Statement on the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill

November 30, 2023

The very architecture and nature of Australia’s capacity to engage in the global research system is at stake with the introduction of the Defence Trade Control Amendment Bill in Parliament.

This legislation will see Australia expand its backyard to include the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) but raise the fence for many other countries when it comes to international research collaborations.  

A more seamless collaborative environment with the US and UK as part of the AUKUS arrangements is welcomed, but the Australian Academy of Science is concerned about the negative impacts this will have on research collaborations with all other countries, which serve our national interest.  

In particular, the Academy suggests that the proposed exemption for fundamental or basic research, consistent with the United States definition, should be placed in the legislation to protect and give confidence to scientists that this legislation will not unnecessarily restrict scientific progress. 

Efforts must be made by the government to facilitate critical scientific and technological collaboration with countries other than the US and UK. 

The Australian Government must ensure this legislation does not undermine or compromise the Principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science, within Article 7 of the International Science Council’s Statutes.

The Australian Government must consider the resource implications of implementing this legislation.

The Academy recommends that amendments be made to the Bill include an exemption for ‘fundamental research’ in the legislation aligned with the US definition in the National Security Decision Directive 189 and improved impact monitoring embedded in reviews of the legislation to capture and address unintended consequences. 

The Academy welcomes the government's intention to work collaboratively with the science sector as the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill progresses through the Parliament to address the following:

  • Measures to improve awareness, understanding, implementation, and compliance with the new legislative environment. This includes educational resources, training and easy-to-use decision guides; 
  • Measures to mitigate unintended consequences on research and development, such as self-censorship by the research sector, which leads to missed opportunities and benefits for Australia that cost us dearly;
  • Measures to avoid adverse impacts on the international research workforce in Australia. Foreign students and researchers make up a significant proportion of the Australian research workforce, and they will be needed in greater, not fewer, numbers in the future to meet national needs;
  • Investments to establish secure research environments in Australian universities; and
  • Initiatives to widen low-risk international collaborations, such as through Australia’s association with Horizon Europe. 

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