Government relations & higher education policy: research

Statements and updates

SEG Research Committee statement: Endorsement of HEFEI and Joint Council of Deans statements

Recently, debates about the value of academic freedom, the independence and integrity of the ARC and its processes and decisions about research funding have received much coverage in the media.

The Research Committee of the University of Sydney’s Senior Executive Group, chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Jill Trewhella, and comprising representatives of every faculty of the University, strongly supports the joint statement (PDF) of the Australasian Councils of the Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Sciences and Information and Communication Technology (released Wednesday 2 October 2013) and the Go8 Hefei Statement (released Thursday 10 October 2013) which both speak eloquently to the importance of balancing research priorities, recognizing the need for short and long-term goals, basic and applied research, humanities and health, etc and valuing what research universities distinctively do.

These are issues for all governments and universities.

More information.

Update: Defence Trade Controls Bill

You may recall the work we were involved in last year to achieve amendments to the Defence Trade Controls Bill that was enacted in order to give effect to the US/Australia Defence Trade Treaty.

Briefly, Part 1 of the Bill imposed a Defence Department administered export control regime on intangibles (such as information transmitted verbally, by email, presentation or publication) relating to a broad scope of dual use research; that is research that has both public good and military application.

Despite our efforts, we were unsuccessful in securing what we regarded as crucial amendments to ensure Australian researchers would not be disadvantaged compared to our US counterparts for low risk fundamental research. We were also unsuccessful in having a clause deleted from the Bill that made publication of research in breach of the proposed permit regime, an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

However, we were successful in securing amendments to the Bill for a strengthened Steering Group, chaired by the Chief Scientist, that would investigate the impact of the legislation on Australian research and table a report in Parliament, potentially with recommendations for changes based on the outcomes of a period of assessment of the impact of the legislation following pilot studies.

The Steering Group has established a website reporting on some of the outcomes of its work to date where they have reported the outcome of the U.S./Australia comparison. I encourage you to go to the website.

Whilst the Steering Group identifies the difficulties in making a direct comparison between the two systems, they have made some important and very encouraging statements that help set us on a path to achieve a much improved outcome for Australian research in regards to exclusions and publication. Some key quotes from the site are provided below.

We will continue this important work through submissions to the Senate Group that is overseeing the implementation of the Act, submissions to the working groups of the Steering Committee, providing input for submissions from Universities Australia and the Go8, and potentially by participating in one of the pilot programs that are being used to assess impact.

We are continuing to make submissions to government on this matter and supporting our colleagues.

Jill Trewhella
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)

Excerpt from the Steering Group website


The Steering Group did identify some specific areas for further investigation.  Australia’s controls on publication appear more restrictive than the US dual-use publication controls, and the US system contains a greater number of exclusions and exemptions, both in terms of specific research exclusions and broader licence exemptions. The Steering Group will consider broader exemptions for dual-use technologies and a different approach to managing publication, drawing on the practice of other countries, including the US, and reflecting the specific circumstances of Australia’s university and industry sectors.

The Steering Group noted that Australia appeared more restrictive in prohibiting the publication of controlled technology in comparison to the US.  The US dual-use controls do not have a prohibition on publishing the design of or how to enhance a controlled technology on the Commerce Control List unless the research was performed under a government contract that restricts publication.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is developing a supplement to the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research to consider dual use research of concern.  The Steering Group agreed that this may be an appropriate alternative approach to managing publication of controlled technology and this could be tested through the Pilot Program. If successful the Group may consider the scope of the publications offence.

The Steering Group will, through its Pilot Program, consider broader exemptions or exclusions for dual-use technologies and an alternative approach to managing publications, for recommendation to Government.