Universities welcome call for more consultation on Foreign Relations Bill

New parliamentary reports have echoed the university sector’s concerns on proposed international agreement laws and highlighted the need for further consultation.

The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee’s report into the proposed Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill was published today.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said the sector continues to believe universities should be written out of the Bill.

“If this is not possible significant amendment is required. Our primary concerns go to both the workability of these laws that will cover thousands and thousands of agreements and the deterrent effect this could have on international partnerships,” Ms Jackson said.

“These partnerships are the lifeblood of research.”

“At a minimum, the Bill should include a list of exclusions to narrow its scope.”

The Bill currently allows the Foreign Minister to veto or alter a wide range of university agreements.

Ms Jackson said the committee agreed with universities’ recommendations that the definitions be tightened, and further consultation undertaken.

“Without clarification, the laws could include a huge number of ‘arrangements’. The retrospective nature of the Bill would mean that the agreements captured could go back decades.”

“We are pleased to see the dissenting report calls for the Minister to list reasons for any changes and that decisions can be appealed.”

“Universities are equal partners with Government agencies in the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT), which has devised robust guidelines that build on measures to keep our institutions and intellectual property secure.”

“Australian universities have worked with Government for decades to protect our intellectual property and to rebuff attempts to breach national security. Universities have regularly sought advice from Government and its agencies on security matters to protect our people, research and systems,” Ms Jackson said.

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