House debates

Monday, 22 March 2021


Foreign Interference in Universities

5:27 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—on behalf of the member for Lindsay, I move:

That this House:

notes that the Government is committed to safeguarding Australians from foreign interference in our universities and protecting government funded research from being compromised;

(2) acknowledges that the Government convened the world’s first Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce in 2019;

(3) recognises:

  (a) the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce produced the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector to ensure due diligence and to have conflict of interest polices in place to identify and mitigate risks of any foreign affiliations; and

  (b) there are examples of intimidation, threats and coercion towards researchers and their families; and

(4) further notes that the Government has invested $145 million to combat foreign interference, including $1.6 million to strengthen cybersecurity in universities.

It's a pleasure to be able to move this motion on behalf of the member for Lindsay, who I understand is in her fine electorate supporting the people affected by the flood. I'm particularly happy to see the Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in the chamber at this time. This motion goes to the heart of the security of our nation and, as you know, as a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, we currently have an inquiry into issues around foreign interference in Australian universities. This inquiry is of critical importance to our country. It's of critical importance because it sits as part of the rich fabric of security mechanisms we need in place to protect our research, our academics and those who put energy and time into building and advancing the technology, innovation and ideas for the future advancement of our nation. We also need to have security mechanisms surrounding their conduct and their research so that it advances the interests of Australia and can't be used as a back-door vehicle to seek to either influence our country and/or be a target of cyberattacks or other activities that put universities, our intellectual property and information at risk.

Only last week, on Friday, we had one of the many hearings of the PJCIS where we heard from universities directly about their initiatives and their efforts to address the attempts of foreign interference from foreign governments into their activities. To be quite frank with you, the response from the universities was mixed between those who have a substantial way to go in taking measures to protect their information and their intellectual property against governments that seek to interfere in their activities and others who have taken very proactive steps, and we would like other universities to follow their lead.

Critical to that is a real focus on making sure that there are proper cybersecurity mechanisms. We need to make sure that anything that operates in the offline world operates successfully in the online world, and that includes security mechanisms. We wouldn't leave precious records and data available for anybody to walk in and open up without proper security and locks, and there should be the same approach towards cybersecurity. That's why this government has invested $145.2 million since 2018-19 to strengthen cybersecurity in universities. While they are not necessarily a weak spot in the link, they are one of the spots in the link, and we have to be focused not just on government departments, not just on intelligence and security agencies and not just on the AFP but on any institution that is established for the purpose of advancing Team Australia.

We have also released guidelines to counter foreign interference in the Australian university sector and to strengthen the resilience of universities against foreign interference. We're working across the sector, with not just the institutions but their representative and standard agencies, to make sure that they're part of the solution, as well as with the Australian Research Council. As you may be aware, Deputy Speaker Falinski, in the most recent round of ARC grants, a number of applications were knocked back by the Commonwealth because of concerns around national security. I think everybody starts from a position of saying that they would rather that that were not the case, but sometimes it's necessary. This government will never cease to take necessary action, as required, to stop foreign interference in the tertiary education sector or anywhere where nefarious agendas are being played out.

We see this as part of a rich fabric of the issues that confront our country. Addressing foreign interference in our universities is a critical part of that. We have seen programs, like the Chinese Community Party's 'Thousand Talents' program, that are seeking to directly harvest the opportunities that our academics and their ideas provide towards agendas and ends that may not necessarily be to seek the advancement of our country but for other purposes. Of course we know that there are many countries that have sought to engage in espionage or the theft of intellectual property as part of their own industrial development, for their own military or defence purposes or to advance their interests in foreign countries. Universities should not be the weak link in that sector, and the Morrison government is committed to making sure that universities are on the side of Team Australia.

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second it and reserve my right to speak.

