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Go8 Submission to the Inquiry into National Security Risks Affecting the Australian Higher Education and Research Sector

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security
PO Box 6021
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

The Group of Eight (Go8), comprises Australia’s leading research-intensive universities (responsible for 70 per cent of the sector’s research), with seven of its eight members ranked in the world’s top 100 universities. The Go8 is pleased to have this opportunity to provide evidence to the Inquiry into “National Security Risks Affecting the Australian Higher Education and Research Sector”.

Please note that this submission represents the views of the Go8 as a whole. Individual Go8 members may also choose to provide a submission, focussing on their specific circumstances.

The Go8 begins its submission with an unequivocal statement:

“The Go8 supports the Morrison Government’s view that national security risks must be dealt with proactively. Australians deserve no less an approach. The Go8 has a solid and beneficial working relationship with Australia’s security agencies, having been instrumental in the development and implementation of the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) guidelines for our universities. These guidelines are seen as an exemplar by the Five Eyes Plus group of nations and their leading research-intensive universities.

The Go8 believes that a strong partnership with Government is essential to ensure its member universities can continue to do everything in their power to keep our campuses and our research ‘safe’ in accordance with what is required of us to ensure national security.

Our universities are committed to working cooperatively with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Committee and urges the Committee to recognise its long-standing commitment to protecting our national security interests.  The Go8 is not naïve to geopolitical imperatives. As this submission will illustrate for the Committee, the Go8 has not ignored security risks to secure funding nor knowingly put national security at risk.

The Go8 sees this submission therefore as a first step; integral to working constructively by providing the Committee with facts that too easily have become masked by popular misconceptions of how we operate, and who we are within a respected global research community, and leading academic community.”

The Go8 has been told repeatedly, by the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator in the Department of Home Affairs; and by our counterpart organisations in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand that our efforts to counter foreign interference through the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) and the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the University Sector (the Guidelines) are truly ground-breaking. The role of UFIT and the Go8’s collaboration with the Taskforce is a key component of this submission.

At the Inaugural Trusted Cyber Security Forum hosted by RMIT University and held on the 27 November 2020, a representative from the Australian Security Intelligence Office (ASIO) noted that the collaborative nature of UFIT had permitted a more mature conversation to be had between the parties than would otherwise have been possible, and that this “joined up approach” would be “enduringly powerful” in combating the effects of foreign interference and espionage into the future. That is very much a Go8 goal. The Go8 is proud of what has been and is being achieved with UFIT in partnership with our security agencies.

No other Five Eyes Plus nation, to the Go8’s knowledge – certainly not the US, UK or Canada – has yet achieved this trusted, collaborative approach between Government, agencies and universities. What has been delivered here provides Australia with a powerful opportunity to lead the way with national security in its research-intensive universities, demonstrating how to manage risks and yet thrive in a knowledge-led, research driven world.

It also enables Australia to position itself as a research partner of choice for any nation seeking to achieve secure R&D excellence, and as a secure pillar of a global economy which relies on research to grow.

The Go8 urges the Committee to accept the offer to collaborate so that Australia continues to be recognised as the example to the rest of the world on how both security and research outcomes can be balanced and maintained in a productive, successful and trusted way. 

Terms of Reference

  1. The prevalence, characteristics and significance of foreign interference, undisclosed foreign influence, data theft and espionage, and associated risks to Australia’s national security.

Context is everything. In September 2019, outgoing head of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, described foreign interference and espionage as “by far and away the most serious issue going forward”, and noted that the “current scale and scope of foreign intelligence activity against Australian interests is unprecedented”.[1]

At the same time, he also emphasised the need for nuance in our nation’s response, and the imperative to find the “sweet spot” between passivity and over reaction.[2] This is partly because of the paradox that our “open democracy and the features of globalisation…. enrich our country and our society but nevertheless provide an unprecedented array of vectors that foreign spies can and do use to attack us”.[3] It is also partly because “while some espionage and interference activity is readily and immediately apparent, some other effects don’t become evident for many years after the event”. [4] Furthermore, even when an investigation is triggered “some of ASIO’s enquiries establish no threat to security and no further action is required”.[5]

Foreign interference is, by definition, “coercive… deceptive, clandestine”.[6] As Director-General of Security Mike Burgess has noted, even ASIO is “not all seeing and all knowing”. [7] As Mike Burgess has also emphasised “protecting Australians and Australia’s interests demands partnerships… It is important we continue our open and productive dialogue”.[8]

The Go8 recognises this complexity and agrees with ASIO in the need for nuance. The risk from us not taking the threat of foreign interference seriously are real.  But, the Go8 also recognises the risks to our nation’s economic and societal future if  Australia as a nation, with the best of intent,  over-reacts and damages the  open democratic exchange that Duncan Lewis has noted enriches our country and our society.  

