Foreign interference guidelines: the people who will use ‘em like ‘em

Universities are happy with what they have got

A win for Dan Tehan: The creation of the guidelines (CMM yesterday) are another successful example of his better to have VCs in the tent strategy. He could have imposed oversight on universities. Instead he got the sector on-side with vice chancellors and representatives of two lobbies (UA and Go8) working on the new rules, sorry guidelines.

The next time university cyber security is compromised or a researcher falls into a foreign honey-trap Mr Tehan will be able to point to the guidelines all universities now own and leave a hapless vice chancellor to do the explaining

A win for universities:  The new rules, apologies, guidelines, will be a pain for institutions to adhere to. But they could have been way worse if national security officials had the opportunity to extend oversight and authority. (Last year the Department of Defence made an unsuccessful submission to the Thom review of the Defence Trade Control Act, which advocated government having more effective control to strategic technology).

And with the minister giving them seats at the lab bench universities are able to present the guidelines as their own, not imposed on them.

Reaction: Universities Australia backed the guidelines yesterday, (CEO Catriona Jackson was a member of the project taskforce), focusing on its members’ independence. “University autonomy remains a foundational principle of Australia’s university system, and this partnership approach respects this central tenet of universities whilst managing risk,” UA president and Curtin VC Deborah Terry said yesterday.

The Group of Eight, which had most to lose in any heavy-handed regulation of research, was also comfortable. “

It has been positive that the Morrison Government has chosen to seek sector inclusion in its process rather than take the heavy-handed over-reach approach of the US; which would have stifled academic freedom, ruined invaluable research partnerships and added regulatory burden and additional compliance,”  CEO and (taskforce member) Vicki Thomson said.

The Australian Technology Network is also happy with the outcome, both for its members and the national interest. “Increasing our focus on cybersecurity and sharing other best practice will be key to Australia keeping the international research collaboration engine running, which is vital for progress of humanity and Australia’s economic prosperity,” chair and UTS VC, Attila Brungs said.


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