5:32 pm

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also support this motion. As someone who has a strong interest in this particular sector and also the issue of foreign interference, I always think that, as John Garnaut would say, the more sunlight we can shine on this issue, in terms of what is happening to our universities, our society and our communities, the better off we're going to be. We need to be educating not just the education institutions but the Australian public about the threat of foreign interference in a lot of sectors of our economy and our society. Therefore, I support this and have been supporting the people who have worked so hard behind the scenes within the national intelligence community to bring us up to speed to protect our universities and research sector, which is the particular motion that we are talking about today.

It's also important at the start of my contribution to point out that a lot of this has been driven by the actions and words of the Director-General of Security, Mike Burgess. He detailed this in his first annual threat assessment, when he said:

The level of threat we face from foreign espionage and interference activities is currently unprecedented. It is higher now than it was at the height of the Cold War.

I remember talking to the previous Director-General of Security, Duncan Lewis, with respect to that. It was something we actively discussed. Some in the public say, 'They're just words,' but for the men and women of our intelligence and security agencies and our police forces they're not just words; they're actions. They need to take action. They're threats. They need to deal with the threats. This threat, this specific manifestation of this ongoing and enduring threat that we will face as a country for 25 to 50 years plus of our lifetimes—for the foreseeable future of our country—is immense. So I support that particular statement made by the Director-General of Security.

With respect to the higher education and research sector, they are one of the threat vectors. They are one of the areas of strategic importance to us as a functioning democracy and as an economy. They are a threat vector point for those that seek to do us harm, those that seek to exploit us economically or steal research information from us. Our higher education and research sector generates about $32.4 billion—that's the figure I've seen—as part of the export sector of the economy. I was looking at this in relation to the research that we do and how we punch above our weight in the products we deliver to market, that can be commercialised—that is, the collaboration of our university sector and the commercialisation that comes from that. The bionic ear, Gardasil, the medical application of penicillin, the Google Maps platform, the black box flight recorder, wi-fi, solutions for sleep apnoea, polymer bank notes, the ultrasound scanner—I could go on and on and on about the value of research in our tertiary sector. That research is absolutely critical. But, because of our success and our openness as a democracy, those that seek to do us harm, that seek to exploit that, are unyielding in their efforts.

In terms of describing the threats specifically to the sector, I couldn't actually say it better than the testimony of Chris Teal, His current position is Deputy Secretary, Social Cohesion and Citizenship in the Department of Home Affairs, but he's also, very importantly, chair of the University Foreign Interference Taskforce. He is someone who has been intimately involved in this sector. Let me use the words of Mr Teal to describe the threat to the sector. For the committee's benefit, Mr Teal talked about the method and aims of foreign actors who seek to engage in foreign interference in this sector. He said:

… foreign actors who seek to engage in foreign interference in the Australian higher education and research sector, through the following means …

          He then said the aims of foreign actors and those who undertake the activity are important to understand. They include:

                    I have to commend the work of the University Foreign Interference Taskforce, and I also commend those who came before us on Friday on behalf of the universities. There has been a marked cultural shift that stands us in good stead to deal with the enduring threat. In the meantime, I support this motion. We've come from behind. We've got a lot of work to do. There is a lot of work ahead. (Time expired)

                    5:37 pm

                    Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                    In her absence, I commend the member for Lindsay on her motion and I really do wish her all the very best. I know she wanted to be here herself, moving this, but she's with her community as they are facing floods in this very tough time. I went through the 2011 Brisbane flood as a local representative, albeit as a local councillor. It's a very tough time for your community. You only hope, as a local representative, that you can rise to the occasion. I know the member for Lindsay will, and that she will support her community admirably.

                    Like the member for Goldstein and others, I can confirm the Morrison government's commitment to safeguard Australians from foreign interference in our higher education sector, and more broadly, and add my wholehearted support to those efforts. We know that foreign interference is, unfortunately, a reality. But just because it is unfortunate, it doesn't mean we should turn our back on it. It is more important than ever to face up to that unfortunate reality and be prepared to deal with it in Australia's sovereign and national interests. What's more unfortunate is that foreign entities have sought to interfere with Australian sovereign values by infiltrating our universities, and we know this. These are hallowed institutions that are charged with the duty of educating and empowering our youth, and with important research that pushes our nation forward. Because of that, they are an attractive target for foreign interference. And because of that, we must safeguard them to the very best of our abilities.

