Undue haste on Defence Trade Controls Bill could damage Australian research
The National Tertiary Education Union urges the federal government to pause and fully consider the consequences of rushing through the Defence Trade Controls Bill 2011. The haste to push the bill through the Senate in time for the US Secretary of State’s visit next month could be at the cost of intellectual freedom and the important relationship between the Department of Defence and universities, NTEU National President Jeannie Rea said today.
“This time last year, Parliament legislated intellectual freedom for Australian university researchers. This was a very significant decision which recognised that freedom of intellectual inquiry was critical to Australia’s higher education and research,” said Rea.
“Unfortunately the current bill would subject Australian researchers to levels of control and bureaucratic surveillance that work against the pursuit of knowledge and development of breakthrough research and innovation.”
Rea said that the NTEU appreciated the careful consideration of the concerns of the research community by the members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee and the amendments proposed in the committee’s report.
“However, while some of the recommendations for amendment would improve the bill, we are yet to see it in its redrafted form. Other proposed amendments apparently criminalise the dissemination of research,” she said.
In a dissenting report, Liberal and Green Senators on the Committee commented that they had not had time to consult the legal advice received from a US law firm that argues that the control of Australian academic institutions enabled by the bill would be broader than that in the US.
Rea said, “It would be most unfortunate if, in implementing the 2007 Australia United States Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty, we undermined Australia’s research effort. University of Sydney Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Jill Trewhella has argued that tying up researchers with more superfluous bureaucracy and the threat of criminal prosecution could send some of our best researchers off shore.“
Rea said that the NTEU’s membership of higher education workers across all universities includes thousands of academic researchers and research administrators.
“They would be stunned at the prospect of research communication being held up in the Defence Department, and question the expertise to consider and make decisions on not just military applications of technologies, but also civilian use,” she said.
“There is ample evidence within universities of the expertise and track record in establishing research codes of conduct and processes for the approval and monitoring of sensitive research. There is time to continue talking about this important trade and security matter and to get it right.”
Jeannie Rea, NTEU National, President 0434 609 531 email@example.com
Carmel Shute NTEU Media Officer: 0412 569 356 firstname.lastname@example.org