The Go8 lists below an evidence-based assessment of the prevalence, characteristics and significance of foreign interference as it relates to the Go8 as a group of the world’s leading research-intensive universities. (It is worth noting at this point that Australia’s relationship with China has been the subject of intense media scrutiny during 2020).

  • It is not typically recognised, that the top research collaborator with China is not Australia and its Go8, but the US – and by a significant margin.
  • Go8 universities conduct far more research with the EU, US and UK, than with China.
  • China also conducts far more research with the UK than it does with Australia
  • In potentially sensitive research areas Australia produced far fewer collaborative academic publications (co-publications) with China than did the US.
  • The Go8 is more prominent in collaborating with Five Eyes leading research-intensive colleagues (as measured as a proportion of its own collaborations) than the US Ivy League and UK Russell Group, though less prominent than Canada’s U15.

These factual statements are explained in more detail below.

We have also included – in Appendix 6 – responses to some common misconceptions about the sector.

  • Areas where concern has been expressed by Government about the potential for prevalence of Foreign Interference. The facts and the fiction.

As Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, the Go8 conducts around 70 per cent of the nation’s university-based research. International collaboration – known as research without borders – is a key feature of high-quality research and is the foundation for most of the world’s major research breakthroughs. Global research teams are the norm, not the exception. Global research also delivers benefit locally – through the employment of research teams, investment, commercialisation and the export of goods and services

This enables the best minds in each field to collaborate, regardless of nationality or location in the pursuit of common goals – delivering the best research to solve global problems such as food and water security.

Go8 universities engage extensively with international partners. China is only one of those many partners. For example, the Go8 conducts far more collaborative research with the European Union (34%), the US (23%) and the UK (17%).

Note: the number of co-publications is a reliable proxy for the percentage of research collaboration between nations: when the researchers jointly publish their results.

Table 1: Go8 international co-publications 2015-2019 – top 6 collaborator nations

Go8 top collaborators 2015-2019 co-pubs* Percentage of total co-pubs* Percentage of co-pubs with top 6*
EU-28 77,161 34% 62%
USA 52,122 23% 42%
UK 38,305 17% 31%
China 28,828 13% 23%
Germany 19,097 8% 15%
Canada 16,688 7% 13%
Total for top collaborators 124,308 N/A N/A
Total for all collaborators 227,686 N/A N/A

* Note that as co-publications may have more than one nation collaborating with the Go8 some publications appear multiple times in these numbers/percentages.

When viewing the total research volume conducted with the top six collaborators (2015-2019), the Go8 has a greater share of its co-publications than Australia as a whole with the EU-28 (62% vs 58%), USA (42% vs 37%), UK (31% vs 28%), Germany (15% vs 14%) and Canada (13% vs 12%), but less research with China (23% vs 25%) than Australia in total.

Placing that data in context, China produced far more co-publications with the US and the UK during the same period (2015-2019) then it did with Australia:

Table 2: China international co-publications 2015-2019 – Five Eyes nations

China top collaborators 2015-2019 co-pubs[9]
United States 263,624 (1)
United Kingdom 65,571 (2)
Australia 57,048 (3)
Canada 42,923 (4)
New Zealand 5,621 (29)

China is in fact the United States’ top research collaborator after the EU-28 and is ahead of Australia in UK’s top collaborations for 2015-2019.

As it relates to potentially sensitive areas, such as materials science, Australia produced far fewer co-publications with China than did the United States:

‘Sensitive research’[10]

Research collaborators with China 2015-2019 co-pubs[11] in Material Science
United States 21292 (1)
Australia 6352 (2)

See Appendix 7 for more detail on Australia and Go8 research collaborations with international partners.