                    I'm a strong supporter of the University of Queensland in our electorate of Ryan, of course. It enrols over 55,000 students from both here and abroad. I'm a very proud graduate of it. But I have been concerned for some time about the University of Queensland—because I know it so well—because of its overreliance on overseas students and research funding, particularly from the Chinese market. No inference should be taken from that about the individual international students involved. But with that reliance comes a responsibility as an institution to have appropriate safeguards in place to make sure that our sovereignty is protected and that the important research and values that we as Australians hold so dear are protected.

                    As I said before, the Morrison government acknowledges the seriousness of the foreign interference that we face in the higher education sector and convened the world's first University Foreign Interference Taskforce in 2019. The task force has implemented robust guidelines for the Australian university sector to ensure strict due diligence and to have conflict-of-interest policies in place to identify and mitigate any risk of foreign interference. We've also invested $1.6 million to combat foreign interference and to strengthen the presence of cybersecurity in the higher education sector.

                    Mr Deputy Speaker Falinski, Australian universities are among the best in the world; you don't have to be told that. Seven of our very own institutions are ranked globally in the top 100, including the University of Queensland, which, as I said, I was privileged to attend. With the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, I recently had the privilege of visiting the University of Queensland, specifically the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, to look at what they were doing in the COVID-19 vaccine development space. Unfortunately—we all know the story—the University of Queensland vaccine didn't quite make it to the production stage, but, jeez, they did a fantastic job, and their research is going to continue to push vaccine technology forward into the future. As the previous, Labor speaker pointed out, it's also the home of the Gardasil vaccine.

                    All of this is testament to the tremendous work and research in our universities, and it goes to demonstrating why we are so passionate about safeguarding it and why universities have a responsibility as the custodians of this important information and work for all Australians. It is why we as the Australian parliament, as the custodians of our universities, need to make sure that our universities are supported in protecting those sovereign interests. And, of course, it's why these universities are such attractive targets for foreign entities who wish to interfere with the work that our universities do.

                    The $1.6 million of federal funding that I mentioned earlier is helping our institutions to support their IT capabilities to prevent cyberattacks. RMIT will spearhead this initiative on behalf of all universities, to strengthen universities' resilience against cybersecurity attacks, and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is of course working closely with them to intercept foreign entities seeking to undermine that national sovereignty. This is something that I am passionate about and that the Morrison government is passionate about. We're going to continue to protect our sovereign interests with the support of our national universities.

                    5:42 pm

                    Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

                    I too welcome this motion. I'm pleased to support it. And I join the other speakers in the debate by offering my best wishes to the member for Lindsay and her community as they confront this very significant weather event and natural disaster.

                    Foreign interference is a real and significant threat to Australia's national sovereignty. Indeed, ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess has been warning about the increased scale and sophistication of foreign interference in our society for some time. Last week, in his annual threat assessment, the director-general warned about the risks of espionage and foreign interference, describing them, appropriately, as threats to our way of life.

                    Universities are significant institutions in our democracy, and an obvious target for this kind of espionage and foreign interference. Universities have a profound ability to influence the democratic process in Australia, whether it's academics who contribute research that shapes the national conversation or it's research that leads to major scientific breakthroughs that shape our national capabilities. Universities are vital democratic institutions that should be protected from espionage and foreign interference.

                    More broadly, attacks on these institutions can be used to influence government and its processes, and we've seen examples of this overseas. One of the most prominent was the hack of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit. This was a hack-and-leak operation that is now widely believed to have been directed by a nation-state with the intent of undermining the Copenhagen climate summit. More recently, we've seen COVID vaccine researchers targeted as part of Russian-backed vaccine disinformation campaigns.

