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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12603


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (18:15): I support the words of the member for Melbourne. I ask, hoping it is the view of colleagues around me as well, for reconsideration by both the major parties in this chamber of supporting what looked to be an eminently sensible amendment, approved by the Senate yesterday, moved by Senator Johnston of the Liberal Party and supported by the Greens. But here in this chamber today, 24 hours later, we have the Liberal and National parties opposing the motion they themselves successfully moved in the Senate. I ask this chamber: what on earth has happened in the last 24 hours; who has talked to whom to force that change of position?

I would ask everyone to look at proposed section 9A. Od section 9A. On paper, you will see a sensible amendment that asks for nothing more than the same standards of access and exemptions for Australian researchers that apply to US researchers. What on earth is this chamber doing voting against equity for Australian researchers with their US counterparts? Why on earth, in our sovereign interests, would we be voting against that? That is what I ask both the Minister for Defence and the shadow minister for defence. I also invite the minister for education and the shadow minister for education to come down and participate in this debate to explain why bipartisanship on military affairs matters more than bipartisanship on education affairs in Australia's sovereign interests.

We are two days into the so-called Asian century. I have heard lots of talk about the importance of education and how partnerships with neighbouring countries in the Asia-Pacific are going to matter and will grow over time. This bill is the first action that we as a parliament have taken following the release of Ken Henry's work on Australia in the Asian century. This is a step backwards for those partnerships with other countries rather than a step forward based on the principles of open science and research, and partnerships and collaborations with neighbouring countries and institutions. This is the handing-over of command and control of the research sector to the minister at the table, the Minister for Defence—and, whilst I am sure that is not the intent, that is not the way it is being delivered in the UK and it is not the way it is being delivered in the US. I accept the need and the want for global agreements in this area, but we have handed over delivery of this to the Defence portfolio and saying Australian research in Australian education institutions is secondary to the wants and needs of Defence. We are entering McCarthyist territory if we accept that. It is extraordinary to see a minister being allowed to do that in a cabinet that says education matters.

I think it is telling that, in the last 24 hours, we have gone from seeing the Liberal Party, with the Greens, get this proposed section 9A approved in the Senate yesterday, for good and sensible reasons, to seeing the Liberal and National parties opposing it in this House today. I ask: what is going on? And I do not like what I think is the answer. It is of great concern who has got to whom over the last 24 hours.

I also put to bed the notion that this is just some University of Sydney issue, which is the pitch that has been made to me and others. I have emails from the Australian National University. I have emails from the University of Technology, Sydney. Universities Australia has today come out and said that what happened in the Senate last night was sensible and something that deserved this chamber's support. (Extension of time granted)I cannot understand why anyone would argue against what was approved in the Senate last night. If it is so broadly drafted that it means nothing, then so what? Leave it in.

The fact that we have a minister approving 26 amendments but only fighting one and we have a Liberal Party approving this in the Senate yesterday but now going against it in the Reps says that there is a dirty little story about section 9A that needs to be told by both parties. It is at the expense of the education sector in Australia. I ask both parties to stand up and explain exactly what the problem is with this proposed section 9A. It is in defence of open research and science.

I also want to raise the issue of proposed section 14A, which is the second issue of critical concern that remains in this bill and which was a late government amendment. I was not going to make an issue of that if coalition support for section 9A in the Senate was maintained in this House, but it looks like there is bipartisanship on removing 9A. That brings 14A into play, and what that says is quite extraordinary for the research sector in Australian education today. It says that, if any researcher—even those with good intentions and working in good faith—publishes what has to date been open scientific research for the public good, it is a criminal offence.

The McCarthyist intent may be honourable, but the delivery through this legislation is dangerous. It is jeopardising our commitment to a research sector in Australia that I would have thought is important to all of us in the many fields that we deal with in this chamber, from food and fibre production all the way through to the medical and health sciences. The kinds of science that are covered by this Defence Trade Controls Bill are innovation advancing public health, improving agriculture, mining and manufacturing, and supporting Australia's civilian innovation sector. That is because this research sometimes also has military applications. Open scientific research is, however, low or no risk in respect of military applications. For that reason, why on earth are we leaving that exposed, and why on earth are we therefore including a criminal offence for a researcher in that space?

I express my deepest want: for the minister, the shadow minister and the carriers of the education portfolios on both sides to have another look at this. Those two areas in particular should not pass in the form that they are in. We should be supporting what the Liberal Party put up in the Senate yesterday and had the potential to get through this chamber today. I find it extraordinary that they have chosen for some reason today to fold their cards. I will not. I will oppose this on behalf of the education sector of Australia, and I ask the shadow minister at the table to talk to his colleagues. They might get a win if they have another look at this.