  • Mutual benefit of international partnerships – case studies are attached  

As noted above, international collaborations enable the world’s best minds in each area to come together in the pursuit of common and often world-changing research goals. Appendix 1 includes examples of excellence research which demonstrate the benefits to Australia from invaluable research collaboration.

  • Thousand Talents Program

There has been much political and media focus on China’s Thousand Talents program. By way of context, China is not alone in developing international talent programs which are designed to import top minds into a nation. Australia has its own Global Talent Independent Program, run by the Department of Home Affairs, aimed at “attract[ing] the best and brightest to help create a more prosperous Australia”.[12]

Director-General of Security Mike Burgess stated on 20 October 2020 in his evidence to Parliament’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee:

“I should point out that, being a member of the Thousand Talents Program of itself is no problem—and, for those who are, generally that is fine. Obviously, declaring that and being open about what associations you have is always good policy. But being a member of the Thousand Talents Program is not in itself a problem for me or Australia in general.”[13]

The real issue with the Thousand Talents program is not that the program exists, nor that it has members within Australian universities, but whether an association with the program has been appropriately declared.

The issue should be carefully managed so dealing with security risks does not descend into unnecessary mistrust of individuals. Such mistrust puts at risk the very partnership approach that ASIO has highlighted as key to countering foreign interference.

  • Confucius Institutes.

Another focus of political and media attention has been Confucius Institutes hosted within Australian universities. Six Go8 universities host Confucius Institutes.  By way of context, 65 Confucius Institutes remain in operation on US university campuses as of August 2020 (down from 90 in 2014). The only Confucius Institute of issue, which has since been closed in Australia, was not within any university but within the NSW Government’s Department of Education.

As the Go8 stated in our Questions on Notice to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee in relation to the Foreign Relations Bill (response from Go8 Chief Executive, Vicki Thomson):  

“With respect to Confucius Institutes: while it may have been that an original intention of the FITS legislation was that they would be captured, it is the Go8’s advice that all six of our members who host these Institutes did receive independent legal advice that this is not the case under the legislation as it currently exists.

As I noted in evidence to the Committee, this is consistent with the advice I received from Home Affairs. The Go8 attaches for your advice correspondence from Attorney General Hon Christian Porter MP to me dated 2 April 2018. He specifically notes that the status of Confucius Institutes under the scheme “will depend on all of the facts and circumstances” and that “My department, which will administer the scheme, will be happy to assist potential registrants to determine whether registration is required”.

This makes it clear that it was the view of the Attorney General, at least at that time, that Confucius Institutes would not be automatically captured.

The Go8 sought to clarify this understanding more recently on 25 February 2020 with the Department of Home Affairs. On that date it was verbally confirmed that the Confucius Institutes hosted by Go8 universities were not causing concerns amongst security agencies.”[14]

Go8 universities have also conducted their own due diligence assessments as it relates to Confucius Institutes. We have attached a case study of measures undertaken at the University of Melbourne to assess and mitigate any risks posed (see Appendix 2). It is not unusual for universities to host such types of organisations. Appendix 2 also contains examples of similar organisations or institutes hosted across the Go8.  These include – the Pacific Institute at ANU, the University of Queensland’s Korean Studies Centre and Ramsay Centre, the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre and University of Western Australia’s Perth USAsia Centre.

  • Defence Trade Controls Act 2012 (DTCA)

The DTCA regulates the export of military and dual-use goods and technologies. The Go8 has been a key participant and proactively engages in this process.

Significant scrutiny is undertaken in Go8 universities to determine whether their research can be used for unintended or even negative purposes. This scrutiny is a critical aspect of exercising due diligence and caution in the conduct and dissemination of research.

Much of this effort takes place through the universities’ implementation of the Defence Trade Controls Act 2012, which provides a regime to regulate the control and supply of research and technology, among other goods. Go8 universities, through their Defence Trade Controls personnel and offices, have consistently developed their capacity and capability to implement the Act, including through regular discussions with the Defence Exports Control (DEC) office in the Department of Defence, applying for assessment of proposed research, informing the development of – and participating in – outreach sessions by Defence, and conducting in-house information sessions for researchers and staff.

