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Amendment of Act Would Give Defence Department “Unprecedented Powers to Regulate Research”

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI) has warned that proposed changes to the Defence Trade Control Act would severely impact on international research collaboration. The proposal includes controls over the supply of any technology, without explanation, and the power to control publication of research in scientific journals.

A statement issued by AAMRI said this would give the Department of Defence “unprecedented powers to regulate research and the legitimate exchange of knowledge, without justification or consultation with the research sector first. Not only will researchers in Australia be held back by red tape and delays as they wait for the associated inspection of their work by the Department of Defence, but such unparalleled power would threaten improved health outcomes and commercialisation of research.”

AAMRI President Prof Tony Cunningham warned that “the combined effect of the proposals would be to hand the Department of Defence the power to control and prevent any technology from being exported. It could do this without warning, reason or just process, and would be able to enforce its powers through proposed warrantless entry to undertake search and seizures.

“International collaborators will potentially look elsewhere if this proposal was taken up,” Cunningham continued. “It could harm export industries and cripple overseas research partnerships in areas where Australia is a world leader.”

While AAMRI has responded to the Department’s submission to the current review of the Act, it claimed that “most researchers had not heard about the changes as invitations to comment have only been extended to those who put forward a submission in a first-round consultation about broader issues relating to the Defence Trade Control Act 2012. Many had not commented in the first-round precisely because they felt the Act is working fine and they have nothing further to say, or because they were unaware that the Department of Defence would be proposing sweeping changes to the Act that would materially affect them.”