Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Intelligence and Security Joint Committee; Government Response to Report

4:35 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

In the remaining time we have, I rise to briefly remark on the Australian government response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security's report into the national security risks affecting the Australian higher education research sector. I want to welcome the government's response to this report and the fact that they have agreed to implement the vast majority of the recommendations of the committee, which were unanimous and bipartisan.

The conduct of the inquiry, I think, was an important part of Australia hardening our systems and our defences against foreign interference risks, in particular, but also the theft of intellectual property that we've seen from our higher education sector in recent years. I want to pay tribute to the former Minister for Education Dan Tehan, who introduced the University Foreign Interference Taskforce, which has helped contribute to a better culture in our universities, addressing these issues. I also note that the government, in responding to our recommendation about Confucius Institutes, has said that, while they will not exercise their power at this stage to cancel those agreements under the foreign arrangements act, the government does not wish to see any more of these established.

Finally, I want to note one development since this report was handed down, which was an exclusive report in TheAustralian by Natasha Bita on Tuesday this week, which revealed that Australian universities are teaching students in authoritarian regimes, including China, offensive cyberhacking tactics and techniques. This is deeply disturbing because it includes tactics and techniques to overwhelm civilian infrastructure. The cybersecurity challenges that our country faces are hard enough already without Australian universities, perhaps inadvertently, assisting our potential adversaries to do more harm to our critical infrastructure. This requires an urgent investigation from the Albanese government. I hope since the publication of this story on Tuesday that that investigation is already well underway, in particular by the University Foreign Interference Taskforce. I look forward to them sharing with the public and the parliament the results of that inquiry as soon as possible, because we must get on top of this serious national security risk.