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“Unfair and unworkable”: Ai Group responds to the introduction of the Military Secrets Act

Australia’s leading national employers’ organisation, Ai Group, has launched a fierce attack on the new government. Australian Military Secrets Act (SAMS Law), highlighting key concerns about the future of Australia’s defense industry and experienced workforce.

The amendment to Defense Act of 1903 follows revelations that a number of former British, Australian and American military pilots were hired to train Chinese military pilots, raising concerns about the security of sensitive information dating back to the mid-2010s and even further back .

In response, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles said in 2022: “The information provided to me so far presents sufficient evidence to justify the need for a detailed review of the adequacy of current Defense policies and procedures on this issue.

“I want to make this point. For those who come into possession of our nation’s secrets, either by serving in the Australian Defense Force or by serving in any other part of the Commonwealth, there is an ongoing obligation to maintain those secrets for as long as they do so. remain, which persists long after their engagement with the Commonwealth, and violating this obligation is a very serious crime,” Minister Marles said at the time.

In response, the government developed the Australian Military Secrets Act legislation designed to protect Australian military secrets and strengthen national security.

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A key part of the legislation means that some Australian citizens and permanent residents may need to apply for overseas work authorization when working for or on behalf of a foreign military or government agency. Additionally, this means that foreign work authorization may also be required for individuals providing training to a foreign military organization or government agency.

For context, the Australian Military Secrets Act applies to former members of the Australian Defense Force, Australian Defense Civil Servants and the Australian Submarine Agency who will work for a foreign military or foreign government agency.

The legislation also covers all Australian citizens or permanent residents who provide training to a foreign military or government agency in the following areas:

  • Part 1 of the list of defense and strategic goods
  • Military tactics, techniques and procedures

However, while the Australian Military Secrets Act was developed in response to a major and glaring gap, Ai Group has launched a scathing attack, raising major concerns about the impacts of the legislation on Australia’s defense industry workforce and veterans seeking to make the transition and leverage their skills and experience.

Innes Willox, chief executive of the Ai Group, said: “A new law aimed at preventing the sharing of sensitive military information, which came into force this week, is causing confusion among ex-servicemen who face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. imprisonment for violation of the law.

Willox goes further: “the law is, in practice, illogical, unjust and unworkable. The impact of this unguided missile act on the defense industry, former Defense personnel (including veterans), and Australia’s commercial standing and international reputation, is profound. worrying.

Willox explained that the offenses prescribed by the law do not necessarily have to relate to “military secrets” and that, given the broad scope of the law, the term “foreign government agency” could easily be misused. or abusive.

“For example, if an administrative officer works at the Ministry of Defense, that person will need a foreign work permit for at least one year after leaving Defense if they wish to work for one of the thousands of businesses located in Australia with foreigners. government influence or ownership. This is the case even if the person did not have access to ‘military secrets,’ and also if the company is a civilian entity with no connection to national security,” Willox explained.

In the case of a two-tier application process, he also indicated that the SAMS Law does not apply to other holders of high-level clearances, including intelligence agencies, other government departments, ministerial staff, or defense contractors and consultants.

“THE SAMS Law It will clearly be more difficult for thousands of Defense personnel and veterans to move into new roles after leaving their jobs in the MoD or ADF. Ai Group estimates that the Australian workforce potentially captured by the SAMS Law includes 230,000 current and former members of the ADF and 70,000 civilians formerly employed in the Defense administration. This equates to around one in 40 Australian workers,” he said.

Willox urged the government to work with industry experts to better target the legislation and establish a list of exemptions to better achieve the desired outcomes and intent of the law.

“THE SAMS Law comes from a place of good intentions. But alarming results await Australia’s defense capability unless a proper review of the mandate and scope of the legislation is carried out. Our national security demands it.