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Government briefing to allay universities' fears over foreign veto laws adds to uncertainty

November 03, 2020

Original Article: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/sep/24/government-briefing-to-allay-universities-fears-over-foreign-veto-laws-adds-to-uncertainty

Australian universities could get the green light to strike deals with international counterparts under the Morrison government’s new foreign veto laws, only to have the agreements ripped up years down the track because “foreign policy considerations are not static”.

As concerns grow within the higher education sector about the reach of a proposed bill giving Canberra the power to cancel international deals, Guardian Australia has learned that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat) attempted to allay those concerns at a briefing for universities last week.

University representatives raised fears at the briefing that the new laws could have a “chilling effect” on international research collaboration – given that Australia’s foreign affairs minister could initially allow an agreement to enter into force, only to veto at a later stage.

Universities fear such wide discretion could erode international partners’ confidence to enter into negotiations with Australian researchers. Universities have begun lobbying the government to either carve them out of the legislation or make changes to reduce the impact.

The laws also targets deals states and territories make with overseas governments – and those are the types of agreements that will face the highest scrutiny.

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