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Transparency required on CSIRO foreign research

On 3 May 2020, I provided a media statement to News Limited’s Sharri Markson in which I called on the CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) in Geelong to conduct a full review of its virus research program involving foreign nationals so as to consider any national security, biosecurity or cyber-security risks.

This followed revelations by Ms Markson that two Chinese scientists who work for the Wuhan Institute for Virology in China had worked for the ACDP (then the Australian Animal Health Laboratory), one of whom was embedded at the Geelong facility for three years.  I made clear in my media statement that it was this type of research – involving the embedding of foreign nationals conducting very high risk scientific research at this high biocontainment facility – which should be put on hold until the completion of a review.

While there is no suggestion that any incident has occurred at the Geelong facility, given the various risks with this type of research, a review is prudent.  I referred, for instance, to a 2019 report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists which identified that human error in high biocontainment laboratories was a likely pandemic threat.

The statement issued by the CSIRO on 4 May 2020 seeks to misrepresent my concerns.

I did not suggest that international collaborations such as that which supports the ACDP’s vital Coronavirus vaccine research should be put on hold. Much of the ACDP’s work into disease prevention and management is underpinned by international collaboration.

While the CSIRO has confirmed that it has no current joint research programs with the Wuhan Institute for Virology, it is in the national interest that the CSIRO makes public all such arrangements involving the embedding of foreign scientists in its facilities including details of each of its foreign research programs.

Our Government has long raised deep concerns that foreign research projects at Australian universities have been used by some countries to exert interference or influence contrary to our national interest and national security.

The health sciences and research sector is a key target of foreign interference activities.


5 May 2020

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