31 October, 2012The Defence Trade Controls Bill, passed through the House of Representatives last night, provides a way forward for testing the impact of the Bill on Australian researchers after a long and challenging period of negotiation.
The amendments passed by the lower house secured a number of important procedural changes including a minimum two year trial period to be overseen by an independent Steering Group chaired by the Chief Scientist, together with strong Parliamentary oversight.
"During the trial, researchers will not be subject to offence provisions. This will provide the opportunity to 'learn by doing' and secure clarity on the remaining uncertainties about how the regime will work and its impact on universities and the Australian research community," said Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia, the peak body representing the sector.
"If properly managed and implemented, the trial will help to make up for the fact that an adequate assessment of the regulatory impact was not done prior to the legislation being introduced.
"Universities Australia particularly values the inclusion of an authoritative role for the Minister responsible for Research alongside the Minister for Defence. This is essential to ensure that the wider benefits of Australian research will be considered along with national security concerns.
"The rejection of the Senate's amendment to mirror US exclusions for 'fundamental research' is disappointing. This amendment gave effect to the Senate Committee's view that the legislation should not put Australian researchers at a disadvantage compared with their US counterparts.
"We are pleased though, that the Steering Committee overseeing the trial is now required to advise ministers on whether the regime is more restrictive than that of the US. This will be a very important component of the Steering Committee's work and universities will advocate that settling this contentious matter is a priority for the early stages of the implementation period.
"For this procedural solution to succeed in addressing the outstanding concerns of Australian researchers, it will need to be managed and implemented to the highest possible standards, ensuring commitments to thorough and open consultation.
"Universities Australia greatly appreciates the strong interest taken by the Parliament in this important matter and the enormous effort of everyone involved. We are encouraged by the very high level of commitment given by so many Parliamentarians to Australian research and the principle of free inquiry.
"We also wish to acknowledge and thank the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, the Defence Chief Scientist, Dr Alex Zelinksy, and Mr Ken Peacock for the very important role that they have played in securing this outcome.
"Universities Australia will cooperate fully and constructively in this trial," Ms Robinson concluded.