We note that the timeline for comment on complex legislative amendments has been too short for deep consideration – for both UA and our member universities. UA consider it imperative that this Bill be subject to an inquiry by the relevant Parliamentary Committee, and pending the outcomes of that inquiry, that the Department of Defence conduct appropriate consultation to inform the drafting subsequent amendments to the Defence Trade Controls Regulation 2013 (the regulations).
We also acknowledge the other critical ongoing work of reviewing the Act, being undertaken by Mr Peter Tesch and Professor Graeme Samuel AC. In our submission to that review (Attachment A), UA noted that Australia needs to leverage its research sector to full effect in order to meet AUKUS challenges. To this end, UA considers that any legislative and/or policy change in this space should be aimed at reducing complexity and enhancing clarity around obligations.
Universities and the Department of Defence learned a great deal from the development of the original iteration of Australia’s defence trade control regime – including the importance genuine engagement to strike the right balance of controls without stifling our ability to collaborate and the critical need for appropriate transition and support arrangements. UA and our members look forward to continued deep engagement to ensure that this balance is maintained.
ALL INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH COLLABORATION IS IMPORTANT
Australian Universities are committed to making AUKUS as successful as possible and UA acknowledges the necessity of amendments to enable our researchers to collaborate freely with US and UK counterparts. It is critical that this not come at the expense of limiting our ability to cooperate with other existing and potential international research collaborators.
The significant amount of detail which the Bill defers to subordinate legislation is a major cause for concern for the university sector. The new offences, if implemented as drafted and without properly articulated exemptions, would immediately jeopardise a significant proportion of Australia’s ongoing collaborative research projects with partners outside of the US and UK. This is because research and research training, are fundamentally international endeavours.
According to UA data in 2020 our 39 member universities had 5,281 international research/academic partnerships across 124 countries – the US and UK are 4th and 7th respectively according to total collaborations. These partnerships not only dramatically increase the reach and impact of Australian research, they are also a critical component of Australia’s soft power, particularly within our region.
Based on the Bill, there may be exemptions for employees of institutions who are citizens of certain countries included in the Defence Trade Controls Act 2012 – Foreign Countries List which comprises 25 countries including the US and UK (noting again that certain details are deferred to regulations). In considering the reach and application of the proposed new controls, it is important to note that 11 of our top 20 research collaborator countries are not on this list and would therefore not be included in this exemption from permit requirements, accounting for 49 per cent of current partnerships.
This is just one example of the how the lack of specific details in the Bill may impact significantly on current and future research collaboration. A more general concern is that the amendments do not recognise the nature of research collaboration as multifaceted and multimodal. It is not as simple as the bilateral ‘supply’ of information or knowledge, or the provision of access to a resource or technology. It requires genuine ongoing exchange – of ideas, of staff, of students – and it is built on the basis of trust.
UA has encouraged our members to respond to this consultation individually, noting that the proposed amendments will impact each of them differently and that they have unique perspectives as those potentially subject to offences under the Act and as proposed in the Bill. However, we do wish to make the following additional specific observations and comments.