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Liberal Senator Insists Australia Must Be ‘ruthless’ in Pursuit of US Military Technology

Australia needs to be “ruthless” about prioritising which technologies it pursues under the second pillar of the Aukus pact to overcome “regulatory barriers” in the US, the shadow minister for cybersecurity and countering foreign interference, James Paterson, has said.

The Liberal senator made the comments on the Guardian’s Australian politics podcast, warning that an “absence of consensus” in the US and a “clear plan” in Australia could see it miss out.

On Thursday Paterson returned to Australia from a bipartisan parliamentary delegation to the US with a message about how to facilitate access to artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, quantum computing and other advanced technologies.

In addition to the $368bn nuclear-powered submarine acquisition, the Aukus agreement contains a second pillar: the push to collaborate with the US and the UK on other advanced military technologies.

Richard Spencer, a former US navy secretary, warned last month that the US export controls – known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (Itar) – were “the biggest speed bump we need to overcome” to make Aukus a success.

Paterson said Australia needs “a plan to overcome the regulatory barriers, particularly in the United States, that currently stand in the way to the successful delivery of Aukus”.

These included the US “information sharing security provisions”, intellectual property protections and “in particular” the Itar controls, he said.

“All of those really are not fit for purpose for Aukus. If they stay in place in the same way they have over the last 30 years, then each individual item of Aukus, particularly under the second pillar of Aukus, will have real barriers to success.”

Paterson said there was “massive momentum” behind the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines which “in some ways will take care of themselves”.

But he said the technologies under pillar two will not.

“As a country, I think we need to be ruthless about prioritising, which among those technologies under pillar two are the urgent priorities that we want to get done straight away and which of them are longer term and will bear fruit over time.

“Because otherwise we’re going to be biting off more than we can chew and we’re going to really struggle to deliver the capability we need.”

Paterson said there was “no pushback” in the US to the first principles of cooperation, but there is a “lack of consensus” about whether legislative change will be needed or a system of “case by case exemptions and executive orders from the president and other mechanisms” will be sufficient to give technology to Australia. He said power in the US system was “widely dispersed”.

The minister for defence industry, Pat Conroy, has played down concerns about roadblocks to technology transfer under Aukus, saying the government was “working through the nitty gritty of that now”.

Conroy, who has visited the US, said last month: “I think there’s a real sense of energy … people [in the US] were very much focused on making sure the technology was transferable. There’s very broad bipartisan support and I’m confident we can get it done.”

Paterson has given support to the Albanese government for its decision to ban TikTok on government devices, but said it should “look very closely” at what to do protect other Australians from “a company which is beholden to the Chinese Communist party [which has] unregulated access to … data”.

Paterson noted foreign interference also occurs as “authoritarian states have proven very adept at weaponising western social media platforms”.

“One of the things I’m concerned about, which I will explore through the Senate select committee on foreign interference through social media, is the way in which Twitter, under its new ownership, has kind of turned back a lot of the controls that it had on foreign interference and disinformation.”

Twitter had “stopped the practice of identifying state-affiliated entities on the platform”, according to media reports, he said, which “does make the risk of foreign interference much higher”.

Paterson said he was “quite concerned” about the potential for foreign interference in the voice referendum.

He cited China’s foreign interference in the Canadian election, and a Chinese official reportedly saying that it “likes it when western parties fight amongst each other”.

“I don’t think the Chinese Communist party or the Russian government or anyone else for that matter, has a strong view about the merits of the yes or no case in the upcoming referendum.

“But they will see it as an opportunity potentially to exacerbate and drive existing divisions within our society.”

Source : The Guardian