatory
Duffield first conceived of an Australian observatory when,
as a young Australian studying spectroscopy at the physical
laboratory of the University of Manchester in 1905, he
attended the Oxford meeting of the Irternational Union for
Solar Research. The enthusiasm kindled at that time
sustained him through the next two decades.
Mount Stromlo was selected as the site of the new
observatory in 1910. The Commonwealth Solar Observatory, as
it was first known, was put into operation in 1925 and the
observatory buildings on Mount Stromlo were occupied by the
end of 1926.
Duffield died suddenly in 1929.

Bart. Bok, who died only last August, was a dynamic person
who did a great deal to stimulate the development of
astronomy in Australia. In particular he will be remembered
for his highly successful attempts to build one of the
world's best graduate schools and for the establishment of
Siding Spring Observatory. Bok put an immense amount of
effort into bringing astronomy before the public. He toured
Australia incessantly, making at least one trip per month to
outlying towns, and, when invited to speak to groups such as
Rotary or Apex, his reply was invariably " Yes,' as long as I
can also have one hour with the high-school students".
As you would a-11 know the Southern skies provide a
particularly great stellar variety.
Bok campaigned tirelessly for a large southern hemisphere
telescope, and his efforts are widely acknowledged as having'
played a seminal role in the * establishement of the
Anglo-Australian observatory.
Bok's foresight in establishing Siding Spring Observatory
has been one of the major Factors that has allowed
Australian astronomy to preserve its place in international
science, even though our monopoly on the southern hemisphere
facilities no longer exists.
What of the future?
The new telescope will play a key role in the exploration of
the universe. Complete computer control. may allow, in the
not-too-distant future, astronomers in different parts of
the world to make use of the telescope through satellite
hook-up.
Space technology offers considerable attractions, not only
for Australian astronomical research but. for Australia
generally. In many ways, Australia is naturally suited, with ' Its large
land mass, extensive resource base and communication
requirements, to the application of space technology.
As in astronomy, Australia has shown the! ability to
undentake research and develop space science initiatives
equal to any in the world. We have the latent capability to
develop a national space science and technology effort
comparable with those of other advanced economies.
The potential exists in Australia for a viable level of
activity in this area.
We have a respectable base level of skills and resources in
areas related to space' technology, although these assets are
dispersed widely in industry, research institutions,
Government establishments and as Australians in overseas
space industry.

In the main, we have awaited the development and
demonstration of space technology overseas before purchasing
it for our own use. This approach has enabled the various
agencies charged with servicing community needs to adopt
space technology for our requirements with efficiency and
alacrity. In many respects, this approach has served us
well. But of course such an approach does not allow us to develop
fully our space science and technology capabilities. It
ignores the benefits, in terms of technology development and
domestic and international market participation, to be
gained from ha-ving a local space manufacturing industry.
Canada had its own communication satellite in orbit 23 years
ago the world's first. This is a good example of what can
be done in this area by a middle sized nation. What needs
to be established is whether priority should be given to
such activity. This, crucially, must depend on an
appreciation of the net benefits flowing from such activity.
Any assessment of this requires that we consider carefully
as a first step the prerequisites for success in this area.
The pre-requisites for achieving such capabilities can be
perceived clearly in the strategies pursued by countries
such as Canada, Japan and France. They are:
Commitment by Government to the development of a
national capability
The setting up of high level advisory bodies to
articulate national goals, select priorities and
develop long-term planning and budgets
The establishment of centres of' space R and D in
Government agencies or universities ( with
subsequent transfer of technology to or use of
facilities by local industry)
The emergence of locally owned industries capable
of accepting major subcontracts from prime
contractors, and
Co-operation in large scale inter-governmental
programs providing transfer or development of
expertise in local industry, in space and related
a re as
Whether and to what extent Australia should move to meet
such prerequisites and pursue the development of a local
industry, is a question to which there is no automatic or
self-evident answer. -The costs and benefits of doing so
need to be carefully weighed.

