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ANGLO-AUSTRALIAN OBSERVATORY HANDOVER CEREMONY

Coonabarabran, NSW

[check against delivery]
 
It is an enormous privilege to be here today to represent the Australian Government at this ceremony which is an historic moment in Australia’s astronomical exploration.

Indeed, it has been a busy few weeks for Australia’s astronomical community.

Last week I was honoured to welcome guests to Australia to a major international planning event for the Giant Magellan Telescope, a next generation optical telescope facility.

It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the nature of astronomy and why it continues to hold us in the grip of its mystery.

Astronomy as a science is intimately woven with the great philosophical questions of life - who we are and how we came to be here.  

We know much more than we did a century ago – more than we did a decade ago – but still these fundamental questions remain to confound and fascinate us. 

Hayabusa recovery

Two weeks ago, at Woomera we witnessed a truly remarkable space event.

The return of Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft after a long voyage fraught with incident was spectacular in every sense of the word.

We will know soon if that voyage was ultimately successful in the sense of giving us our first glimpse of asteroid material undamaged by the earth’s atmosphere.

Regardless, the spacecraft landing demonstrated the important support Australia and Australians give and continue to give to space exploration.

Collaboration and the AAO

I’d like to echo the remarks of my Ministerial colleague Senator Kim Carr, about the Anglo-Australian Observatory and its example of the value of international collaboration.

After all, this is a collaboration with a proud history of achievement over 35 years.

And, as Charanjiv has said, it’s been a collaboration of vision in every sense of the word.

It’s been enthusiastically supported – by the British and Australian Governments, by the Australian National University and the CSIRO, and people from the local area.

It produced leading edge optical instruments that still are among the world’s best.

Into the future the observatory will continue to provide years of service to the international astronomy community.

It will still be a leader in astronomy, not just for the Southern Hemisphere, but in global terms.

International engagement

At the heart of this will be the AAO’s support role for Australian engagement in international consortia that operate leading eight metre telescopes like the Gemini and Magellan Observatories.

It will continue to provide advanced instruments and support operations of the Australian Gemini Office and the Australian Time Assignment Committee.

Importantly, it will be vital to our investment in the future through postgraduate programs and scholarships that will train the next generation of leaders in astronomy.

The success of the AAO and other great astronomical facilities around Australia, including several others here at Siding Springs, shows that Australian astronomers and instrumentation specialists are highly regarded internationally.

They’re well-placed to provide the skills, scientific and technical capabilities to support major international collaborations like the Giant Magellan Telescope which I mentioned earlier.

That’s why the Australian Government has made significant investments in the AAO’s future.

These include:

  • an additional $27 million over five years to the ongoing operations of the AAO through our Super Science – Space and Astronomy initiative.
  • and another $10 million through the Education Investment Fund for infrastructure supporting optical and radio astronomy, including $2.3 million for instrumentation here at the Anglo-Australian Telescope.

These investments and our participation in the Giant Magellan Telescope, complement our support for, and participation in major radio astronomy projects like the international Square Kilometre Array project.

Conclusion

But back to today.

Today’s ceremony marks an important transition that formally takes place at midnight on 30 June – the transformation of the Anglo-Australian Observatory to the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

I said it was merely a waypoint on a journey.

In marking this, I extend my congratulations, and those of the Australian Government to all the staff, past and present, Australian and British, of the AAO as it has been known and will be known into the future.

You have amassed an extraordinary trophy cabinet of achievements through your efforts, by engendering a spirit of collaboration and cooperation.

The AAO becomes a part of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, so I extend a warm welcome to the department.

Finally, on behalf of the Australian Government, our sincere and heartfelt thanks to the Government of the United Kingdom for your enduring confidence in Australia and the support you have given over four decades to build a world leading astronomical facility here.

You have helped create a proud legacy that we take on gladly.