World News – UA – «  Fishing expedition  »: Universities warn proposed foreign veto powers are too broad


Universities warn that hundreds of thousands of agreements with foreign institutions could be seized by the review powers of foreign veto laws proposed by the federal government, jeopardizing future research partnerships

Peak Body Universities Australia, which represents 39 universities across the country, said in a parliamentary inquiry that it had compiled a register of nearly 20,000 agreements that could be caught in the net of the bill, but the final figure could be much higher

Catriona Jackson, CEO of Universities Australia: « We are talking about tens, if not hundreds of thousands of agreements » Credit: Eamon Gallagher

The proposed laws would allow the federal government to rescind agreements between universities, states and local councils with foreign governments if they are found to be detrimental to the national interest. A unit would be created in within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to review existing agreements and notify Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne if they break the laws

« It is difficult for us to give you a definitive figure of agreements that this would cover because we always count to be completely honest, » said Catriona Jackson, Director General of the AU

« We are talking about tens, if not hundreds of thousands of agreements. We do not think DFAT wants hundreds of thousands of agreements imposed on them »

Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight, said unless the bill is amended to limit its scope, it will trigger a « fishing expedition » in nearly 16,000 active agreements at universities group members, who represent 70% Australian university research

« Trapping us in the net will hurt the economy It will hurt the potential of future technologies, future manufacturing, future jobs, » Ms Thomson said

The bill comes against a backdrop of heightened concern within the federal government over the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Australian universities and will likely scrutinize 13 Chinese government-funded cultural and language centers

But the industry argued that these concerns were already being addressed by the Foreign Interference Task Force set up by the Morrison government in 2019, which included representatives from academia, government and the security services.

As part of his testimony at the inquest, Western Sydney University Vice Chancellor Barney Glover defended his decision to provide a character reference for doctoral student Li Jianjun, whose visa has been canceled last month as part of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization’s investigation into the desk of suspended NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane

Professor Glover has stated that Mr. Li was « a well-respected Australian studies scholar from Beijing » He told the inquest he heard that ASIO was considering visa cancellation, but stressed that he had not received confirmation

« If this is the case, I am happy that a review is underway. I hope this review will be successful based on what we know, » he said

Professor Glover said his university has entered into more than 900 agreements with 420 universities around the world, including at least 300 research collaborations

« I think we can actually see that this overbreadth is quite damaging to the industry in our long-term international relations, relationships and collaboration, » he said

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Lisa Visentin is a federal political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which covers education and communications

Higher Education, Law, Hearing

World News – AU – « Fishing Expedition »: Universities Warn Proposed Foreign Veto Powers Are Too Extensive



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