Foreign Interference

All governments, including Australia’s, try to influence deliberations on issues of importance to them. Foreign powers have an interest and desire to influence Australian Government, business, academic and individual decision-making to benefit their political, economic and strategic interests. When conducted in an open, lawful and transparent manner, these activities contribute positively to the debate and are welcome. Foreign interference activities go beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments.

Given the University’s international reach and engagement, the potential risks as well as the opportunities this brings must be actively managed. Australian universities are expected to ensure that the broad benefits to Australia derived from international collaborations and recruitment are balanced against the potential for foreign interference to be enabled through these relationships.

Foreign interference occurs when activities are carried out by, or on behalf of a foreign actor, which are coercive, covert, deceptive or corrupting and are contrary to Australia’s sovereignty, values and national interest. Foreign interference can result in:

  • JCU’s valuable research, or other sensitive data becoming compromised;
  • The cultivation of the JCU community for espionage against Australia; or
  • Foreign governments gaining an undue commercial, technical or intellectual advantage to the disadvantage of JCU

The information below is intended to assist staff and students to understand key foreign compliance obligations which may impact on University activities.

Various legislative compliance obligations (where they pertain to foreign interference) including the:

  • Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011
  • Defence Trades Control Act 2012
  • National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018
  • Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020

The University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) Guidelines on Countering Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector provide additional regulatory requirements on the University.

A proactive approach by the University to the threat of foreign interference helps to safeguard the University’s reputation, protect academic freedom, demonstrate its support of the Government's national security agenda; maintain the confidence and support of partner organisations; and ensure JCU can maximise the benefits of education and research endeavours.

Foreign interference occurs when activities are carried out by, or on behalf of a foreign actor, which are coercive, covert, deceptive or corrupting and are contrary to Australia’s sovereignty, values and national interest. Foreign actors – whether Government officials, intelligence officers or their proxies – will seek contacts and develop relationships to exert influence and pursue those objectives. This may include theft of intellectual property and original research findings, or the unauthorised access by foreign nationals of University Information Systems through cyber-attacks.

Refer to the Foreign Interference Policy that addresses foreign interference risk and the responsibilities for due diligence and risk reduction at JCU.

The University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) Guidelines on Countering Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector released in 2019 provide recommendations to universities on governance and risk, effective due diligence, education and awareness strategies and cybersecurity, the implementation which is monitored through the Integrity Unit within the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA).

These guidelines have been developed for, and in partnership with, the Australian University sector to help manage and engage with risk to deepen resilience against foreign interference in the university sector. They are designed to build on risk management policies and security practices already implemented by Australian universities, as well as assist decision makers to assess the risks from foreign interference.

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme applies to anyone acting on behalf of a foreign government or its agent where that activity is for the primary purpose of influencing political or government outcomes.

Under the scheme, a person who enters into an arrangement with a foreign government, or an agent of that government, for the sole purpose of influencing government activity in Australia is required to register the relationship and the nature of the activity with the Commonwealth Government.

Most academic activity is not conducted on behalf of a foreign government for the sole purpose of influencing Australian governments. Academic commentary on politics and government is more likely to require registration under the scheme. A range of guidance materials are available to assist potential registrants to understand their obligations under the scheme.

Australia implements United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions regimes and Australian autonomous sanctions regimes. Australia is obliged to implement UNSC sanctions regimes as a matter of international law. In addition, the Australian Government has decided to implement Australian autonomous sanctions regimes as a matter of Australian foreign policy.

Sanctions are 'measures not involving the use of armed force' imposed 'in situations of international concern', including 'the grave repression of the human rights or democratic freedoms of a population by a government, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery, or internal or international armed conflict.'

Sanctions impose restrictions on activities that relate to particular countries, goods and services, or persons and entities and more information can be found at the DFAT website.

The procedure for Higher Degree by Research applicants and candidates from countries under sanction can be found on the Graduate Research School website.

The Australian Government has imposed export controls on defence and strategic goods and technologies in support of international efforts to stem the proliferation of conventional, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the systems that deliver them.  The primary body managing these controls is the Defence Export Control Office (DECO). Research and Innovation Services provide more information on the potential impact of the Act on research contracts and consultancy here.

Foreign Arrangements

The Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020 (Cth) creates a Scheme to ensure that arrangements between State or Territory governments and foreign government entities do not adversely affect Australia’s foreign relations and are not inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy. James Cook University (JCU) as a public sector entity is captured by the notification requirements of the Scheme.

The implementation of the Foreign Arrangement Scheme is being conducted in two stages:

  1. Commencing 10 March 2021, all new foreign arrangements must be notified. A 14 day notification deadline applies once an arrangement has been finalised.
  2. Before 10 June 2021, all pre-existing arrangements, made before the Scheme commenced, must be notified. All existing foreign arrangements will need to be assessed against the criteria as soon as possible and necessary lodgements made prior to the deadline.

JCU's Foreign Arrangement Notification Procedure outlines the requirements and responsibilities for notifying government of the University’s foreign arrangements captured by the Scheme

The first step in undertaking due diligence is understanding your prospective partner. The Department of Home Affairs (DFAT) recommends finding out about their ownership and management, business registration, company background, board members and directors, and any history of legal issues. You can find out some of this information from an internet search, and it is also possible to engage professional business risk intelligence and advisory groups to help, although that process can be very expensive and time-consuming and the university would only consider doing it in relation to very high-profile projects.

It is appreciated that in many circumstances, there are likely to be significant problems accessing this sort of information and this will particularly be the case where your prospective has something to hide.

Nonetheless, when considering partners on research projects, you should question whether-or-not the person and institution concerned makes sense in the relevant field of research. Is this, for example, an area that the partner has an established track-record of publications in? Does it make sense that they want to be involved and do they bring a substantial and valuable non-monetary contribution?

JCU's Foreign Arrangements Notification Procedure and the UFIT Countering Foreign Interference Guidelines provide further guidance on due diligence.

See the University's Foreign Interference Policy, Foreign Arrangements Notification Procedure, UFIT's Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector, or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Foreign Arrangements Scheme Fact Sheets.

Any queries on JCU's foreign arrangement notifications may be directed to the Chief of Staff, Vanessa Cannon.