The advanced technologies component of AUKUS remains in danger of being grounded by regulatory barriers, according to the Opposition, which is calling for a more vocal and proactive approach by the Australian government.
“While the submarines are big enough to generate their own momentum, I am worried that Pillar II simply won’t get off the ground if we don’t get our act together on regulatory reform,” shadow minister for Home Affairs and Cybersecurity James Paterson said on Tuesday.
The Pillar II technologies include cutting edge capabilities like hypersonics, quantum technologies and electronic warfare.
Little has been disclosed on trilateral efforts so far, beyond some information sharing agreements and early demonstrations by a joint working group.
But regulatory roadblocks are an immediate problem, according to US officials, who are working to “clear a path” for the technology transfers.
Addressing a local industry briefing in Canberra on Tuesday, Mr Paterson said the issue had been raised by intelligence agencies, members of congress, the US Administration, defence industry, think tanks and academics during his multiple visits to America since AUKUS was announced.
“It was clear from these conversations that the successful delivery of AUKUS depends on removing the regulatory barriers that currently stand in the way of seamlessly sharing information and technology between the three partners,” he said.
“I became increasingly concerned on each trip about our progress towards that goal.”
Defence minister Richard Marles has said he has in principle support from US counterparts to address any unnecessary regulatory hurdles for Pillar II technologies.
In March, Mr Marles said the Australian and US governments were working to “reduce those barriers”. “It is a big task, but I think there is a very significant commitment at the highest policy level to achieve that outcome,” he said.
But Mr Paterson wants details and for a more proactive Australian government to go to Washington armed with an explicit solution.
“Right now, we do not have a publicly articulated solution we are asking Congress and the Administration to move forward with,” he said.
“Perhaps there is a secret plan. But if it stays secret forever it is not going to break through the bureaucratic barriers, we all know are holding up progress.”
Australian representatives should also be helping drive a consensus solution, with several regulatory and legislative options being canvassed so far. Certain more advanced Pillar II technologies also need to be prioritised for “quick wins” that demonstrate a path for others, he said.
Mr Paterson pointed to China’s apparent research lead in several AUKUS technologies and a finding that a collective push by the three allies could close the gap.
“AUKUS represents a tectonic shift in what sovereign access means for Australia, but it is also ground-breaking because of the access it provides Australian vendors to the markets of our closest allies,” he added.
Mr Paterson, who led a charge to have Chinese made hardware removed from government sites, told the industry event that critical infrastructure and defence suppliers should look to de-risk their own supply chains by removing same sort of components.
“Because while you are not yet required under the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act or the Defence Industry Security Program to remove or mitigate the risks posed by TikTok, Hikvision, Dahua or DJI, my view is that you should be,” he said.
“If it is not safe to have these technologies in government departments because of the espionage risk they represent, it’s hard to see why they should be permitted on a system of national significance or an AUKUS supplier.
“The government clearly has the regulatory power to act – and I hope the Albanese Government does so swiftly.”
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