Australia to toughen laws on ex-military staff who train foreign armies

Legislation introduced after Chinese pilots trained and as Australia prepares to share nuclear secrets with its allies.

Richard Marles
If the legislation passes, Australian Defence Minister Charles Marles would have the power to decide which countries would be exempt from the restrictions [File: Caroline Chia/Reuters]

The Australian government has proposed tougher restrictions on former defence personnel who want to train “certain foreign militaries” as the nation prepares to share nuclear secrets with the United States and Britain.

Defence Minister Richard Marles introduced legislation in parliament on Thursday aimed at safeguarding military secrets.

A series of cases in which former military pilots living in Australia had worked for a South African flight school training Chinese pilots who the US alleges are Chinese military pilots has prompted the crackdown.

Last year, Marles ordered the Department of Defence to review standards after reports that China had approached former Australian military personnel to become trainers.

The US, Britain and Canada, all Australian allies, share concerns that China is trying to poach Western military expertise.

The review recommended a strengthening of already robust legislation as Australia deepens technology-sharing with the US and Britain under the so-called AUKUS agreement, an acronym for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Under the agreement, the US and Britain will provide Australia a fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.

Australian sailors are already training on US and British nuclear submarines under the agreement.

The bill “reflects Australia’s commitment to enhance our security standards to safeguard sensitive technology and information, particularly as we embark on work through the AUKUS partnership,” Marles told parliament.

“While the bill does not represent the entirety of our legislative ambition in this respect, it is an important step towards establishing more seamless technological transfers with our AUKUS partners,” he added.

Elements of the bill were modeled on similar provisions in US law, he said.

Under the legislation, former Australian defence personnel who work for or train with a foreign country without authorisation could be punished by up to 20 years in prison.

The intention is to “prevent individuals with knowledge of sensitive defence information from training or working for certain foreign militaries or governments where that activity would put Australia’s national security at risk”, he said.

Marles would have the power to decide which countries would be exempt from the restrictions.

A parliamentary committee will scrutinise the draft legislation and report on it before a final draft becomes law.

Former US marine pilot Dan Duggan was arrested at his Australian home last year and faces extradition to the US on charges that include illegally training Chinese aviators. The 54-year-old, Boston-born Australian citizen denies any wrongdoing.

Source: News Agencies