The review of the Defence Trade Controls Act (DTCA) 2012 has been released.
Established in April 2018, the review was conducted by Dr Vivienne Thom, a former Inspector‑General of Intelligence and Security. Dr Thom assessed whether the DTCA “provides appropriate levels of regulation and security for controlled technologies; aligns with international best practice for export controls; and is not unnecessarily restricting trade, research and international collaboration.”
The review found that whilst stakeholders were generally pleased with administration of the DTCA, an increase in processing times put collaboration and negotiations at risk. Dr Thom also highlighted the need for Defence to better raise awareness of the DCTA’s existence, particularly to SMEs and researchers.
Crucially, the review rejected the recommendations set out in Defence’s submission: “The review recognises that changes in the national security environment require that the legislation be amended in order for it to remain effective, but does not support the broad approach implied by the recommendations in the Defence submission.”
Dr Thom, however, “was also persuaded that Defence should be given appropriate powers to monitor compliance or to effectively investigate suspected non-compliance, to determine whether cases should be referred to the Australian Federal Police.”
Dr Thom’s findings were drawn from 75 written submissions and personal meetings with stakeholders from government, industry, universities, and peak bodies. Defence has expressed support for all nine recommendations.
The review was welcomed by universities and the scientific community.
Australian Academy of Science President Professor John Shine said that the review confirmed the original intent of the DCTA to balance Australia’s international trade and security obligations with the need for researchers to engage collaboratively with partners around the world.
“The Academy of Science was very concerned at proposals put forward by defence officials in 2015 to introduce sweeping new powers to restrict the international exchange of knowledge and ideas,” Professor Shine said.
“Further restrictions would effectively have limited Australian researchers’ ability to engage in international research collaboration and to benefit as a nation from the many international research collaborations and expertise on which a substantial proportion of our economy relies.
“We’re very pleased that these concerns have been heard and believe that the recommendations in the review strike the right balance in Australia’s national interests.”
“The Group of Eight Universities was dismayed and concerned with the Defence Department’s submissions for extended powers,” chief executive Vicki Thomson said.
“It went against everything that made the Defence Trade Controls Act such a sensible and workable piece of legislation.”
“Importantly, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has supported Dr Thom’s considered views,” she said. “For the Go8 that is a win for common sense.”
“The Coalition Government recognises the importance of strong protections against the transfer of critical military technology which can pose a pressing threat to the security and defence of Australia,” Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne said.
“It is also important, as the review has highlighted, that any future amendments do not unnecessarily restrict trade, research and international collaboration and impede on the development of Australia’s defence capability.”
Dr Thom has now been engaged to lead a consultation phase to develop legislative proposals.