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Scientists want Controls law re-think

Scientists want Controls law re-think

science handcuffsIn a last-minute plea to the PM, top researchers urgently want reconsideration of a law that would do ‘irreparable damage’ to Australianscience. You too can sign the petition.

To The Honourable Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,

We are concerned about the likely adverse impacts of the Defence Trade Controls Act (DTCA), 2012, and the Amendment Act of 2015, scheduled to go into effect on 2 April 2016.

These Acts put at risk fundamental research and education in science and technology in Australia.

Despite years of review and consultation, many of the most pressing problems raised remain unaddressed. Researchers and educators are about to be put at explicit legal risk of imprisonment and heavy fines for doing nothing more than teaching and engaging in research as they have freely done for decades.

As Geoffrey Robertson QC said recently, the DTCA is

“so sloppily drafted that it is a real threat to academic research which has no sensible connection to military technology. There should, at the very least, be an exemption from criminal penalty for those who are engaged in legitimate education or research exchanges.”

The DTCA is supposed to bring Australia into line with the UK and US treatment of military and “dual-use” research, that is, civilian research that might be put to military purposes. However, both UK and US law have safeguards for fundamental research and education, which the Australian law omits.

US law (ITAR 120.11) explicitly protects fundamental research, i.e., “basic and applied research in science and engineering where the resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly within the scientific community.”

UK law (Export Control Act, Section 8) likewise protects “the communication of information in the ordinary course of scientific research.”

If the Australian government is to foster an “ideas boom”, it should be rewarding innovative research in science and technology, not stifling it with legal risks.

We request that the Australian law exempt fundamental research and public education, bringing it into accord with UK and US law, before irreparable damage is done to science, technology and education in Australia.

Sincerely Yours,

NB: To support this letter, please sign the petition at:


  • Prof Bill Moran School of Engineering RMIT
  • Dr Neil Mudford School of Mechanical & Mining Engineering of Queensland
  • Dr Daniel Mathews School of Mathematical Sciences Monash University
  • Dr Kevin Korb Clayton School of IT Monash University
  • Dr Vanessa Teague Department of Computing and Information Systems University of Melbourne
  • Also signed by:
    • Prof Wray Buntine Clayton School of IT Monash University
    • Dr Neil Thomason School of Historical and Philosophical Studies University of Melbourne
    • Adam A. FordChair,
    • Prof Lin Padgham Computer Science and Information Technology RMIT
    • Dr Suelette Dreyfus Department of Computing and Information Systems University of Melbourne
    • Ted Bushell Air Commodore AM, RAAF (Ret’d)
    • Emeritus Professor William J (Bill) Caelli, AO

One comment

  1. Not everything is a nail (terrorist) for you to hit with your hammer (censorship). Could someone please think these things through before forcing them on us? Thanks!

    Mike Denton

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