Project to force university staff to reveal foreign political history

Professor Ivison said the consultation process was working and it was important that the guidelines were proportionate to the risks security agencies were trying to address.

“We also want to make sure that they are compatible with the mission of the universities. We are not ASIO, we are not a security agency.

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Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said he would not comment on “what is or is not in the draft guidelines,” but stressed that security agencies have made it clear that the universities were the target of foreign interference and espionage.

The decision to update the UFIT guidelines, which were first implemented in 2019, comes as the federal government grows concerned about espionage at universities involving the theft of critical research and data. sensitive by foreign actors. Under laws enacted last year, the government has the power to cancel research contracts between Australian universities and foreign universities controlled by foreign governments. They were widely seen as targeting Chinese universities.

Security agencies have also repeatedly flagged their concerns. ASIO boss Mike Burgess warned earlier this year that the extent of foreign interference in universities was higher than at any time since the Cold War.

In the current project, which was seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and Age, the guidelines include a template of three “basic declaration of interest questions” that universities should ask of academic staff, including that they “describe any association with political, military, police and / or other organizations. foreign security ”. They should also report whether they receive “financial support (in cash or in kind) for research-related activities from a country outside Australia” and any “obligations you have to foreign institutions (including including other academic bodies, research entities or the private sector) or governments ”.

The project does not impose the same disclosure requirements on other academic staff, including casuals and senior research students, instead proposing that the need for disclosure be “assessed against the level of risk of the institution.” activity ”.

Universities are also concerned about the potential legal complications of collecting such information from thousands of academics at each university, including whether it would violate anti-discrimination laws or privacy laws. The guidelines do not contain any guidance on what universities should do with the information once it has been gathered.

An academic executive called the measure “McCarthyist,” saying the guidelines took “a comprehensive, mass approach” in requiring all academics to disclose their political ties abroad, regardless of the risk.

“There is no sense of proportionality or any kind of risk profile at all,” the academic said.

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“How is it appropriate that this applies to an entire university?” You ask your medieval poetry teacher to disclose political and other foreign affiliations, much like you would ask a missile guidance technology researcher to disclose theirs.

The general disclosure approach means that all foreign political ties are captured, rather than those of particular interest to security agencies. For example, ties to authoritarian governments, such as the Chinese Communist Party, must be disclosed, as must membership in Britain’s Labor or Conservative parties.

The Australian Research Council, which administers grants for research projects, has already adopted similar disclosure requirements. As first reported by The Australian, In its most recent funding round, the ARC asked academics to disclose their affiliation with a “foreign government, foreign political party, foreign state-owned enterprise, foreign military, or foreign policy organization.”

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