Bills Digest no. 65 2005–06
Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Amendment
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as
introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest
does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be
consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the
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Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Amendment
Date Introduced: 9 November 2005
House: House of
Portfolio: Education, Science and Training
Commencement: Clauses 1-3 commence on Royal Assent. The operative
provisions (Schedule 1) only commence once both Royal
Assent is given and the Supplementary
Agreement(1) is in force in Australia. The relevant
Minister must make a gazettal notice announcing the date the
Supplementary Agreement comes into force in Australia. However, if
that Agreement is not in force with six months of Royal Assent,
Schedule 1 does not commence at all.
To incorporate the 2005 Supplementary Agreement regarding the
Anglo-Australian Telescope into the Anglo-Australian Telescope
Agreement Act 1970.
Most observing activity in Australian optical astronomy occurs
at Siding Spring Observatory located near Coonabarabran NSW, where
a large number of significant telescopes and facilities coexist.
Few astronomers peer through a telescope these days as most
observing is computerised. Work also involves theoretical study,
instrumentation development and teaching. Astronomy is a science
enabling and inspiring discipline, particularly for young people,
with Australia s extensive expertise being demonstrated by the
level of citations in relevant publications, while also
contributing to scientific applications and technological
In 1969, Australia and the UK signed a treaty (the Anglo-Australian
Agreement(2)) providing for the establishment and
operation of a large 3.9m telescope at Siding Spring the
Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT). The AAT is managed and operated
by the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board (AATB), which was also
established by the Anglo-Australian Agreement. The AATB is an
independent bi-national authority funded on an equal basis by
Australia and the UK. The AATB was given statutory recognition in
Australia by the Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Act
1970 (the Act).
In addition to the AAT, the AATB s facilities include the
1.2-metre UK Schmidt Telescope (UKST), also at Siding Spring, and a
laboratory at Epping in Sydney. Collectively, these form the
In 2001, the UK advised Australia that it had other astronomy
priorities and intended to terminate its involvement with the AAT.
According to the recent
report of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT):
The Committee was informed that the UK would be
directing some of its astronomy assigned funding towards facilities
such as the European Southern Observatory and Gemini Observatories
both of which operate next generation eight-metre optical
Instead of terminating the Agreement with
Australia, the UK agreed to amend the Agreement to continue the UK
s commitment to the AAT, but at a reduced level until the
termination of both agreements. The new termination and the AAT
handover arrangements will ensure long term access for Australian
astronomers to a valuable scientific instrument in the lead up to
Australia s acquisition of the AAT.(3)
The administrative arrangements to reflect this progressive
withdrawal by the UK from the AAT are contained in an amendment
Supplementary Agreement ) to the Anglo-Australian Agreement.
Under the Supplementary Agreement, which was signed in August 2005,
ownership of the AAT will be transferred to Australia on 1 July
2010, at which time the Anglo-Agreement Agreement will cease.
As a national facility in high demand, AAT usage is allocated on
the basis of the merit of proposed observing programs. The
Observatory has thus been involved in activities such as the
2dF Galaxy Redshift
Survey and the 6dF Galaxy Survey
(UKST). The 2dF survey mapped more than 221,000 galaxies in space
while the 6dF survey covered 20,000 quasars of distant galaxies.
According to a recent study, the AAT has fared well in terms of
citations of scientific papers, being the most productive telescope
for those greater than 3m in size.(4) The AAT s most
highly cited papers came from the 2dF Survey.
The draft Australian Astronomy
Decadal Plan 2006-15 proposes a strategic vision for national
benefit through research and expertise in optical and radio
facilities, with a focus on international collaborations and global
projects. The two major projects are the Square Kilometre Array
(SKA) radio telescope program and development of Extremely Large
Telescope (ELT) optical facilities. Australian expertise in
automated optical imaging systems has enabled entry into major
overseas scientific projects such as the Gemini Observatories
located in Hawaii and Chile.
The Plan aims to build on a proud
history of local achievements in astronomy, but how Australia will
sit in future proposals, such as the $1 billion SKA project and
$500 million ELT project, is problematic. While these may represent
the new generation of astronomy research, their astronomical prices
may forever confine Australian interests to mere niche activities.
Australia s participation in international collaborative
observatories, although useful, is also said to be viewed by some
overseas participants as stingy, being at around 6 to 10 per
In 2005-06 Australia is providing $4.6 million of funding for
the AAT and associated matters, with the UK, if it follows past
practice, contributing somewhat over $4 million. According to the
Explanatory Memorandum, forward estimates indicate that Australian
funding through annual budget appropriations will increase
incrementally up to $4.9 million in 2008-09.(6) However,
according to the JSCOT report, the UK will halve its current
contribution to around $2 million in 2006-07 and $1 million in
2007-08.(7) The Supplementary Agreement provides for a
minimum annual contribution of $0.5 million by both parties to
2010. The Department of Education, Science and Technology (DEST)
has indicated that some additional funding for the AAT s continued
operation, without UK support, may be available through the
competitive grants program, assuming a successful
application.(8) The astronomical community has expressed
its concerns about the uncertain funding
More information on the AAT and the funding issues associated
with implementation of the Supplementary Agreement can be found in
the JSCOT report. (pages 27 28)
Schedule 1 makes various consequential changes
to the Act to reflect the amendment of the original
Anglo-Australian Agreement by the Supplementary Agreement.
The concerns of astronomers mentioned may well be validated, as
funding for even very basic astronomy programs have sometimes been
not forthcoming. For instance, there remains no funded Australian
component of the international effort to detect Earth-threatening
asteroids and comets under project Spaceguard. Establishment of a
Joint Department of Defence and DEST search for Earth-threatening
asteroids has been long-deferred. As well, space science remains a
poor cousin here, despite Australia's obvious expertise in
astronomy research. So, as stated by the AATB: To be effective,
astronomical research requires stable, long-term funding
See background for an explanation of the Supplementary
The full title is The Agreement between the Government of
the Commonwealth of Australia and the Government of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to provide for the
establishment and operation of a large optical telescope.
JSCOT Report 68: Treaties tabled on 7 December 2004 (5) and
tabled on 9 August 2005 Chapter 4 Report on the Supplementary
Agreement with the United Kingdom of Great Britain concerning the
Anglo-Australian Optical Telescope , pp. 20-21.
Sky and Space, Anglo-Australian research in world class ,
Sky and Space, July/August 2005, p. 30.
This sentiment was expressed verbally by Australian astronomers
at a recent visit by Parliamentary Library staff to a major
Explanatory Memorandum, Financial Impact, p. 2.
JSCOT Report 68, op. cit, p. 27.
Submission to JSCOT inquiry by Professor Penny Sackett,
Director, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian
Anglo-Australian Observatory, AAO Annual Report 2003
2004, Annual Report of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board,
2004, p. 17.
25 November 2005
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© Commonwealth of Australia 2006
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