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More consultation ordered on trade bill

Australia’s defence department has appointed chief defence scientist Alex Zelinsky to conduct further consultations on the Defence Trade Controls Bill 2011 with the universities and research sector.

The move, announced on 17 August, follows recommendations by the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.

Zelinsky will be assisted by Ken Peacock, chairman of the Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty Industry Advisory Panel that supported the bill, the statement said.

The proposed legislation, which seeks to strengthen export controls between Australia and the United States, proscribes thousands of materials on the defence and strategic goods list—including components that could be used in weapons—and could hamper international research collaboration, researchers have warned.

In its preliminary report released earlier this month, the Senate committee advised that it was premature to proceed with the bill while important matters remain outstanding.

Instead, the committee recommended extended consultation with the universities and research sector on the impact of intangible transfer reforms for scientific research.

Previously the list has controlled only the export of proscribed goods. The new bill would extend controls to include “intangible transfers”, such as measurements of a good’s properties, but the definition of the term is too unclear, says the committee’s report.

It proposes that “in consultation with all relevant sectors, Defence [Department] provide examples to illustrate the scope of the definition of ‘intangibles’ and ‘intangible transfer’”. The suggestion is based on evidence given by representatives from the university sector who “indicated that the scope of the term … could be quite broad”, it says.

Universities Australia has welcomed the committee’s conclusion.

“At a time when research and innovation is more critical than ever for boosting Australia’s international competitiveness and national productivity, it is important that researchers be able to collaborate without unintended impediments”, said Belinda Robinson, chief executive of the peak body representing the sector.

The bill is currently tabled in the Senate.