Release type: Transcript

Date:

Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Andrew Bolt, Sky News

Ministers:

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Thousand Talents Plan

Andrew Bolt: Now, what are our governments going to do to stop the Chinese dictatorship from stealing and buying and whatever, however they get their hands in it, our science to make them even stronger, including militarily. Now, as I told you last night, China is recruiting around 7,000 scientists through a very secretive program called the Thousand Talents Plan. Now, China wants the knowledge of these guys. And, if it has to buy it, it’ll do it. If it has to steal it, it’ll do it. If you have to blackmail these people, it will do it. This program signs up recruits by offering cash and travel, labs in China, schools for the kids. The deal is that, in exchange, their knowledge becomes China’s knowledge, intellectual property of China. And, they must abide by Chinese law and not criticise China. Now, this program has signed up dozens of Australian scientists who’ve allegedly signed away their intellectual property. Intellectual property’s often built up in Australia with Australian grants. Well, I’m not accusing anyone of doing anything illegal. But, I do want some answers. And, I was joined a short while ago by Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Dan Tehan, thank you so much for joining me. The Thousand Talents Program, Plan, how much of a threat is it?

Dan Tehan: Look, we’ve got to make sure that every bit of international research that we do, where we’re collaborating with other countries, is done in our national interest, and that’s why we put in place best practice guidelines that were designed by our intelligence agencies and by our universities, including dealing with research to make sure that the collaboration we are doing is in our national interest.

Bolt: Well, for a start, do you know how many Australian scientists have been signed up on this program?

Tehan: Well, obviously, what we are doing is working with the universities to make sure that they have a clear understanding that there is transparency around all the contracts that are entered into by our scientists, by our researchers, and we work with the universities …

Bolt: … Does that mean you don’t actually know now? That means you don’t know now how many people are signed up?

Tehan: So, what it means is that we have put specific requirements on our universities to understand exactly what arrangements their scientists or their researchers are entering into, who they’re entering it into with, and to make sure that all that is done within Australian law. It’s why we’ve also made sure that there is very close collaboration between our intelligence agencies and our universities, to ensure that if there is malpractice taking place, if there is illegal activity taking place, then that will be acted upon.

Bolt: You’ve been photographed, there was a photograph in The Australian of you with two academics. Both of them energy experts, and energy is, obviously, a very sensitive area, at Australia, they’re working in Australian universities. They’ve both been listed as part of the Thousand Talents Plan, with their names listed on patent applications in China. So, China then gets the intellectual copyright to their research. Now, yes, both men say, ‘Oh, they didn’t agree to have their names on these patent applications.’ One said, ‘Oh, I actually wasn’t part of this talents program.’ But, whatever the truth of the matter, how did that stuff get past the universities, past the academics themselves? How does the Government not know of this stuff? This doesn’t seem transparent at all.

Tehan: Well, that was an Australian Research Centre of Excellence. The technology that’s being looked into there enables us to be able to store energy, which means that we will be able to guarantee much more stability in our electricity grid. So, very much …

Bolt: … It’s very, yeah, look, this is very good stuff. Dan Tehan, this is very sensitive and important stuff. My point is, why does the name of one of the researchers involved in exactly this, why does his name appear on patent applications lodged in China? He says, ‘Oh, I didn’t know,’ and, you know, ‘It was against, I didn’t do it.’ But, how does this happen?

Tehan: Well, what also is happening, Andrew, is all these cases are being investigated. Now, obviously, there are some things which, obviously, are operational matters, which I can’t go into tonight. But, it is exact, these are exactly the reasons why we have our intelligence agencies working so closely with our universities. Now, that research will also benefit our nation by providing better stability into our grid. Now, what has happened with regards to those patents, obviously, if there has been illegal activity where those patents have been recognised against the will of those researchers or scientists, then that will be investigated, and, obviously, measures will be put in place as best we can to try and prevent that occurring again. And, that is why it’s so important that we’ve got guidelines in place, that we’ve got a Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator who can look at all these issues and make sure we’re dealing with them as a nation. As I’ve said, the guidelines that we’ve put in place are regarded as best practice, and other governments are being asked to put in place what we’ve done.

Bolt: They’re best practice. You’ve got our spy agencies involved. You’re on top of this. And, yet, you don’t know how many of these scientists have been signed up, and, what’s more, you get The Australian newspaper and a think tank in Sydney unveiling all these deals. The universities didn’t know. The academics claim they didn’t know. And, you didn’t know. And, ASIO didn’t know. I mean, clearly something’s not actually picking up, the fallbacks you’re talking about aren’t actually working.

Tehan: Well, they are. But, I mean, do we always have to be doing more in this space? Do we always have to be on guard in this space? Absolutely, we do. And, that’s what we will continue to do. And, if there are more measures that we need to put in place, we’ll put them in place.

Bolt: Good on you. Thank you very much for your time, Dan Tehan.