Negative commentary about plans for Australia’s first commercial space centre could dissuade other prospective investors to the East Arnhem land region, a local Indigenous group has warned.
- Plans are underway set up a rocket launchpad near Nhulunbuy
- Last year a local MP said people in Nhulunbuy “were not interested” in the project
- The head of a local Indigenous group is worried this may deter other investors
Last year, the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust granted a lease for a parcel of land on the Dhumpuma Plateau to the Gumatji Aboriginal Corporation — who represent traditional owners from one of the clans.
That land was then subleased to Equatorial Launch Australia, which has announced plans to build a commercial rocket launching facility near the town of Nhulunbuy, 1,000 kilometres east of Darwin in the Northern Territory.
But not long after the announcement, independent Member for Nhulunbuy Yingiya Mark Guyula criticised the NT Government for pushing the project, claiming “people out there [around Nhulunbuy] are not interested”.
“A space industry … it’s not something that we intend to do. People just want to set up small businesses, just want to take our infrastructure resources back onto country,” he said.
“There’s enough trouble in the homelands out there already without this industry coming in that’s providing big dollar signs to the rest of the world … to Australia.”
Now Gumatji Aboriginal Corporation’s Klaus Helms has warned other investors from various industries are likely to be watching.
“You’re going to scare away the clients and, you know, I just feel that would be a great shame,” Mr Helms said.
He pointed out the site had been in the space business before — when the European space research organisation launched rockets from Woomera in South Australia, a station was set up in the Gove region to track those rockets.
“Because people forget history we had Woomera,” he said.
“So why not keep that up? Why not rebuild that activity? Why not give the Yolngu, the people of Arnhem land, a chance to really better their lives?”
Klaus Helms is worried negativity towards the space project will influence other investors. (Supplied)
Region in need of jobs
Since Rio Tinto announced it would curtail operations at its local bauxite mine, the town has been looking at other economic opportunities.
The space project looked to fill that void, as last year Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the region could reap $100 million in economic benefits from the project, with the potential of 35 jobs during construction and a further 32 once the centre opens.
Signs remained positive for the project, with Mr Helms stating the Notice of Intent had been filed and was in the process of being approved.
“If you don’t go forward on this, you just don’t go forward at all,” Mr Helms said.
“You must look at other avenues of employment, you must also look at increasing the intelligence and the job ability and work ability of the region.
“[But] if [the project] goes good, it’ll go really good.”
He pointed out that, at the end of the day, the project was of a fairly small scale.
“We’re not lunar shooting, we’re not heading to Mars,” he said.
“It’s sub-orbital, and then hopefully, we’ll go into space.
“But it’s not carrying the six-tonne satellites they used to do — we’re talking about a suitcase-sized thing.
“It’s more weather information, the first few, it’s low impact.”
Gumatji have also flagged a possible move or expansion to other sites if the space base is successful.
Mining company Rio Tinto announced the alumina refinery was going into curtailment in 2013, costing 1,100 workers their jobs. (105.7 ABC Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
Indigenous employment ‘non-negotiable’
Mr Helms said one non-negotiable aspect of the project would be the involvement of Indigenous people in the development of the Gove space industry.
That would include building the roads and infrastructure.
Equatorial Launch Australia indicated the first launch could happen at the end of 2018.
The space industry is worth about $300 billion globally.