On 28 October 2020 the then Home Affairs Minister, The Hon Peter Dutton MP, referred a general inquiry to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (the PJCIS) pursuant to subparagraph 29(1)(b)(i) of the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (Cth) (the IS Act).
The reference was to inquire and report on national security risks affecting the higher education and research sector (the sector). The specific terms of reference for the inquiry are outlined in the preliminary pages of this report, however the inquiry has evolved as the committee has undertaken evidence-gathering and consideration of the issues involved.
The sector is defined in the terms of reference and includes those entities engaged in tertiary teaching, research, commercialisation of research, and other related bodies including grants, coordination and institutional entities. It is deliberately broad in order to fully encompass the sector and its related entities.
The then Chair of the PJCIS, Mr Andrew Hastie MP, announced the commencement of the inquiry by media release on 4 November 2020 and invited written submissions from academia, government agencies and other interested stakeholders.
The Committee received 61 submissions, with an additional 21 supplementary submissions (incorporating substantive supplementary submissions and answers to Questions on Notice). These submissions included a small number of confidential submissions received from private submitters. A list of all submissions received by the Committee is included at Appendix A.
The Committee held public hearings on 11 March and 19 March 2021 in Canberra and by video and teleconference. A list of hearings and witnesses who appeared before the Committee is included at Appendix B.
Copies of all public submissions and transcripts of public hearings are available on the Committee’s website.
This report consists of six chapters:
This chapter briefly describes the genesis and conduct of the inquiry.
Chapter 2 discusses the prevalence of the identified national security risks. It discusses the types of national security risk that exist within the sector and analyses their significance, distribution and manifestation.
Chapter 3 discusses the sector’s capacity to identify and respond to the national security risks. It assesses sectoral awareness of national security risks, and the sufficiency and suitability of measures taken by the sector in response to identified risks.
Chapter 4 discusses the adequacy of the government policies, legislation and procedures with respect to the national security risks. It discusses existing policies and procedures, their genesis and connection to the material risks, as well as whether there are areas unaddressed or insufficiently addressed.
Chapter 5 explores similar approaches in other countries to these national security risks. It explores similar inquiries, assessments and measures made in related countries.
Chapter 6 is Committee comment.
In setting out some of the evidence given by submitters in this report the names of academics have been used. The Committee notes that it offers no view on the actions of individual academics.
Subjects covered in this report
A number of submitters made recommendations to this inquiry for reforms that may not be discussed in detail. Those recommendations were nonetheless valuable to this inquiry and helped to inform the Committee’s deliberations.
This inquiry was broad in its scope as it discussed all national security risks present in the sector. As the evidence to this Committee demonstrated there are considerable differences between foreign interference against students on university campuses, state-sponsored cyber espionage of sensitive research, and traditional espionage via human means. All of these are however variants of national security risks and will be discussed in this report. Broadly this indicates a loose division between the sector as a target, and the sector as a vector for the national security risks identified above.
Related current or recent inquiries and reports
The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade had an inquiry into issues facing diaspora communities in Australia. The report made some references to foreign interference in the sector.
The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade also recently reported on the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 (the Foreign Relations Bill). Foreign interference in the higher education sector was discussed as part of this inquiry. Several submitters to the PJCIS inquiry also provided similar submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.