The Albanese Government on Tuesday released its response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security report on foreign interference risks to Australia’s higher education and research sector.
The report made 27 recommendations, of which the Federal government supports twelve, supports nine in principle and “notes” five.
Among the recommendations supported by the government include allowing students who fear being surveilled by their home government to be able to submit assignments anonymously; allowing universities to individually appoint “an accountable authority” which is responsible for managing foreign interference risk; and the creation of a working group on intimidation of students by foreign powers.
The government supported in principle investigating the adequacy of current penalties for universities, “who are failing to detect or respond to any breaches” of Australian Research Council rules surrounding national security and foreign interference.
The report recommended that Confucius Institutes’ sources of funding be disclosed; that universities publish annual reports of harassment, intimidation and censorship by foreign powers; and that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Authority create a national research integrity office to audit and publicly report on security issues. However, the government only noted these recommendations.
The government rejected the recommendation that ASIO’s annual report include information on threats to higher education and research, saying that it was inappropriate “to highlight a single sector in [ASIO’s] Annual Report when multiple sectors are being targeted by our adversaries. It could be misleading and, in some circumstances, give Australia’s adversaries actionable information about ASIO investigations.”
The report was commissioned by former Liberal Education Minister Dan Tehan in 2019.
The Group of Eight, of which the University of Sydney is a member, welcomed the government’s response saying “protecting our research from foreign interference is a shared responsibility and never a case of ‘job done’ and we support various compliance, reporting and transparency measures to ensure we protect that which must be protected.”