Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

New Defence Act Handcuffs Science

handcuffs

Under the Act, publication, discussion or communication of research without a Defence permit will be punishable by up to 10 years jail, a $425,000 fine and forfeiture of research to the government.

By Brendan Jones

Australian scientists risk huge fines and even imprisonment under new laws that will give Defence bureaucrats extraordinary powers over their research.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

From 17 May 2015, when the Defence Trade Controls Act (DTCA) comes into effect, the federal Department of Defence will gain control over a very large share of high-tech and science research in Australia. Under the Act, publication, discussion or communication of research without a Defence permit will be punishable by up to 10 years jail, a $425,000 fine and forfeiture of research to the government. This includes scientists, academics, librarians, engineers, high-tech workers and companies that have never had a prior relationship with the Department of Defence.

The Act was passed to allow a defence cooperation treaty with the US, but the Act doesn’t just apply to military technology – it includes so-called “dual use” civilian technology, including physics, computers, electronics, communications, manufacturing, medicine and biotechnology.

Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty warned in an e-mail: “A cell phone can have a ‘dual use’ for conversation or to trigger a bomb. How far might an authoritarian regime take this? The virology community is very concerned about the interpretation of ‘dual use’ when it comes to investigative work with dangerous pathogens. Interpreted too broadly, this type of legislation could have a stultifying effect on research.”

Likewise Dr Michael Biercuk of The University of Sydney warned in The Conversation that it is “obvious that...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.