Commonwealth Introduces Transition Bill for the Australian Astronomical Observatory

Thursday 12 April 2018 @ 10.56 a.m. | Legal Research

On 28 March 2018, the Commonwealth Parliament introduced the Australian Astronomical Observatory (Transition) Bill 2018 (Cth) (‘the Bill’). The Bill is for the purpose of giving effect to the Government’s 2017-18 budget measure ‘Maintaining Australia’s Optical Astronomy Capability’, which transfers the Australian Astronomical Observatory's (AAO's) scientific roles and expertise from the government to the research sector. The Bill aims to make provision for the purpose of retention of the AAO's scientific capabilities and expertise in the research sector, delivery of AAO commitments to national and global astronomy communities and support for the Australia-European Southern Observatory (ESO) Strategic Partnership.


In the 2017-18 Budget, the Government announced that the $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda would be built upon further through investment in optical astronomy infrastructure. The Government announced that it had commissioned a 2030 Strategic Plan and a Research Infrastructure Investment Plan. The Strategic Plan is to be developed by Innovation and Science Australia and the Research Infrastructure Investment Plan will be developed by the Government, Innovation and Science Australia, Commonwealth Science Council, and the community.

Main Amendments

The main amendments of the Bill are to:

  • Abolish the AAO as an entity of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science on 1 July 2018 and make provisions for to the transition of the scientific roles of the AAO to external entities by Ministerial designation;
  • Amend and rename the Australian Astronomical Observatory Act 2010 to provide an ongoing legislative basis for departmental activities that would facilitate the AAO transition, support the ESO Strategic Partnership and enable Australian Optical Astronomy more widely;
  • Repeal the Australian Astronomical Observatory (Transitional Provisions) Act 2010.

David Coleman, Assistant Minister for Finance, stated in his second reading speech in the House of Representatives that the new measures were for the purpose of change and growth for Australian optical astronomy. He stated:

“The Australian Astronomical Observatory (Transition) Bill provides for a smooth domestic astronomy transition from the Commonwealth to the new consortia. It retains key astronomical functions of the Australian Astronomical Observatory Act 2010 to provide a legislative basis for future government initiatives to continue to enable Australian astronomy engagement and excellence.”

Mr Coleman also noted the importance of retaining the partnership with the European Southern Observatory, saying:

"The Australia-ESO strategic partnership gives our astronomers long-term, stable access to ESO telescopes at La Silla and Paranal observatories in Chile. It will enable our institutions to collaborate in developing new instrumentation, and open the door to Australian companies to tender competitively for ESO contracts at La Silla and Paranal.”

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Australian Astronomical Observatory (Transition) Bill 2018 (Cth), second reading speech and explanatory memorandum, as published on TimeBase Lawone.

Budget 2017-18, ‘Investing in innovation: Supporting innovation to build a better future.' 

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