Topics: Anniversary of the moon landing, building industry confidence, combustible cladding, foreign fighters and Temporary Exclusion Orders
David Speers: And of course in every newspaper here and probably around the world, plenty of reflections on the moon landing 50 years ago – how it was achieved, what it meant in the context of the Cold War back then and what it meant for humanity. Well, commemorations have been underway all weekend in the New South Wales town of Parkes which played a role beaming those first images of the moon walk to the world. In fact the very first images were actually sent from the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station just down the road from Canberra here before the bigger dish at Parkes took over. Karen Andrews is the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, she’s in Parkes for today’s events and joins me now. Minister, a very good morning to you. I guess the question everyone’s asking – what do you remember of that day 50 years ago? Do you recall the moon landing? And, what are your memories of the time?
Karen Andrews: Well good morning David. And how wonderful to be here at Parkes on this very, very special day. Look I do have some wonderful memories of that day 50 years ago. It was actually my first day at a new school. So my sister and I were dropped off at school, middle of the year, new school and we were pretty much sent straight home to mum to watch the landing on TV. So I actually spoke to my sister about it last night and we both agreed that we thought this was a pretty cool school. You go first day and you get sent home. So, you know?
David Speers: Not a bad way to start a new school. First day you get there – yeah, exactly.
Karen Andrews: No. Exactly, we thought we were winners.
David Speers: Exactly. Look it had a big impression on a lot of people. The anniversary is, understandably, sparked a lot of talk about where we’re at in space exploration and where to next. As you know President Donald Trump wants a woman to be setting foot on the moon again in 20- or the first woman, in 2024 and then after that a mission, a manned mission to Mars. Will Australia play any role in any of this?
Karen Andrews: Well hopefully we will. So since we established the Australian Space Agency just on 12 months ago, we’ve spent the first 12 months building, re-building, re-establishing relationships that Australia has had in the case of NASA for well over 50 years. So we’re very keen now that we’ve gone through the first stage of what our program is that we now move into looking at, seriously investigating what the opportunities are for us in space. And there’s more to space than just launch which I’m happy to talk about, but if I just focus on the moon programs now we are very keen to work with NASA to see what the opportunities are for Australia to be part of their Artemis program and perhaps any other programs that they are looking to run.
Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll be sending an astronaut to the moon or to Mars, but it doesn’t exclude it either. So we’re very keen to work with NASA, we’ll look at what opportunities there are with the International Space Station but certainly we want to be part of the Artemis program – whether that’s sending some of our data back up to space, whether it’s part of collecting that data and analysing it here back in our facilities here in Australia, whether we’re tracking the facilities again so, whether Parkes comes into play again. There are many opportunities and I’m very keen to continue to explore them because space provides so many opportunities for us here in Australia, we are part of the space race, we want to have a bigger part.
David Speers: But none of this is cheap as you know. I see Buzz Aldrin has suggested that we need an international team effort here and he’s cited Australia amongst other countries that could play a role. I mean, is the Australian Government willing to get behind this financially.
Karen Andrews: Look, we’re very keen to work with NASA and the other space agencies that there are around the world. But we have structured the Australian Space Agency very differently to the way that NASA is structured. So we’ve structured the Australian Space Agency so it will work with industry and it will work with researchers so that we have the maximum opportunity for gain here in Australia. Clearly we’re a smaller nation than the United States and our space agency is always intended to be quite different to NASA. But we have some key strengths and we plan to maximise those opportunities working for Australia and working with other space agencies.
David Speers: So supportive of the mission to the moon and beyond, can I just ask, is Australia also supportive of Donald Trump’s plans for the so called space force, the dedicated wing of the military devoted to space warfare?
Karen Andrews: Yeah. Look, I’m not involved in any discussions in relation to that. My focus is on the industry part of space, looking at what we can do through launch. We’re already launching small satellites here from Australia, we’re collecting a lot of data, we’re doing some work on space debris because there’s a lot of debris up in space at the moment, it’s not all burning up. We need to look at opportunities for Australia to be involved in at least monitoring the space debris up there. We’ve committed money to look at artificial intelligence and robotics in space, we’ll continue to work in those areas. And on satellites we’ve committed $70 million to establish the SmartSat CRC which will work specifically with satellites.
