The Defence Department has been accused of turning a blind eye to universities illegally sharing military technology with China.
Former senior defence official Peter Jennings has told AM there was a “likelihood” universities were breaking strict export controls on technology that could be used for military purposes.
He said the time had come for the Defence Department to conduct a deep and immediate investigation.
“The department should now be looking to audit the performance of universities because we are talking about the mass migration over to Chinese interests and that’s not in Australia’s commercial, or indeed national, security interests,” he said.
There are strict rules banning the sharing of research that could be used for military purposes by Australia’s potential foes, including China.
Australian universities conduct world-leading research in areas such as artificial intelligence, super computing and driverless car technology that could be adapted for military purposes.
The Defence Department said it relied on self-assessment from universities to police their academics’ interactions with overseas academics.
“It is ultimately the responsibility of each institution to ensure they comply with the law,” the Department told the ABC in response to questions about links between Australian and Chinese researchers.
Charles Sturt University professor Clive Hamilton has uncovered hundreds of research projects linking Australian scientists with senior Chinese military figures.
At the centre of a web of questionable collaborations with Australian universities sit Yang Xuejun, a Lieutenant-General in China’s People’s Liberation Army who heads the country’s top defence research academy.
Professor Hamilton said much of those collaborations could mean Australian technology could be used against it on the battlefield.
“There is no doubt some of the technology they are working on is being applied to improve the battle readiness of the PLA,” Professor Hamilton said.
Laws governing the export of defence technology were tightened in 2012 to include university research following the signing of a weapons treaty between Australia and the US.
Professor Hamilton said questions about Australian universities collaborating with Chinese military researchers could damage relations with Australia’s biggest strategic ally.
“I know that our research is being carefully read in Washington and hard questions are being asked of the Australian Government,” he said.