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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12609

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (18:46): In what is hopefully a final response, I will say that I do not in any way, in speaking in this debate, question bipartisanship in defence matters. But I do place the charge before the House that the standard of bipartisanship in defence is now bipartisanship in creating criminal sanctions for researchers in Australian universities. That is the bipartisanship the crossbenchers today have spoken about that is of concern. It is not a matter of whether we support a defence treaty with the UN. I love Ambassador Bleich. I have been to America.

Mr Robert: You love him?

Mr OAKESHOTT: Well, he's great company. I do not question anything about Australia's relationship with the US. I actually think we can deliver the treaty agreements in a way, through this chamber, that has unanimous support in the lower house and the upper house as a really strong message from the Australian parliament. But we do not need, in defence terms, collateral damage. And the collateral damage of this bill is researchers at Australian institutions who are now, under law, potentially—under 14A—to face criminal charges if, even in good faith, they publicise their research in the way they have in the past. They have to now meet a standard of approval with the Minister for Defence, which is an extraordinary takeover of the education portfolio in the research field. That is the concern before the House today. It is not about whether we have a treaty arrangement with the US or about all that we want to deliver for the impending visit of secretaries of state—or any of the other reasons to enhance our relationship with the US. None of that is in question, but there is a charge before the House today that remains unanswered: that researchers are getting a raw deal through this legislation.

There is now a criminal offence that has been written into law, and I do not accept the minister's argument that Australian researchers, in a highly competitive area—an area we want to grow in this country—now face a lesser standard in their ability to do open research, collaborate, and have partnerships with other institutions and other researchers compared with researchers in the US and the UK, who are also meeting these similar defence treaty agreements. It is not a matter of whether we do it in defence; it is how we do it, and how we do it without impacting open scientific research and fundamental research in Australia today.

In the responses I just heard from both the minister and the shadow minister, I heard the word 'fundamental' about half a dozen times. And in a world where the Macquarie Dictionary seems to define all we do, I heard that we are fundamentally undermining the fabric of the legislation. I heard that Australia is fundamentally different in the way we do research compared with the US, and that the crossbenchers fundamentally misunderstand what is really going on here in this legislation. I also heard that the only reason so far that there has been a massive change of position from the coalition is that somehow there is an acceptance now that this would fundamentally impact on defence and military issues for Australia.

I put the words 'fundamental research' on the table. That is exactly what you are knocking out: fundamental research that was written into section 9A by the coalition, to their credit, in the Senate last night, for all the right reasons. And now, for some reason, they have backed away from it. And now, of all the 27 amendments before this chamber, this is the one the minister rejects. I put it to this House again: why? And the 'why' needs to be answered in full, in detail. I will not support any attack on Australian universities that this looks to be doing in its current form.