In 2020, the Go8 established the Go8 Defence Trade Controls Expert Reference Group to facilitate sharing of information, approaches and considerations in implementing the Act and to inform the Go8 representative on the working group assisting Department of Defence with its response to the 2018 Review of the Act. In 2019, the Go8 also invited the Department of Defence to participate in Summits focussing on Defence, Space and Artificial Intelligence (AI) research as a way of further shedding light on the sort of research activities in our universities that are regulated by the Act.

A straightforward approach to the risks would be to take the view that either a piece of research is export controlled or it is not, or that it comes under the considerations of the Defence Strategic Goods List (DSGL), or it does not. However, the diversity and complexity of research in Go8 universities means that simply referring to the list would be insufficient due diligence. Go8 universities apply their own pre-screening, including through detailed discussions with researchers regarding the possible implications of their research beyond the intended purpose. When it is anticipated that research not covered by the DSGL may have a military application, Go8 Universities discuss the proposed research with the Department of Defence.  They submit requests for assessment by Defence in uncertain cases, even where that possibility is remote, and engage in extensive discussions with Defence regarding the possible ramifications. One Go8 university is developing a specific AI tool to assist with its internal assessments as a way of screening research before submitting it to Department of Defence (see Boxed description, Appendix 1).

It would be impractical to take the perspective that all research can be weaponised and therefore used for unintended purposes – this would result in no research being conducted or disseminated. Yet our universities apply, to the extent possible, a richness of consideration of the potential implications and risks arising from our research.

That no breaches have yet been identified under the Defence Trade Controls Act 2012 does not mean the system is infallible. Breaches can happen in any system and universities can only apply due diligence in collaboration with the Department of Defence – as the Go8 is striving to with maximum effort – within their sphere of control. However, once the research has left the university, for instance through a company that holds the intellectual property, or through transfer to a partner or other parties, it is less easy or even impossible for the university to control that research.

Appendix 1 discusses in detail examples to illustrate the above.

B. The Sector’s awareness of foreign interference, undisclosed foreign influence, data theft and espionage, and its capacity to identify and respond to these threats.

The Go8 firmly asserts that it has always undertaken significant and appropriate due diligence as it relates to contracts and international research collaboration. Additional measures have been undertaken in response to changing geopolitical circumstances. Measures taken by the Go8 to mitigate against the threat of foreign interference are provided in detail in Appendix 3.

These include:

  • Actions taken in support of and in alignment with the UFIT Guidelines;
  • Additional actions taken beyond what is outlined in the UFIT Guidelines;
  • Examples of measures taken to comply with existing foreign-interference related legislation (see also page 10); and
  • Examples of research projects or collaborations that have been refused or discontinued on the basis of foreign interference related concerns.

In addition:

  • The Go8 was an integral foundation member of UFIT. The Go8 has representation on the Taskforce itself (through Go8 Chief Executive Vicki Thomson, and two Vice Chancellors, currently Professor Brian Schmidt, ANU and Professor Deborah Terry, University of Queensland), and across each of the four working groups – co-chairing the Cyber Security Working Group and the Research and Intellectual Property Working Group.
  • All Go8 universities either have obtained or are in the process of obtaining membership of the Defence Industry Security Program (DISP), which sets security and risk management requirement levels for working on sensitive or classified information or assets.  
  • The Go8 Directorate engages regularly with Government Departments and security agencies regarding foreign interference related matters, in addition to involvement through UFIT (see Appendix 4 for a list of engagements over 2019 and 2020).
  • Appendix 5 includes a flowchart showing the touchpoints of Go8 universities into Government on foreign interference related matters.

C. The adequacy and effectiveness of Australian Government policies and programs in identifying and responding to foreign interference, undisclosed foreign influence, data theft and espionage in the Sector.

As set out above, the Go8 agrees that foreign interference is a significant risk in the current global environment and must be taken seriously. The consequences of inaction would be detrimental to the operations of Australia’s high quality research effort, which is a critical part of our nation’s sovereign capability.

