Science has been protected in a new Defence exports law passed by parliament. 

Australia’s scientists say the passage of the Defence Trade Control Amendment Bill 2023 improves the balance between protecting Australia’s national security and enabling the benefits that open scientific collaboration offers Australia and the world.

The passing of the legislation comes four months after the Australian Academy of Science first raised concerns about implications of Australia raising the fence for scientific and technological collaboration with any countries other than the UK and the US.

Academy President Professor Chennupati Jagadish said the Academy’s sustained advocacy in this area has minimised the unintended consequences for the Australian research sector.

“Enshrining the fundamental research exemption in legislation provides scientists with more confidence that the definition can’t be changed on a whim and that they won’t be at risk of breaking the law by undertaking discovery research, simply speaking at a conference, teaching a PhD student, or collaborating with a colleague.”  

The Academy said the amendments to grandfather current research for a year and to review the legislation after three years were also appropriate.

“Now, as the rubber hits the road, Australia’s researchers must be adequately supported to understand their obligations to enable compliance and to access sufficient resources to establish secure research environments when required,” Professor Jagadish said.

“We look forward to continuing work with the Government and Department of Defence as it implements the forthcoming reforms and revises the Defence Strategic Goods List to ensure researchers understand how the new legislation works, to reduce compliance burden, and to monitor unintended consequences for Australia’s researchers.”

The Academy has previously detailed how Australia benefits from international scientific collaboration in a contested world.