                    So I welcome government action on this important issue, particularly in my own portfolio of cybersecurity. However, to be frank, it shouldn't have taken multiple cyberbreaches at universities to prompt this action—most notably, the campaign against the Australian National University in 2018 by a state-sponsored advanced persistent threat actor—but better late than never.

                    We are in a 'somewhat' situation in this regard, with respect to the cybersecurity posture of our most central democratic institutions—our Commonwealth entities. On Friday the Australian National Audit Office issued a scathing report that highlighted serious and alarming failures in the government's compliance with its own mandatory cybersecurity standards. The report found that of the nine non-corporate Commonwealth entities audited by the ANAO, including Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Attorney-General's Department, the Department of Home Affairs and the future fund, none have implemented the Australian Signals Directorate's Top 4 mandatory cybersecurity mitigations—almost eight years after they have become mandatory. The ANAO explicitly found that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Attorney-General's Department and the future fund were 'not cyber-reliant as defined by the government itself'. That's the Prime Minister's own department, which handles cabinet papers regularly, and the Attorney-General's Department, which is responsible for the Commonwealth cybersecurity framework.

                    Last year the Prime Minister held a press conference with the defence minister to warn that a sophisticated state actor had been targeting Australian organisations. He told Australians:

                    Our objective is to raise awareness of these specific risks and targeted activities and tell you how you can take action to protect yourself … It is vital that Australian organisations are alert to this threat and take steps to enhance the resilience of their networks.

                    Yet even the Prime Minister's own department did not take notice of the Prime Minister's warning in his press conference with the defence minister.

                    The reality is that cyber-resilience failings are a systemic problem within Commonwealth entities under the Morrison government, and that leaves the government exposed to cyberenabled espionage and foreign interference campaigns. The ANAO's report highlighted that only 24 per cent of Commonwealth entities audited by the ANAO since the election of the coalition government have implemented the ASD Top 4 mitigation measures. Those are mandatory cybersecurity measures, and they have been mandatory for eight years.

                    The report also highlighted that 436 cybersecurity incidents were reported by Australian government entities to the ASD in 2019-20 alone. It made the cause of these failings plain; it's a failure of accountability. The ANAO report found:

                    The cyber policy and operational entities have not established processes to improve the accountability of entities' cyber security posture. The current framework to support responsible Ministers in holding entities accountable within Government is not sufficient to drive improvements in the implementation of mandatory requirements.

                    Where have we heard that before?

                    The Morrison government's aversion to accountability is not just protecting its own political interests; it now has real national security consequences. It is now undermining the Commonwealth's ability to defend itself against the exploitation of Commonwealth entities for cyberenabled espionage and foreign interference. While I commend the government on acknowledging this problem and on the motion before the chamber, I urge them to do more to protect our vital democratic institutions from these serious national security threats. (Time expired)

                    5:48 pm

                    Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                    I want to acknowledge the member for Lindsay, who proposed this motion, and her own struggles at the moment to protect and safeguard her community, and commend her on her work in that regard. Foreign interference is an important topic, and it's one we're hearing a lot about these days. It's worth delving into exactly what we mean by this concept, because last week we heard from the director-general of security, Mike Burgess, that he believes that foreign interference and foreign espionage—that whole suite of actions—already does or will shortly pose a threat to Australia greater than terrorism. If this is our biggest national security threat, what is it exactly and why is it so much a topic of concern in this parliament and elsewhere?

                    In Australia, particularly in the last 30 years, we have become accustomed to thinking of the conduct of state craft in a binary fashion. Either states are at war or states are at peace, and when states compete they will have different interests. These different interests are negotiated, conducted and transacted openly. What we are increasingly seeing as a tool of state craft, particularly by authoritarian states, is tactics and strategies that are more redolent of the Cold War. These are tactics that tend to be covert rather than overt, that tend to use state supported actors rather than state apparatus itself. They're tactics that by and large seek to exploit unique factors that make open-level and democratic societies such as ours particularly vulnerable to these sorts of approaches. Some call this 'grey-zone warfare'. There are a number of practitioners of it. It goes against our expectations, if you like, of a binary mindset that either we have good relations with a state or we have bad relations with a state, that either we're competing or we're cooperating. In this grey zone that operates here, you can be doing both. You can have open trading relations and diplomatic relations with a state that is nonetheless seeking to undermine your society or your institutions from within. This is why we need to be careful to make sure that, when we defend against these actions, we don't jeopardise the very institutions that make our society strong.