The Go8 therefore agrees that the threat of foreign interference must be managed effectively. However, as noted earlier in this submission, effective management will require nuance, care and balance. It could impact negatively both economically and socially if there are policy missteps, regardless of how well intentioned.

It is the Go8’s view that an effective and best practice response will require a national approach that is consistent, coherent, considered and – above all – coordinated.

This approach will assist the Go8 manage the security situation in such a complex geopolitical climate. The Go8 believes the Australian Government fully understands that the state actors of most concern have huge security infrastructure, capabilities and funding that are beyond Australia’s reach. This means it is imperative that we are smart, sophisticated, efficient, and integrated in our response.

With a nuanced, careful, consistent approach to managing foreign interference concerns, combined with appropriate Government support, there is no reason why Australia’s high-quality universities cannot lead our nation into success and prosperity in this 21st century, post-COVID world.

However, currently Government policies and programs – including the suite of foreign interference related legislation – remain patchy and inconsistent and represent an overlapping and confusing maze which is difficult to navigate, despite being designed for the benefit of Australians.

For example, Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 (now Act) was drafted with little or no consultation with universities and, despite several engagements between the Go8 and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), many of the concerns raised by the Go8 remain unaddressed.  It has also created new uncertainties in relation to the way in which international collaborations are entered into, and risks positioning Australia as an undesirable partner which would to Australia’s own detriment.

The Go8 asserts that the more confusing, complex, and incoherent the legislative landscape in relation to foreign interference, the bigger the threat to the partnership approach and the “open and productive dialogue” that Director-General of Security Mike Burgess emphasised is so important to our counter foreign interference efforts.[15]

It is in the best interests of the Go8 and indeed the nation’s future, for Australia’s leading research intensive universities to partner with Government, to arrive at a well-crafted suite of legislation.

We have an excellent model for good process available:  the Defence Trade Controls Act Amendment Bill 2015. Through a strong consultative process, the government and universities were able to arrive at a nuanced piece of legislation that meets Australia’s needs while not causing unnecessary damage to research.

This process, which is built on carefully constructed trust and collaboration between the sector and Department of Defence, has proven to be a robust method of addressing what is a complex and difficult area to manage.

It has also demonstrated the flexibility required to manage when research is unexpectedly found to have a dual-use application.

Sometimes, this is clearly a possibility from the moment a project is conceived; but it can also evolve as a result of how the research progresses. We have provided a number of examples in Appendix 1, involving additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence.  

UFIT is also a best practice model. Again, it was constructed as a genuine partnership, and has enabled Australia to be world-leading at countering foreign interference threats within the higher education sector. It is no coincidence that the Managing Risks in Internationalisation: Security Related Issues[16] released by Universities UK in October 2020 bears a strong resemblance to the UFIT Guidelines.

Despite the confusion which currently exists regarding Government legislation, Go8 universities invest significant time and effort seeking to comply with the regulatory and legislative landscape.

The Go8 can assure the Committee that extensive time and resources have been deployed within its universities in pursuit of regulatory and legislative compliance.

Some examples:

University of Queensland:

