Second Reading

25 March 2024

I wanted to rise this morning to add my contribution to the Senate’s consideration of the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2024. The overriding purpose of this bill is, as the bill states, to strengthen Australia’s national security and protect sensitive defence goods and technology by enhancing Australia’s defence export control system amid unprecedented global challenges. At the same time, the bill facilitates international trade and research collaboration as part of the AUKUS agreement.

On 30 November last year, the Senate referred the bill to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee for inquiry. As part of that inquiry, which I chaired, the committee received 24 submissions and heard from witnesses in a public hearing on 1 March this year. I want to thank everyone who appeared before the inquiry.

It is very important that this bill be passed in a timely way. That is why, as a committee, we endeavoured to complete our work ahead of the scheduled reporting date of 30 April 2024 to allow this Senate ample time to consider the recommendations in the report before it would come to the floor today. So, I am very grateful that the government has also provided its response to the recommendations that were made in the committee’s final report in a manner that is equally as timely.

While the purpose of the proposed legislation is to boost Australia’s defence export control framework and align it with that of the United States, Australia’s defence export regime should also be tailored to our nation’s own unique circumstances. That is sometimes overlooked in the debate. This is a very important balance that must be found. Doing so is not an easy task, as the inquiry well demonstrated. Despite some concerns that were raised by sections of business and academia on the possible effects that the bill might have, the committee found that there was in-principle support for the proposed forms and the new layer of security that it presents.

My view, and that of the committee, is that the bill will support and strengthen the objectives of the AUKUS partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom, allowing for greater opportunities for both industry and individuals engaging in regulated defence articles and services, as well as building a much more robust industrial base. Despite the benefits, the committee accepted the degree of concern and confusion that exists—and I was pleased to read in the government’s response an acknowledgement of this need for clarity—and welcomed Defence’s proposal to create some more information that will be available on its website and distributed to the various stakeholders that were impacted, providing necessary information on the legislative changes.

I was also pleased by the government’s willingness to continue further consultation with sectors of the industry, particularly those in the higher education research sectors. One of the particular aspects of concern that the committee heard from several inquiry participants was the need for a much more comprehensive definition of the term ‘fundamental research’, as well as the view that this definition should be included in the bill itself to provide legislative certainty. This was a view shared by the committee, so it became a recommendation of the report that the bill be amended in such terms. I am pleased also to see that the government has agreed with this recommendation and is moving such amendments.

The committee agreed with the need for additional support for small and medium-sized enterprises and recommended that additional representation include relevant Australian defence industry SMEs. That Defence has been instructed by the minister to increase the membership of the working groups to support this expansion shows that there is a genuine willingness on behalf of government to work with our industry partners to ensure that these changes are as manageable as they can be. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that the committee is encouraged by Defence’s willingness to address the issues identified in the inquiry and remains confident of the collaborative processes by which the stakeholders in business and academia will resolve the outstanding issues or confusion.

I am pleased that the government has agreed with the recommendations that we as a committee made. It shows how the Senate committee system should be: a considered inquiry, a considered response and better legislation. Taking into consideration the recommendations listed in the report, the committee supports the passage of this bill without delay, and I thank the government for its meaningful response to the recommendations made in the final report. I’d like to thank those who participated in the inquiry. The committee was very grateful for the valuable contributions it received and is satisfied that the proposed legislation has the in-principle support required to back its passage through this place.

I commend the bill to the Senate.