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Report of the Inquiry into national security risks affecting the Australian higher education and research sector

Risk assessment Research institutes Research management Universities Higher education National security Australia

On 28 October 2020, the then Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, 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 reference was to inquire and report on national security risks affecting the higher education and research sector.

This report consists of six chapters:

  • Chapter 1 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.

This inquiry was broad in its scope as it discussed all national security risks present in the higher education and research 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.

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