  • Requires that researchers assess whether their work requires an export controls permit using the Defence and Strategic Goods Lists (DSGL) search tool on the Department of Defence’s website. 
    • Conducts information sessions in high-risk areas to ensure that researchers and students are educated about the nature of tangible and intangible exports of technology. 
    • If permits are required, the researcher completes the online application and submits it to the UQ Director of Research Ethics and Integrity. 
  • Monash University:
    • Sanctions compliance checks are embedded into HR recruitment processes, Undergraduate student and Postgraduate student admissions processes, and research activities involving foreign collaborators and funders.
    • Defence Trade Controls checks are embedded into research award processes with researchers declaring whether technologies used in research activities are controlled technologies. The Monash Research Office supports researchers with the review and acquiring any necessary permits. 
    • The Monash Research Office monitors research applications specifically reviewing research activities involving international collaborators or funding in relation to the various regulatory schemes.
  • University of Sydney:
    • Manager, National Security and Exports Controls considers compliance and reputation in relation to legal obligations (e.g., DSGL/DTC Act, FITS, Foreign Relations Bill, etc) and refers where necessary to the Research Risk Advisory Committee.[17]
    • The Research Risk Advisory Committee (RRAC) which exists to provide recommendations to the Deputy Vice Chancellor research (DVC-R) on identified risks associated with specific research projects involving defence, dual use research, and/or other relevant research activities with the potential for reputational consequence. It will: (if) provide advice on decision making through a risk-based assessment of existing and proposed research conducted at the University, and (ii) provide oversight of processes designed to ensure legislative compliance. 
  • University of Adelaide:
    • All university-arranged activity that entails engagement with a foreign entity needs to be registered and approved through the Foreign Engagement Compliance Review (FECR)[18] process PRIOR to it being agreed (formally or informally) with the foreign entity.
    • On several occasions approval to proceed with a proposed activity has been denied. On multiple occasions the University has consulted with the following Commonwealth departments and agencies to seek guidance on a particular activity:
  • Defence:
    • Defence Science Technology Group
    • Defence Headquarters
    • Defence Exports Office
    • Defence Export Controls Office
    • Defence Innovation Hub & Next Generation Technology Fund
  • ASIO
  • FITS Office
  • Australian National University:
    • Created the Foreign Interference Advisory Committee (FIAC). As well as foreign interference issues, FIAC assessment processes take into consideration all relevant legislation etc including DTCA and Autonomous Sanctions legislation and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018.
    • The Australian National University is also currently scoping a complex Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool to assist in determining which research projects could be subject to the Defence Trade Controls Act. Though the technology is still at an early stage, early results suggest that the system can determine relevant DSGL item(s) with about 90% accuracy based on the datasets available.

Please note the above list is not exhaustive.

The Go8 has listed only a sample of actions to demonstrate legal obligations are taken very seriously and there are significant efforts to comply. However, this is not simple in such a complex legislative landscape. In some cases, expert legal advice has been required to interpret the various legislative impacts. 

The Go8 urges the Committee to consider recommending that it is in the national interest, to provide clarity as to how the various pieces of legislation intersect and operate as a cohesive whole.

Failure to do so could risk the effectiveness of Australia’s foreign interference response, by leaving potential loopholes or gaps that can be exploited by adverse actors; creating unnecessary confusion and difficulties for stakeholder organisations seeking to comply with their legal responsibilities; threatening the environment of trust and cooperation that Australia has carefully crafted, and which is truly world leading; and therefore, rendering efforts to protect our national sovereignty ineffective.

D. Responses to this issue in other countries and their relevance to the Australian situation.

As noted above, the UFIT process and associated Guidelines have made Australia an example to the world in how to manage foreign interference related issues in the university sector.

The Go8 reiterates that it works proactively to ensure these challenging issues can be managed effectively because Australia relies on   international connections across all sectors. We cannot afford to become isolated. The risks must be managed.

As Austrade notes: “Australia is a trading nation, with exports and imports of goods and services making up 42 per cent of our gross domestic product”.[19]

This is as true for our intellectual and knowledge generation capacity as it is for trade. As already noted above, the Department of Home Affairs’ Global Talent Independent Program (GTI) seeks to recruit the best global talent to Australia to work across future-focused sectors, “to help grow our innovation and tech economies”. [20]

2019 Austrade data estimates the Australian economy to comprise only around 1.7% of total world nominal GDP, compared to 24% for the USA, 16% for China, 6% for Japan, and 3.2% for the UK.[21]

This means that options that might be realistic for larger economies, such as the US – i.e. avoiding certain partners entirely – may simply not be viable in an Australian context. This underlines the critical importance of developing a considered, nuanced and consistent approach in our counter foreign interference efforts.

Consider for example our pipeline of research students studying in a STEM field. Department of Education data shows that, in 2019, foreign nationals comprised a significant proportion of Doctorate by Research students in the fields of Natural and Physical Sciences (44%), information Technology (59%), Engineering and Related Technologies (62%) and Agriculture, Environmental and Related Studies (47%).[22] If Australia was to cut off this supply of talent, we risk severely curtailing our capacity to compete in the very areas we are likely to rely on to boost our economy in the coming years, such as in advanced manufacturing and energy.  

Australia also receives significant research funding from overseas sources. From 2015 to 2019, overseas funding sources rose from 8.1 per cent of the higher education sector’s research income to 10.5 percent. For the Go8, overseas funding as a proportion of its total research income has risen from 8.6 per cent to 11.3 per cent.

