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‘China expert’ to examine USyd’s ‘foreign influence’ risks

The move comes amid increasing pressure from government on foreign interference in universities.

The University of Sydney has engaged “China expert” John Garnaut, through consultancy firm McGrath Nicol, “as part of a range of initiatives…to manage the risks of foreign interference.” 

Garnaut is a former Sydney Morning Herald China correspondent and aide to former PM Malcolm Turnbull. A University spokesperson described Garnaut as “a respected China expert with a deep understanding of Chinese institutions.” An article written by Garnaut in 2015 was the subject of a successful defamation claim by businessman Chau Chak Wing. In 2015, Chau Chak Wing donated $15 million to the University to fund the construction of the Chau Chak Wing museum. 

Garnaut has also been engaged by UNSW and Monash. The Herald reported that, in at least one of these three institutions, Garnaut will “audit academics…to see if they have secondary jobs.”

The University declined to answer whether its academics would be the subject of such an audit. 

A University spokesperson told Honi that “security risks are real and increasingly sophisticated…we are working carefully and diligently to identify and manage relevant risks.”

Usyd academic Dr David Brophy told the Herald that rhetoric about the threat of intellectual property transfer to China was overblown. Some academics have raised concerns that increased examination of international partnerships have made international collaboration more difficult. 

The University professed its “strong support” for the work of the University Foreign Interference Taskforce, while re-stating its commitment to “continuing to enable and support valuable academic, educational and commercial partnerships with leading universities from around the world, including in China.”

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