Uni reps (very) critically questioned on China links

Peak bodies representatives appeared at a Senate committee hearing yesterday

The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is inquiring into legislation to “assess and manage the effect of arrangements” between state/territory “entities” (and that includes universities) with “foreign entities.”

Senators Kitching (ALP-Vic), Fierravanti-Wells (Lib-NSW) and chair, Senator Abetz (Lib-Tas) were robust in questioning Catriona Jackson (Unis Aus) Vicki Thomson (Go8) and Luke Sheehy (ATN) about universities links with Chinese Government and Communist Party agencies, notably Confucius Institutes and their impact of such connections on human rights in the PRC and about protecting Australia’s interests in their relations with China. Some questions were institution specific and as such beyond witnesses ability to address in detail – which in some cases did not go down at all well.

Senator Ayres (Labor-NSW) followed with calming questions about how the legislation would work.

It gave Ms Thomson the chance to expand on her opening statement to the committee, that in the breadth of its application “we do not consider the bill fit for purpose.”

“We don’t want the bill to ensnare potentially tens of thousands of contracts which pose no risk because of the unintended consequences of drafting. This drafting may be eminently sensible for State and local government – but we are not them. Ensnaring us in the net will damage the economy. There is nothing surer. It will damage the potential for future technologies, future manufacturing, future jobs.”

This isn’t even the tough committee inquiry –  that’s the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry into “foreign interference” in universities and public research agencies, yet to start (CMM September 1).