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Media release: Passage of Defence Trade Controls legislation is key to AUKUS, defence research and national security

March 19, 2024

The success of AUKUS, Australia’s future research capability and our national security depend on the passage of legislation in Parliament this week to reform Australia’s export controls regime.

The landmark reforms will effectively create a research Free Trade Zone between the United States and Australia in areas of sensitive defence related research. These reforms are a must have to ensure Australia realises the full potential of the AUKUS agreement.

Group of Eight Chief Executive Vicki Thomson said “the proposed changes to the Defence Trade Controls Act will enable Australia’s export controls regime to align more closely with that of the US. This is a gamechanger for the university research sector. Streamlining the way we partner and cooperate on critical defence and technologies with the US and UK is essential to bring AUKUS to fruition.

“Go8 universities undertake 70 percent of Australia’s university research effort and receive more than half of the total university sector’s defence R&D investment. We know exactly what is at stake.

“While concerns have been raised that the reforms could compromise broader research collaboration, the Go8 has worked closely with Government to reach a carefully calibrated balance that protects our research partnerships while enabling us to pursue our AUKUS goals with the US and UK.

“It is therefore critical that amendments to the legislation to ensure an exemption for ‘fundamental research’ are supported. This is the single most important factor that will impact the ongoing effectiveness and operation of Australia’s research and higher education sector, while enabling our capacity to advance the outcomes of the AUKUS partnership.

“The loss to Australia will far outweigh the gain if these carefully crafted reforms are not passed. The reality is that alignment is a key condition for AUKUS. If AUKUS does not progress, the consequences are stark. Australia’s role in the region and the security of our region will be seriously compromised, as will our sovereign capability in advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, quantum, and cyber.

“It would also be a lost opportunity for Australian productivity and prosperity. Australian industry will forgo the economic benefits from the growth of new industries, infrastructure and technology upgrades, and new jobs estimated modestly at 20,000. Our national research capability, which is fundamental to our ability to remain globally competitive in a world in which protecting national security has become vital, will be diminished.

“The benefit of becoming a US domestic supplier and ITAR-exempt far exceeds any downside. This legislation will enable collaboration in sensitive areas of research to deliver the advanced capabilities identified under Pillar II of AUKUS, including Artificial Intelligence, Undersea Capabilities and Quantum Technologies.”

Go8 universities are 100 percent committed to protecting our sensitive research and national security. The Go8 recently established the Go8 Defence and Security Committee, co-chaired by former Director-General, ASIS, Major General (Ret’d) Paul Symon AO, and former Chief of Army, Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Rick Burr AO, to connect the expertise from our universities with key decision makers in Government and Defence to advance national strategic goals.

The passage of this legislation is critical to ensure the success of the AUKUS Agreement and to safeguard Australia’s national security.

Contact: Vicki Thomson, Group of Eight Chief Executive on +61 438 047 155

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