That’s where our focus needs to be at the moment and I’ve been very strong on saying Australia can’t be all things to all people at the one time. So let’s pick what our strengths are, let’s maximise those opportunities there and do what we do well.
David Speers: Let’s turn to the more worldly concerns that you’ve been addressing this week. You chaired that meeting of the Building Ministers’ Forum on Thursday. The industry is facing, as you know, all sorts of problems at the moment from flammable cladding, other building defects that seem to have merged now after an almighty rush over the last decade in apartment tower building. Insurance companies are starting to walk away from providing cover that’s needed here. A genuine crisis of confidence seems to have emerged. Did the meeting this week you think solve the problems?
Karen Andrews: What the meeting this week has done is set up a plan to deal with what you have rightly called a crisis of confidence in the building sector. So it’s clear, and there’s agreement, that the states and territories have responsibility for building matters. They have progressed various initiatives on I guess probably a piecemeal way if you want to look at it from the national perspective but they have done it clearly focussing on their own state and territories and what’s good for them. What we needed to do was bring them all together so that there was a national outcome and that the states and territories committed to working together on what industry has long been calling for which is a unified response to the building sector. So it was actually quite a landmark decision that came from the meeting on Thursday where all of the states and territories stood with me and said, yes we are committed to looking at ways to nationally implement the recommendations of the Shergold-Weir Report. Now that was a report that was commissioned through the Building Ministers’ Forum about two years ago now. Recommendations came out early last year but it sets out, I think it’s 24 recommendations for the building sector. The states have worked on some priorities but now their commitment is that they will work together towards a unified response to that report.
David Speers: And when will we see changes though? Is there any timeframe around this?
Karen Andrews: Yeah look, that’s a very good question. It was something that was front of mind for all of the building ministers and we discussed time frames. We also spoke to the Australian Building Codes Board because they’re going to have, ultimately, responsibility for the implementation group, or implementation team that is doing this work. So we talked to them about what the timeframes were going to be and what the plan should be to establish the implementation team. So they’re going to be coming back to us within a month with what their program is to make sure that we can move quickly to implementation. So the first steps going to be…
David Speers: …Alright. So, we’ll get some timeframes within the next month, we’ll get those timeframes?
Karen Andrews: Yes. Yes that’s what we are certainly looking for.
David Speers: Okay. Now as I understand it this will relate to future buildings, which is great. But what about existing buildings and the problems that are emerging with cladding, combustible cladding, other building defects in the potentially thousands of buildings that are at risk?
Karen Andrews: Yes. And look that’s a very good point because what we have achieved in the last week with the building ministers from states and territories is what the forward plan is going to be. So what will be the implementation to make sure that we rebuild the confidence in the sector? And we do that for a number of reasons – clearly from a safety perspective, from a building integrity perspective. But also it’s important to bring the insurers back in, but there are existing issues with buildings.
And let’s be clear about this, we may not have discovered all of the issues that are there, some may not be discovered for a couple of years. So the states and territories have conducted some audits in relation to building cladding which has been a high priority issue. The states are going to continue to implement their plans. There’s been announcements from Victoria, there’s been some views that have been put from the Queensland Government which are different to what Victoria’s doing – they’re not establishing a fund, they’re working with certifiers to resolve issues.
But the issues of rectification in cladding work is going to be ongoing for quite some time. So I’m really pleased that there was a very strong commitment from states and territories that they would continue to do that work in their own states. So they’re not walking away from it, they’re going to manage those issues and they will do it on a state by state, territory by territory basis.
David Speers: As a starting point here Minister should those local, and state, and territory authorities make public which buildings are at risk? Do owners and tenants deserve to know if the building they’re in has a problem?
Karen Andrews: Well look that’s a very good point and it is quite a contentious point. Now, the states and the territories have been very strong, Victoria in particular has been very strong about the fact that they’re not going to release that information. Now there is a range of reasons for them…
David Speers: …What do you think?
