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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12600


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:04): I will speak to amendment (9) and amendment (13), which is coming up shortly, for the convenience of the House and to avoid having to repeat my remarks. Everyone who says that they support academic freedom and that they support Australia's independence in this Asian century will very soon have a chance to vote for it, because this bill, if it gets through in the form proposed by the government, will hamper research, hamper academic freedom and hamper our independence. Even worse, we are about to be asked to strip out of this bill a key protection that was inserted into it after the coalition moved an amendment that the Greens supported in the Senate.

This bill has a very wide scope. It catches research that is being conducted in connection with a list known as the defence and strategic goods list. It can be equipment, the nature of the research or the people with whom one is coming into contact that can potentially overlap with this list. This list has an index of 79 pages and is in itself a 380-page technical document. If your research overlaps with something on that list, you are caught by the bill. If that is the case, it is not simply that there are a few hoops you have to jump through. If your research is caught by this bill and you do not comply with the provisions of it, you face criminal penalties as a researcher in this country. You have to ask for a permit to have your research published.

It also affects the basic conduct of research itself—your communications with people in another country. It will affect you when people come from another country to visit you. If you collaborate with an institute in Asia, you will be caught by this. You are subject to criminal penalties if you do not comply with the requirements of this bill, which themselves are only understandable by reference to a 380-page technical document.

This is not some abstract point; this is going to affect research done all the time by people in this country. As the University of Sydney told the Senate, it will affect it will affect quantum physics research. One academic there said that this would be an onerous regulatory regime requiring allocation of the significant resources to monitoring and managing the requirements that would otherwise be devoted to research. He said:

Were this legislation in place at the time I was brought to Australia from the US to build a research effort in this area, I may not have come, given the potential difficulties it could cause.

This is not someone who is doing research, writing a blueprint for some weapon that they are about to send to another country; they are doing research in quantum physics. The government may say that this will not affect basic research, that it is only research done with an intended purpose. Having spent some time talking to researchers over many years, I know that so much of the research is done now in connection with a potential application and inventions like Wi-Fi come when you are researching something completely different, as CSIRO knows all too well. It is absolutely correct when the University of Sydney says that this will affect potentially melanoma research. One research says:

There would be a chilling effect on participation by foreigners in our biomedical research, and the probability that important research in human biology and medicine might never be done. There would be increased compliance costs, with resulting reduced effectiveness of Commonwealth research infrastructure funding, reduced effectiveness of private funding to independent research institutes, and slowing of research. In the health research sector it has been robustly demonstrated that investment saves lives and increases welfare, so a reduction of investment through increased costs, or non-approval of research, will have a real and potentially quantifiable cost in lives and human welfare.

And they tell us it will have an effect with respect to infectious diseases. Not only is that a laborious process of identifying whether or not you are caught by this act by reference to another document— (Extension of time granted)

Mr Robert: Keep it short.

Mr BANDT: I am told to keep it short by the shadow minister, who is asking me to not defend the amendment moved by the coalition in the Senate. This is incredibly important for the conduct of academics in Australia and their research. One of their main criticisms has been that this has been rushed through, some say to coincide with the future visit from the US Secretary of State. There has been complaint after complaint about how quickly this process has been pushed through this parliament, and the fact that it took the Greens in the Senate to get the two-year review that some on the government benches are relying on to now support the passage of the bill suggests that this bill had problems in it from the start. Of course, the government to their credit have acknowledged that there are problems and worked to find some solutions, but those solutions have not been found because we now still have at the last minute, just today, Universities Australia saying to this place that the Senate's decision—that is, the passage of the coalition and Greens amendment:

… to match the US exclusion from fundamental research is an important step in ensuring a level playing field for export controls. Universities Australia calls upon the House of Representatives to give this serious consideration, as the Senate has done.

The Society of University Lawyers tells us that there is a real likelihood that the bill as currently drafted may do more harm than the risks it seeks to address, and they seek the support of this place for changes. The National Tertiary Education Union says they are alarmed at the inclusion of an amendment which, if passed into law, would create a criminal offence for the publication of certain material related to dual use technologies. So here we have being rushed through a bill in which, at the last minute, the universities and the academics are pleading with us to include some basic protection for research that is not intended to be caught by this. I think everyone in this House would agree that national security is important and that there should be restrictions, as suggested in the Senate, on providing a blueprint for some kind of weapon to someone who is an enemy of this country. If we are really concerned about that, perhaps we should be looking at what we are doing with our potentially deadly uranium and where, after second and third countries, that might find its way and into whose hands.

If it was simply a bill about dealing with that, that would be one thing, but it is not about dealing with that. The government and the opposition know it, which is why there has been a scramble to find a solution. What we know, because the experts and the people who are going to be affected by this are telling us very clearly, is that if this passes we have not fixed the problem. In fact, we are now introducing a potentially chilling regime into research in Australia and we are doing it quickly when there is absolutely no need to do it quickly and there is every need to give our researchers more time so that we can come up with a solution.

I hear the government's point that the amendment which provides the exemption is broadly drafted. The Greens moved a different kind of amendment in the Senate which was unsuccessful but which provided a defence for academics, rather than an exemption, a defence they were able to rely on to avoid prosecution. That was unsuccessful, but in the absence of that defence we need this amendment to remain and we need this protection to apply. Otherwise we are about, for the first time, to introduce criminal sanctions on our researchers at a time when they are telling us, 'You do this and it will affect the biomedical research that we do, it will affect the research into physics that we do, it will affect the research into infectious diseases that we do.' It is up to us in this place to listen to them and to heed the last minute plea of Universities Australia that we do what the Senate do—that is, maintain Australia's independence and maintain the freedom of our researchers to conduct their own research without fear that they may end up in jail.