                    Universities are undoubtedly a theatre for this sort of foreign interference because they are attractive targets for influencing public opinion and public debate but also because they produce research, development, intellectual property and ideas which can be valuable to a foreign adversary. But universities thrive as well on open discourse, debate, the free exchange of ideas, interaction with counterpart institutions and universities, and, indeed, cooperation with counterpart institutions and universities. So as we go about protecting our institutions against foreign interference—and we must do this; we must harden our institutions—we need to make sure we don't sacrifice the very nature or the essential nature of these institutions, be it our liberal democracy, be it freedom of speech on university campuses, be it any number of other things. That's why I commend the government's work in this area in working in cooperation with the universities. Because, ultimately, we need them on board if we're to protect against foreign interference. Universities are the institutions that are best placed to identify attempts to subjugate their own work for the purposes of a foreign actor and the institutions that are best placed to defend against that as well.

                    I believe that the work we've done with the foreign interference task force with the universities—and the establishment, in particular, of the University Foreign Interference Taskforce, which is being administered by the Department of Home Affairs—will boost our ability to discover, track and disrupt foreign interference. Part of that suite of measures involves the creation of new criminal offences to target that sort of behaviour and increase transparency around foreign influence related activities. We now have the Guidelines to counter foreign interference in the Australian university sector, released to help strengthen the resilience of universities to foreign interference and to help universities understand the nature and the magnitude of this threat and the vehicles by which it seeks to enter their campuses. We've also recently established a Higher Education Integrity Unit within the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency to identify and respond to emerging integrity risks within the sector, and we've strengthened conflict-of-interest and due diligence policies for Australian Research Council grant funding applicants to ensure that publicly funded research is consistent with Australia's national interest.

                    Universities will remain attractive targets, given their work on the technologies, medicines and practices that are fundamental to the future of Australia's economy, military capabilities and security. But it's important, as we go about protecting these universities, that we preserve the international research collaboration which will be vitally important to Australia's future economic prosperity and security.

                    5:53 pm

                    Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

                    I'm pleased to speak on this motion. I do want to note that we do absolutely, in a bipartisan way, need to be committed to safeguarding Australians and Australia's important institutions, such as universities, from being compromised. That's really what we're talking about here.

                    We welcome the government's commitment to safeguarding Australians from foreign interference broadly, and specifically, in this motion, our universities. Equally, we welcome any measure that ensures government funded research is safe from compromise. Possibly in no other recent epoch in time have we seen just how important it is to have well funded research. As we stare down COVID-19, the universities of the globe have been looked at through a lens no greater than ever before for a solution to this pandemic. We understand that, like COVID-19, foreign interference poses a real and significant threat to Australia's national security. As ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess pointed out just last week, foreign interference in Australia has increased in both scale and complexity, targeting both state and federal institutions online and in real life. This demonstrates just how important our national security funding is. These activities can undermine Australia's national security and sovereignty as well as its democratic institutions. It's the staff of agencies like ASIO that are truly the unnoticed heroes that keep our country safe as well, and I want to commend Director-General Burgess and his staff for the work that they do.

                    This motion goes to addressing concerns around intimidation, threats and coercion towards researchers. It's quite frankly unfathomable that researchers could be threatened. I understand they may be coerced, but having them even being threatened here on our home soil is something most of us hope would never happen. Yet it is happening.