Karen Andrews: I understand the risks that are associated, the original concern that was raised by Victoria some months ago was that that would make those buildings, potentially, some targets. They were concerned about arson. That was raised by the state minister prior to the last Building Ministers’ Forum. There’s also concerns about what releasing that information would do to the particular property market and what it would do to the value of those properties. We certainly don’t want to be acting to undermine any confidence in the building sector.
David Speers: Yeah and I can understand that but if you were in one of these buildings would you also want to know yourself?
Karen Andrews: Look I would be certainly asking some questions of the body corporate about what the status of any audit that had been conducted on a building that I was living in or owned an apartment in – I would certainly be asking those questions.
David Speers: And shouldn’t a buyer, potential buyer of one of these apartments have that information as well? If I’m forking out a million or so for an apartment in a new tower, or an old tower you’d want to know what you’re buying?
Karen Andrews: Well I think the states and territories are being very clear that they’re managing this process. There is some information that‘s available. And yes I would encourage people to investigate as much as they possibly can and find out as much information before they invest in properties, but that goes for any property that you’re looking to purchase.
David Speers: But it’s a bit hard if the information’s not public. If it’s not available, if it’s not public, people could be buying potentially worthless properties.
Karen Andrews: Well if we’re talking about cladding the first step would be to talk to the body corporate and get the information that they have. And that’s what I would encourage people to do. But the states and territories…
David Speers: …Does the body corporate have that though?
Karen Andrews: Well let me finish my previous point which is that the states and territories have been very clear on their position and they’re the ones that hold the information. So the Commonwealth Government doesn’t hold that information. It’s the states and territories that have responsibility for that and they hold that information. So a lot of these questions which are clearly very valid and are clearly questions that people want to know are ones that the states and territory building ministers should be addressing.
David Speers: No. I understand. One thing you’re responsible for though is import rules. Is it still legal to import combustible cladding in Australia?
Karen Andrews: Yes it is. And there are a number of uses for aluminium cladding that are very safe and very legitimate. So they are used in roadside signs, they’re used around ATMs. There are a number of very legitimate uses for it. The National Construction Code, which the state and territory ministers and the states and territories actually commit to and they’re part of the development, has made it very clear that cladding is restricted in circumstances where it’s at risk – which is generally in buildings that are over about three storeys high. So that product has been restricted in its use for a number of years. Banning it at the border is not going to resolve an issue where existing building regulations have not been complied with and of course there are safe and legitimate uses for aluminium cladding.
David Speers: A final one Minister, just away from your portfolio but one Parliament’s going to be grappling with this week, the foreign fighters issue. The Government’s obviously hoping to pass legislation that will give the Home Affairs Minister the power to stop foreign fighters returning to Australia for up to two years. Today it’s reported 40 foreign fighters have already returned, are already back here living in Australia. Look, do you know are they putting Australian security at risk being here?
Karen Andrews: Look, our number one priority as a government – and it’s a number one priority for every government – is to keep its citizens safe. So I know that Minister Dutton who has responsibility for this portfolio area is incredibly strong on making sure that we’re doing everything that we can to protect our people. Now as you’ve rightly said there are reported to be 40 people who have already returned. I think it’s important that we proceed to the temporary exclusion orders. Minister Dutton is well across this issue, managing it very well, and is pushing very, very hard to make sure that we are doing everything to protect Australian citizens.
David Speers: But do we interpret that as we can monitor those 40 who presumably can’t be charged, we can monitor them but we can’t monitor any more who might come back?
Karen Andrews: Well, the point of the Temporary Exclusion Order Bill is to make sure that we do have some rights and of course some obligations in relation to these people who are seeking to return back to Australia. And the Temporary Exclusion Order provides the Government, and the Minister in particular, the opportunity to assess how, if and when they should return to this country. But I commend Minister Dutton, he has done a terrific job on this and I’m very pleased with where we are currently positioned. However, we need to work to make sure that the Temporary Exclusion Order Bill is passed.
David Speers: Karen Andrews, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, I know you’ve got a big day there at Parkes and we look more to seeing more from that New South Wales town throughout the day. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.
Karen Andrews: It’s a pleasure.