In 2019, for the sector, overseas research funding amounted to $483 million of a total research income of $4.6 billion. For the Go8 in 2019, overseas funding research funding amounted to $345 million of a total research income of $3 billion[23].

Appendix 1 includes several case studies of key international engagements that may not have resulted if our counter foreign interference settings were not carefully calibrated.

This raises the legitimate question of what sovereign capability Australia might actually have if researchers are hampered in their capacity to engage internationally?  While Australia seeks to be a more sovereign nation it cannot thrive economically without international trade and research.

E. Any other related matter.

A strong R&D sector will be fundamental to Australia’s post-COVID economic rebuild. This is not only in terms of the direct benefits research brings, but also in its capacity as a significant soft power tool that Australia has at its disposal.

In a speech on 4 December 2020, Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon Marise Payne noted that:

“Sometimes, the commentary in media and even the foreign policy community suggests that the US and China are the whole story, but they’re not.

Indo-Pacific nations beyond those have considerable weight in their own right. Together, these countries generated more than 20 per cent of global GDP last year. As Professor Rory Medcalf noted in his recent book on the Indo-Pacific, Australia, India, Japan and Indonesia are projected to have a combined population of over 2 billion people by 2050 — which will be 50 per cent larger than that of China, and four-and-a-half times larger than the US.[24]

The Go8 believes – supported by our communication with the Office of Counter Foreign Interference in the Department of Home Affairs and the security agencies – that Australia has a genuine opportunity to strengthen those international relationships which benefit our nation and to position itself as the partner of choice in an increasingly complex world. The results from this Committee’s work will be of paramount importance to achieving that objective.

The Go8 looks forward to further engagement with the Committee, and I can be contacted via email; or personally via my mobile on 0417 808 472 at any time if I can be of further assistance.


[1] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-04/asio-chief-foreign-interference-more-of-a-threat-than-terrorism/11479796

[2] https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6367922/foreign-intrusion-key-threat-asio-boss/?cs=14231

[3] Duncan Lewis, Friday 16 March 2018, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Inquiry into the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017. Link.

[4] Duncan Lewis, Friday 16 March 2018, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Inquiry into the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017. Link.

[5] https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/asio-director-generals-annual-threat-assessment/

[6] https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/about-us/our-portfolios/national-security/countering-foreign-interference

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/oct/21/asio-chief-says-foreign-spies-trying-to-deceptively-cultivate-australian-politicians-at-every-level

[8] https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/asio-director-generals-annual-threat-assessment/

[9] InCites dataset updated 2020-11-25. Includes Web of Science content indexed through 2020-10-31.

[10] Note difficult to define and will not be prominent  in open published research

[11] InCites dataset updated  2020-11-25. Includes Web of Science content indexed through 2020-10-31.

[12] https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/working-in-australia/visas-for-innovation/global-talent-independent-program

[13] https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F5a04d4d3-dbab-4c85-8b2b-7dbb472ed9d7%2F0001%22

[14] https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Foreign_Affairs_Defence_and_Trade/AustForeignRelations2020/Additional_Documents

[15] https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/asio-director-generals-annual-threat-assessment/

[16] https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Pages/managing-risks-in-internationalisation.aspx

[17] https://www.sydney.edu.au/content/dam/corporate/documents/about-us/governance-and-structure/university-policies/2020/20200724-usyd-submission—inquiry-into-the-future-development-of-the-nsw-tertiary-education-sector-(no-sig).pdf

[18] https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/cbce46e439d94a03b080cbb55d919f16

[19] https://www.austrade.gov.au/International/Invest/Why-Australia/global-ties

[20] https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/working-in-australia/visas-for-innovation/global-talent-independent-program

[21] file:///C:/Users/sally.nimon/Downloads/Australia-Benchmark-Report%20(1).pdf

[22] Department of Education, Higher Education Statistics Collection, 2019

[23] Department of Education, Skills and Employment 2020, Research Income Time Series, https://www.dese.gov.au/research-block-grants/resources/research-income-time-series

[24] https://www.foreignminister.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/speech/building-cohesive-indo-pacific