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Industry seeks clarity on Defence Trade Controls changes

A MV-22 Osprey from the United States of America Marines departs HMAS Adelaide during take-off and landing practice in the Whitsunday Islands during Exercise Sea Raider 2023. Photo: SGT Andrew Sleeman

Research institution representatives have sought further clarification regarding proposed amendments to the Australian federal government’s Defence Trade Controls laws.

Research institution representatives have sought further clarification regarding proposed amendments to the Australian federal government’s Defence Trade Controls laws.

The government began legislative manoeuvres into creating an export licence-free environment between domestic defence industry, the United Kingdom, and the United States earlier this month with public consultations opened for feedback on an exposure draft of the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023.

Under future potential amendments, the government would aim to reform respective defence export control frameworks to streamline the flow of defence trade between the AUKUS partners, promote collaboration and create an export licence-free environment to support industry, higher education, and research sectors of all partners.


The bill would also provide a national exemption to the UK and the US from Australia’s export control permit requirements under the Defence Trade Controls Act 2012.

“The Australian government will be consulting with stakeholders on additional exceptions to be included in the Defence Trade Controls Regulation 2013 and DSGL from December 2023 to early 2024,” according to a public statement from Defence.

“These proposed reforms would create an export licence-free environment to support industry, higher education, and research sectors in all three countries, including by reducing barriers to technology transfer and costs of trade.

“The reforms are designed to promote cooperation, collaboration, and innovation between Australia, the UK, and the US and are a critical step in building a seamless industrial base between AUKUS partners.”

Earlier this month on November 13, Australian Academy of Science president Professor Chennupati Jagadish said although a more seamless collaborative environment with AUKUS partners is welcome, he was also concerned about the negative impact this legislation might have on research collaborations with all other countries, which also serve the national interest.

“Efforts must be made by government to facilitate critical scientific and technological collaboration with countries other than the US and UK,” Professor Jagadish said.

“To successfully overcome the global issues we are facing; climate change, pandemic, energy transition, protection of the environment and space. These challenges all depend on technological innovation and solutions that only global scientific collaborations can provide.

“Presenting science purely as a competition among groups of nations ignores the reality of our interconnected global science system and its interconnected networks.”

Further clarification was also sought in a submission from the Group of Eight, comprising the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, the University of Western Australia, the University of Adelaide, Monash University, and UNSW Sydney.

“The Go8 strongly supports the intent of the bill to create an export controls framework that will streamline the flow of defence trade between AUKUS partners, by creating an export licence-free environment to support higher education, research and industry in all three countries,” the submission said.

“We acknowledge that changes to our current defence export environment will be critical if Australia is to maximise the opportunities offered by the AUKUS agreement, especially in relation to Pillar II.

“However, our broader research and knowledge networks, especially those with critical partners across the Indo-Pacific, also help contribute to regional stability and furthering Australia’s strategic goals. This makes it critical that we strike a carefully calibrated balance between ensuring the necessary legislative protections while not damaging our ability to engage more broadly where it is in the national interest.”

The submission outlined potential conflicts with researchers who hold dual Australian citizenship, a self-censoring effect on university innovation, disruptions to university campuses held overseas and impact on strong collaborative research with educational institutions in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, India, and China.

The changes would also seek to keep pace with emerging challenges in Australia’s security environment by creating new criminal offences in the Defence Trade Controls Act 2012.

The offences include supply of Defence and Strategic Goods List (DSGL) technology to a foreign person within Australia, and/or supply of DSGL goods and technology, that were previously exported or supplied from Australia, from one foreign country to another foreign country.

Greens defence and science spokesperson, Senator David Shoebridge, said given the sensitive, controversial and complex nature of the bill, the public consultation period from 7 to 17 November was a sham.

“This is a ridiculously short period for public comments, effectively opening for submissions on Monday and closing Friday. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Senator Shoebridge said.

“The draft bill, if implemented, will have far reaching impacts on Australia’s international scientific collaboration and that surely deserves more than a week’s thought.

“Australia has some of the brightest scientific minds on the planet, but collectively they account for only 4 per cent of global scientific output.

“Without effective international collaboration, we will become an international scientific backwater.

“There are definitely scientific positives by easing cooperation with UK and US counterparts but this must not come at the expense of walling us off from the rest of the world.

“A critical issue is that the boundary of what is and is not dual use military equipment is full of uncertainty and under this draft bill, if a scientist makes a wrong call, then they face jail. This is a serious concern already raised by researchers.”

Senator Shoebridge requested an immediate extension of the consultation period to a minimum four weeks.

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