Chinese students at Australian universities could soon be protected from Beijing spying under new cyber security laws.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security said university leaders were not doing enough to protect students who fear for their families while under pressure from China.
At the hearing on Friday, committee chair Sen. James Paterson said universities had a legal duty to care for the welfare of students and a moral responsibility to uphold academic freedoms.
“If they’re being spied upon by their fellow students or others, and you’re not taking steps to protect them from it, then you’re letting them down,” he said.
Incidents in the University of Technology Sydney were recounted, where students were threatened into silence by other students on social media.
Luke Sheehy, the executive director of Australian Technology Network of Universities, said their group valued freedom of speech, student safety, and open institutions.
“It’s deeply concerning to us,” Sheehy said.
However, he said it was hard to intervene because students operated their own networks across universities to communicate and coordinate the harassment of their targets.
Paterson cited a recent report from the Human Rights Watch that revealed how universities failed to protect the freedoms of Chinese students and academics who criticise the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The report revealed the various incidents and thoughts of 24 students and 22 academics and their experience in Australia under Beijing surveillance.
“Australian universities rely on the fees that international students bring while turning a blind eye to concerns about harassment and surveillance by the Chinese government and its proxies,” the author of the report, Sophie McNeill, said.
Innovative Research Universities (IRU) said in its opening statement that universities played a significant part in national infrastructure.
“Cybersecurity targets an area of great concern where the university commitment to openness and sharing of information to advance knowledge, runs against actors who would disrupt our operations,” IRU executive director Conor King said. “Disruption to our operations could cause significant harm if prolonged.”
The newly proposed laws would incorporate universities as critical national infrastructure and make it compulsory to promptly report cyber-attacks.
AAP contributed to this article.