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Media release: US – Australia defence research collaboration essential for AUKUS agreement

December 15, 2023

US – Australia defence research collaboration essential for AUKUS agreement

The passage of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) through the US Congress overnight will enable seamless research collaboration in key areas of defence, and represents an important step towards bringing the AUKUS agreement to fruition, according to Australia’s research-intensive universities.  

Group of Eight (Go8) Chief Executive Vicki Thomson said, “the NDAA will streamline export control provisions and defence trade between AUKUS partners, enabling unprecedented levels of scientific and technological collaboration to support the contribution of our research intensive universities to Australia’s national security.              

“As the universities who collectively invest $7.7 billion on R&D annually including 44 per cent of the total university sector’s defence R&D investment, the Go8 has worked closely with the Australian Department of Defence to ensure that our legislation is fit for purpose.  

“This means enabling 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.

“Changes to our defence export controls which are currently before the Parliament will be critical if Australia is to maximise the opportunities offered by the AUKUS agreement, especially in relation to Pillar II.  

“However, our broader research and knowledge networks, especially those with critical partners across the Indo-Pacific, also contribute to regional stability and furthering Australia’s strategic goals. It is therefore essential that we strike a carefully calibrated balance between ensuring the necessary legislative protections while not damaging our ability to engage more broadly where it is in the national interest.

“This is also why it is important to ensure that Australia includes a comprehensive definition of “Fundamental Research” in our Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill. This will facilitate and streamline the ability of the best research minds across the AUKUS partnership to continue to place us at the leading edge.

In its submission to Australians Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023, the Go8 called for “Fundamental Research” to be defined as a matter of priority through consultation through UFIT.  

Other key recommendations include that:

  • the new export controls framework – in seeking to ensure an export-licence free environment for the three AUKUS countries – does not impose controls on Australian firms, research institutions and researchers that are more restrictive of international collaborations than those that apply to counterpart organisations and researchers in the US and UK; and  
  • the formal re-establishment of the Strengthened Export Controls Steering Group (Section 74A of the Act) for a time-limited period to play the same constructive role in the practical implementation of the reforms as it did from 2012-15, with a focus on practical implementation of the new offence provisions.  

“The Go8 will continue to work with the Department of Defence and through the Senate Standing Committee process to help Australia take advantage of the opportunities offered by AUKUS, the capabilities contained in our Go8 universities and our strong alliances”.

“We are closely engaged with our US and UK partners to increase research collaboration and build trusted partnerships in areas of sensitive research. University research is fundamental to our ability to remain competitive in a world increasingly driven by knowledge and technology, and in which protecting national security has become paramount.”

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