                    We must do more as a parliament to protect our academics. It's essential that Australians and Australian institutions are adequately protected against this threat and, indeed, any other. Universities need to be supported by their government, and truly this starts by ensuring that they are well funded. Sadly, under this Morrison government funding has gone backwards. However, motions like this continue to put the spotlight on vulnerabilities caused when universities aren't sufficiently supported,. We know that during COVID-19 17,000 jobs have been lost across the university sector. This is a honeycombing of the university sector that we just can't afford. Also, knowing that teaching hours are being greatly reduced, remuneration for preparatory hours for lecturers and tutors has been greatly reduced, this puts more and more pressure on that institution all around.

                    We in this place understand that legislation alone will not combat the complex threat. Building a resilient Australia resistant to foreign interference should involve buy-in and participation from all Australians. Quite frankly, that has to start with a respect of universities and these institutions from the government. That's something that I've really found lacking from this government in recent years. While on one side of the equation they talk about the importance of research, the importance of STEM subjects, the importance of growing and deepening our economic base and all the subjects that are required to do that, on the other side of the equation they surely do not balance it by cutting funding to universities. We know that desperate, cash-strapped universities have had to seek other forms of income, and this makes it very difficult for them.

                    So from a strategic point of view universities are institutions that we must hold in the highest esteem. They must be places that are safeguarded from foreign interference. We must maintain our strategic alliances and defence relationships that are so critical to our national security. This can be done via universities.

                    5:58 pm

                    Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                    The alarming level of foreign interference in our universities and educational institutions leaves us incredibly vulnerable as a nation. In my view, enabling foreign states to exert influence over the education of our young people is a near treasonous act, as is allowing Australian research and technology to fall into the hands of a bad-acting foreign power or, worse, developing technology for that foreign power.

                    In the last yea, we have seen the revelation of the Chinese Communist Party's Thousand Talents Plan, a state push to poach the finest scientific minds from around the world in order to supercharge communist China's technological advancement, particularly in the military sector. Not only does this pose a threat to our national security; the threat is coming in part from our own universities. It also robs Australia of home-grown innovations which could have significant economic benefits for the country. These universities receive billions of dollars in taxpayers' funds. These professors develop their ideas through taxpayer funded government grants, and then those ideas are shipped off to Communist China to potentially be used against us. It's sickening.

                    There are also 14 Confucius Institutes in Australia. These so-called Chinese language and cultural centres are set up through partnerships between Australian universities and Hanban, an organisation directly under the CCP Ministry of Education. Thus, the CCP essentially controls what is taught in Confucius Institutes, and you can guess that neither Tiananmen Square Massacre nor the ongoing Uighur genocide get a mention. This is pro-CCP education or indoctrination on our shores. The purpose of these institutes is to promote a positive image of the CCP and its policies in our nation and throughout the world.

                    The university model in Australia has become largely dependent on foreign students and, in particular, Chinese students. In 2019, approximately 211,000 of the 756,000 international students in Australia were from China. A former University of Queensland vice-chancellor, Peter Hoj was quoted as saying that without Chinese money Australian universities would be plunged into 'Dickensian' conditions.

                    In 2019, the UQ student Drew Pavlou was leading a demonstration against the CCP's treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang when he was surrounded physically and assaulted by pro-CCP activists. Brisbane's Chinese consul-general and UQ adjunct professor Xu Jie publicly accused Mr Pavlou of being an anti-Chinese separatist, an accusation which is actually a capitalist offence in China. This caused a wave of death threats and online abuse directed at Drew and his family. He was subsequently suspended for minor infractions, apparently not related to his political activities. But here is a young man who took it upon himself to stand up for human rights abuses of a foreign totalitarian communist regime, and what's the result? Does this university, a place where free thought and altruism are supposed to be encouraged, support him? No; it condemns him. They don't condemn the death threats, they don't condemn the assaults, they don't condemn the consul-general incitement, they don't condemn the genocide of Uighurs even by the CCP, instead they condemn Drew Pavlou and instead they spent $300,000 on legal fees to fight cases brought against them by Drew Pavlou. Did they any spend money on finding or investigating who punched one of their students in the face during a peaceful protest on campus? Of course they didn't. Why? Because the university depends so much on Chinese money that it would condemn a law-abiding student than risk being seen to take sides against their biggest source of income, which happens to be a genocidal totalitarian communist state.

