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Opening remarks to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security public hearing – Review into the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2022

16 March 2022

Opening remarks from Ms Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive, Group of Eight

The Group of Eight is pleased to have this opportunity to be heard during what is vital on-going political and community debate and consultation about the Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2022.

I’ll begin by reiterating the Go8’s commitment to safeguarding our critical infrastructure assets and to ensuring we have the necessary cybersecurity protections for our research.

We conduct 70 per cent of Australia’s university-based research, and, it is probably less well recognised, that we carry out the overwhelming majority of Australia’s national security-sensitive university research.

Throughout this process, we’ve worked collaboratively with government and industry to co-design an effective, fit for purpose regulatory framework for the higher education sector and provide the best possible protections for our research, which is critical to Australia’s national security.

So yes – we do indeed play critical role in this space as we do in contributing to Australia’s economic and social advancement.

We are pleased with the progress that’s been made in fine tuning this Bill in relation to the higher education and research sector – most significantly the recognition that not all of the university should be in scope for regulation, and the focus is rightly and appropriately on research and research-related capability.

I know the committee is familiar with our recommendations, so I’ll only briefly touch on them:

  • The Go8 recommends adopting the adjusted definition of higher education and research sector, deleting the ‘defence of Australia’ clause on the basis that this is covered by the definition of national security.
  • The Go8 recommends that the Committee reinforce the stated intent not to duplicate existing regulatory frameworks and recommend that the intent not to switch on the risk management program for the higher education and research sector be captured in the legislation itself, rather than in a subsequent rule
  • The role of UFIT and the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian university sector are vital tools to address cybersecurity and other threats, and as such should be highlighted
  • The Go8 seeks continued close consultation on the development of both the concept and parameters of Systems of National Significance (SONS); and clear guidance on complex reform aspects, such as the enhanced cyber security obligations.

The Go8 supported this Committee’s recommendation to split the Bill to enable further consultation and we acknowledge that much of our feedback has been incorporated – specifically regarding the amendment to the definition of the ‘higher education and research sector’, a change which extends to the definition of ‘critical education asset’.

That said – we reiterate that the ‘defence of Australia’ clause is unnecessary as the definition of national security is already enshrined in the legislation.

Regarding our recommendation on the risk management program – our universities already do have solid measures in place to identify and manage risk, not the least of which is UFIT – which as I mentioned should also be recognised.

There is still no detailed and coherent development of the concept of Systems of National Significance and as a major element of the Bill, this warrants further explanation.

The Go8 maintains that UFIT is the appropriate avenue through which to discuss the identification of SONS in more detail.

In closing, the Go8 largely supports the Bill in its current form, however there is scope for improvement, which the Go8 hopes this committee will pursue.

I am happy to discuss the Go8 recommendations in further detail during questioning.

Thank you.

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