The Morrison Government takes the threat of foreign interference seriously and we are taking action to protect Australian research.
The Australian Research Council (ARC) has been working with key national security agencies to strengthen the application processes and oversight for Government funded research since July 2018.
The ARC also continues to work with the Office of the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator to further enhance application processes for future rounds of ARC grants to ensure that research grant applications and funding decisions continue to be undertaken with full transparency about interests supporting research.
These processes complement the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector developed in November 2019.
ARC grant recipients must comply with all Australian laws, have a documented process in place for managing conflicts of interest and are required to follow the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research 2018.
Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the Morrison Government was providing $780 million for university research through the ARC this year.
"As we have seen through the global research effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19, Australians are best served by encouraging international research collaborations that are in our national interest," Mr Tehan said.
"We tasked the ARC to work with national security agencies in 2018 as part of the Government’s efforts to counter foreign interference.
"The Morrison Government established the University Foreign Interference Taskforce and I have announced the creation of a new integrity unit that will sit within TEQSA with a remit to identify and analyse emerging threats to the quality of higher education and to assist the sector to address them across academic and research integrity, cyber security, foreign interference and admission standards."
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said it was important that international research collaborations were carefully balanced against Australia’s national interests, including our national security, values and ethical standards.
"It is critical that the work of Australian researchers is not undermined by foreign interference and activities that put our universities’ people, information, intellectual property and data at risk," Mr Dutton said.
The University Foreign Interference Taskforce comprises senior government officials and senior university representatives with relevant expertise. The Taskforce, chaired by the Department of Home Affairs, has developed best practice guidelines for universities in four key areas:
- cyber security
- research and intellectual property
- foreign collaboration, and
- culture and communications.
Minister Tehan said the guidelines make it clear that protection against foreign interference is the responsibility of every university employee.
"In response to the publication of the guidelines, universities have reported they are reviewing systems and enhancing their governance," Mr Tehan said.
"The University Foreign Interference Steering Group continues to meet regularly where it receives threat briefings and shares best practice which is communicated to the sector."
Minister Dutton said more broadly, the Government had also appointed the first National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator and established a Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce to disrupt and deter anyone attempting to undermine our national interests.
"This taskforce is led by a senior ASIO officer, with representatives from ASIO, the AFP, the Australian Transactions Report and Analysis Centre, the Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation and the Office of National Intelligence all contributing to its work," Mr Dutton said.
The Government has also introduced legislative measures to strengthen our protection against foreign interference through:
- the Espionage and Foreign Interference Act,
- the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, and
- the new electoral funding and disclosure reforms.
Recognising the scale of the threat, the Government has supplemented Australia’s capacity to counter foreign interference by providing $126.6 million since 2018-19.