A commitment of national resources to space science and
technology on a scale sufficient to establish a viable local
industry or even to fund particular space projects must be
considered against other priority areas of technology
identified by the Government and of interest to industry.
An important step towards addressing the local industry
question was the convening in March this year of the
national space symposium.
The objectives of the symposium, some of you will recall,
were to: Identify what Australia's existing capabilities are
Consider where we, as a nation, desirelto go in the.
future Identify public arrangements by which industry and
research agencies can profit from future
developments Discuss possible options for Government.
As a result of the symposium, the possibility of
establishing a working group representing relevant interests
is being considered. Such a group could identify a set of
goals for Australia and recommend on a structure to
implement them. I
There is an international as well as domestic dimension to
our interests in outer space. Australia has a long and
proud tradition of international co-operation in space
matters, reflected in the fact that we were founder members
of the United Nations Committee on the peaceful uses of
outer space. Even now, an Australian Professor John
Carver, Director of the Research School of Physical Sciences
at the ANU is Chairman of the important Scientific and
Technical Sub-committee.
These committees are involved in a wide range of space
activities which directly affect Australian interests and
include remote sensing, communication, resource management
and development and such areas as astronomical research and
meteorology. New areas are being explored such as search
and rescue satellites.
The most urgent task posed by our representation in the
Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space appears to be a
requirement for strong co-ordination of Government
involvement in space activities. I intend raising this
matter with relevant ministers with a view to examining how
we might organise better our involvement with that
Committee. Improved co-ordination will, among other things,
allow us to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities
to further our interests internationally.

Finally, before concluding, I should like to pay tribute to
the manifest commitment to excellence apparent in-so much of
the work of those associated with space activities. Your
endeavours in quite unprecedented fashion probe the
frontiers of human knowledge and experience.
that you have been able to do so with such conspicuous
success, reflects well on some of the strengths which have
in the past been evident in our education system.
We are, however, now at a critical juncture in the
development of that system.
The Government is currently considering both the Schools
Commission Report on Funding Policies for Australian
Schools, and the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission.
Report on Funding Arrangements for the Universities next
triennium. With Susan Ryan, the Minister for Education, I
have been closely involved in an intensive round of
consultations on the issues and options involved.
The problems posed in defining our educational priorities
for the years ahead and in funding these are considerable.
Nevertheless, as I know you would all agree, the decisions
taken will significantly effect our capacity to improve the
technological skills of our work force, and ultimately
improve our living standards.
Professor Karmel, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National
University, recently addressed this matter of priorities in
a thought-provoking, and realistic fashionn when he said:
" My priorities are for more resources to raise
educational participation in post-compulsory schooling
and tertiary education, to establish a rational training
system, and for such re-allocation of existing resources
as is necessary to raise the minimum competencies to be
achieved during compulsory schooling; until these have
been achieved, demands for richer provisions per teacher
or per pupil will have to be postponed".
This I think gets us back to the basics. Our education
system must be geared, again as Professor Karmel has said,
to pr'ovide for-the contemporary demands for a more highly
qualified workforce, for workers with communications skills
and ability to deal with people, and for men-and women who,
with necessary scientific and technical training, will
contribute to the successful management of technological
change. Certainly this Government is at one with Professor Karmel in
acknowledging the essential need for an educational system
which will at once provide for excellence and, at the same
time, equip all Australians for the tasks of contemporary
life.

Our judgements on education funding will reflect this
approach. Obviously this implies continued support for a national
research effort. That support will, however, necessarily
have to be selective.
If we are to maintain our lead, or indeed survive in a wide
range of national endeavours, whether they be pure science
or new technology for industry, it is necessary for us to
identify the best and most forward-looking research workers,
and ensure that their excellence and enterprise are properly
supported.-If we make quality and opportunity our key criteria for
support, then the results will flow back to the'nation as a.
whole, whether by way of advancement of scientific
knowledge, or national prestige, or a vigorous economy based
on technologically aware and up-to-date industries.
Australia can lead the world in those areas where we focus
our attention and exert our will and enterprise
This telescope provides no better proof.
I,

Transcript 6394