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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8704


Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (18:21): As it was on Monday, it remains today the fundamental assertion of the government that the insertion of clause 9A into this bill, as was proposed and executed on Monday, has the effect of weakening the legislation rather than strengthening it. Let me be plain: earlier today in this chamber you spoke earnestly, passionately and thoughtfully, as you usually do, about the uranium debate. I think it is worth noting that this is uranium that will be exported under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and a bilateral Australian safeguards agreement. Yet, by insisting on this amendment to this important counterproliferation legislation, that would enshrine in that legislation, you are proposing free rein for any person who has an intent to publish defence technology, to export this defence technology in electronic form to anyone in any country, and to do so in the absence of any safeguards. Indeed, this would apply to technology that is crucial to the development of nuclear weapons.

So, Senator Ludlam, what you are effectively doing is proposing the unrestricted, unregulated transfer of nuclear-related technology to anyone anywhere in the world. You are proposing to extend that to technology crucial to the production of chemical and biological weapons. We say that, by insisting on this amendment, you are in fact weakening the antiproliferation position of this government. As we have said all along, the amendment has the effect of fatally undermining the legislation.

In terms of the amendment and its particulars, I can go through the amendment clause by clause. I will try to do this swiftly. Clause 9A(a) describes the act as not applying to information in the public domain. Information in the public domain is already exempt from controls under the Defence and Strategic Goods List. Clause 9A(b) exempts any information that has been or is intended to be published in any publication to members of the public. In effect, this clause would mean that any person could decontrol sensitive material simply by the act of intending to publish it.

As I mentioned previously, once the material has been published and is in the public domain, it is not controlled under the DSGL. That would not only decontrol the sensitive information in Australia, it would also decontrol it across other countries that have an exemption for information in the public domain. It would weaken the current control arrangements by allowing tangible transfers of sensitive technology, which are already controlled. These implications are completely unacceptable to the government, have the potential to threaten Australia's national security and I cannot help but suspect would not comprehensively be supported by your good self. It is at odds with your stated objective, which is to strengthen the counterproliferation regime in this country and internationally.