Oz researchers, uni unite against Defence overreach

Brass hats seek more control over technology and research

Australia’s research and university communities have united against what they see as Department of Defence overreach: the brass-hats want greater powers to control international collaboration.

The battle centres around the two-yearly review of Australia’s defence controls legislation, and a June submission by the Department asking for control over technologies currently uncontrolled by the Defence Trade Controls Act. The department’s also worried that digital technologies could end up outside Australian control without anything crossing the border but an electronic file.

In its June submission to the review the department fretted that there’s not enough government oversight of the “transfer of sensitive technology by Australians” to foreign entities, something that wouldn’t just affect defence capability and industry, but also universities.

The universities don’t seem to agree: eight universities, four research institutes, and the peak body for Australia’s top universities (the Group of Eight) have all followed up with supplementary submissions pushing back against Defence.

The Australian National University’s submission said the proposals would put Australian researchers at an international disadvantage, adding that the proposed Defence powers “appear to confer extraordinary powers of authority to determine what research can be communicated and to whom, with little transparency. This overreach is reinforced with unprecedented entry and search powers.”

Calling the Defence proposals “thought-provoking”, the University of Adelaide offered, and that institution complained that Defence hadn’t fully explained what it wanted covered under its proposal, and warned against excessive restrictions on academic research and international collaborations”.

The University of New South Wales has noticed that Defence’s proposals would let it declare a contract or collaboration in breach of the DTC Act retroactively, putting universities at risk even if they made their best efforts to comply; while the University of South Australia warned against “significant restriction to academic freedom, autonomy and international research collaboration”.

We seem to be noticing a theme emerging here; other universities who have recorded their resistance so far include the University of Southern Queensland, the University of Sydney, the Queensland University of Technology; and the University of Technology, Sydney.

The other submissions opposing the proposals came from the Group of Eight, the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Association of Australian Medical Research Institute, and Science & Technology Australia.

The submissions are here. ®




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