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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12604


Mr CRAIG THOMSON (Dobell) (18:23): I find it absolutely extraordinary that the Labor Party, in weighing up the choice between military and education interests, are putting military interests in front of educational interests. It is absolutely extraordinary that we find this situation—particularly from the government, who have prided themselves on the many good things that they have done in terms of education. A choice has been put there, a choice that they did not need to make—by adopting clause 9A they would get the outcome that they need—but they have decided to make a choice between education and military interests, and they have gone with military interests. I find that, on one hand, extraordinary.

I find it equally mind-blowing that the coalition can see the problems in the Defence Trade Controls Bill 2011 and, quite correctly, moved an amendment less than 24 hours ago, but 24 hours later they are actually going to oppose their own amendment here in this place. What is happening in this place? It is unprecedented that we are seeing this type of approach in relation to what should be bipartisan interests in making sure that Australia is a smart country, that we are giving every opportunity for researchers, rather than curtailing it.

What I think is most disappointing in this legislation is that, if this amendment is not passed, if we disallow what the Senate quite rightly put last night, we are going to end up with Australian researchers being treated in an inferior way to US researchers. I thought that in this country we were well beyond dipping the hat in colonial style to our partners, that we were a more mature country than that, that we had reached the stage where we could actually have partnerships on an equal footing, but apparently that is not the case. Apparently equal footing is something that the two major parties are going to oppose here in a bipartisan approach. That is absolutely extraordinary.

This legislation is complex, but one thing that almost every speaker in the Senate from both the Labor side and the coalition side complained about in this debate was that there was not enough consultation, that the matters had been rushed and that there were problems in relation to a whole range of proposals with this legislation, which is why the minister is here today making and supporting 26 amendments. But one of the most crucial amendments, an amendment that would have seen Australian researchers treated in the same way as those in the US, for some reason is being opposed.

In this country, under this regime, we are taking a totally different approach to that of the US or that of the UK. We are rushing through legislation. The great hope that both parties have said we have here—and I commend the contribution of the member for Reid, except that he is accepting that corrections can be made to this legislation in the two-year period afterwards. The history of this legislation is that it has been through Senate committees, where there were complaints about the way in which consultation had taken place—that it had been rushed. We are having it rushed into the Senate. We are having it rushed through the House of Representatives. For what reason? To disadvantage Australian researchers.

Surely, in this piece of legislation, the benefit of the doubt must go to the researchers. This amendment put forward by the coalition is in almost identical terms to that in the United States, so, if it were passed, we would see Australian researchers having the same provisions, the same issues, that they have in the United States. Instead, what we are doing is making researchers fear criminal sanctions, with up to 10 years in jail. The way both parties have approached this piece of legislation is a disgrace, and it does no credit to this House that we are going to end up where we are going to end up today.