                    It's not just the CCP. In 2008 the University of Griffith sought $1.3 million from the Saudi embassy to pay for its Islamic campus and offered the opportunity for the embassy to reshape its Islamic research unit. This raised fears within the community, particularly amongst Muslims, that the university would allow itself to become a centre for the propagation of Wahhabism. What the uni did not know was that this funding was part of a larger project by the Saudis for the gradual and secret promotion of Islamism on a global scale. This includes through our education institutes, academic centres and think tanks. We cannot allow this foreign-state-sponsored infiltration of our universities to continue.

                    I recently tabled a report in this place, as a chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, the Pivot report, which actually said to the government: force universities to disclose foreign funding that they receive and block that funding if it's not in the national interest. This has already begun, with the government starting the world's first universities' foreign interference task force in 2019, but we can't take our eyes off the issue.

                    6:03 pm

                    Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                    It is disappointing that the member for Kennedy, who is down to speak on this motion, has decided that he has better things to do than stand up for the freedom of Australians and Australian students at universities. The member for Lindsay can't be here, because she is busy at the moment working with her community to protect life and property. We on this side, and I have noted a number of speakers on the other side of this chamber, take this issue incredibly seriously. As the member for Dawson has just pointed out, these are regimes that are not friendly to the rule of law, are not friendly to procedural fairness, are not friendly to fairness and freedom of the individual. This government has stood, in lock step, against the narcissistic self-interest of too many university administrators who would prefer cash to credibility, who would prefer to persecute those people standing up for the freedom and rights of individuals—of Australians and of foreign students—and to take the cash of, as the member for Dawson describes them, a homicidal totalitarian regime.

                    My father came to this country from an oppressive left-wing regime after the Second World War. He came to this country because it stood as a beacon of hope and freedom for anyone who was willing to come here and have a go. Too many of our institutions have given themselves over to the interests of those groups who would seek to undermine the very liberties that this nation was built on. Too many of our so-called betters who speak down to us on an ever-increasing range of subjects are not willing to stand up to regimes that, frankly, in past generations would have been opposed because they seek to treat their citizens as vassals.

                    We come to this chamber because we understand the importance of the rule of law. We understand the importance of the values on which this nation was founded: freedom and fairness. We understand that, unless you have freedom and fairness in a nation, you cannot have people like the member for Lindsay, who is currently working with her community to save her community. We know that, when you get rid of these things and when you silence people in this very chamber, in this very building, through sneer and smear and fear, what you create is a culture of cancellation, because you cannot deal with the arguments; you can only deal with cancelling them. If they do not like what someone is saying, too many on the left today deal with it by cancelling those people who are saying it. The member for Dawson has pointed out that, on our campuses, in this nation, in our time, we have had people who have been protesting in favour of freedom of speech and that university administrators have sought to cancel them—to shut them down; to, simply put, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to achieve what they could not achieve through argument, and that is to cancel them and ensure that they cannot be heard.

                    This is a fundamental freedom that we are talking about. Those opposite talk about cybersecurity. I don't wish to demean that as an incredibly critical issue, but are they serious? Are they serious, when those people who administer our universities, which are meant to be centres of higher thinking and higher learning, are busy undermining the very freedoms on which this nation was built? We cannot replace our values with cybersecurity measures. Firstly, we have to stand up for our very values. And unless this parliament is not unwilling to fundamentally stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves then we are lost—we are lost in this nation.

                    The motion that the member for Lindsay has put to this parliament is absolutely critical and core to what it means to be Australian. It is exactly what this nation was formed for. It is exactly the beacon of light that so many refugees, so many migrants—including my father—came to, to observe and live through. (Time expired)

                    Debate adjourned.