The Australian parliament is set to probe alleged foreign interference at public universities, a government minister said yesterday, as concerns grow about Chinese influence.
A proposed inquiry by the security and intelligence committee follows a series of controversies over China’s clout on Australian campuses, ranging from hacks of university data to questionable financial donations and intimidation of Beijing’s critics.
Concerns have also been raised about the nature of research links between academics and scientists in the two countries.
Australian Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge told Sky News the mooted inquiry was the latest government attempt to tackle spiralling foreign interference now at “levels not seen since World War II.”
The move comes after Canberra announced last week that it was seeking new powers to scrap deals between local authorities and foreign countries that threaten the national interest — sweeping powers that would extend to universities.
It also comes less than a year after Australia announced new guidelines for universities for research collaboration, cybersecurity and international partnerships.
Tudge said the inquiry would “go further” than previous probes into alleged foreign interference.
“We need to be assured and the public need to be assured that there isn’t that foreign interference in our universities sector,” he said.
He did not say if the probe was aimed at China.
The Australian newspaper reported that Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton outlined the terms of reference for the inquiry in a letter on Sunday to committee head Andrew Hastie, a government parliamentarian and outspoken China critic.
Advisers to Dutton did not respond to a request for comment.
The university guidelines announced in November last year push public institutions to enhance cybersecurity systems, undertake due diligence before signing partnerships with overseas organisations and train staff to recognize foreign influence attempts.
Beijing has repeatedly denied interfering in Australian campus life.
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