After pilot case, Australia tightens ban on training “certain foreign military personnel”.

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will tighten laws preventing former defense personnel from training “certain foreign military personnel”. It will introduce a penalty of 20 years in prison and expand the ban to prevent Australians from providing military training in countries deemed a national security risk.

A series of cases in which former military pilots living in Australia worked for a South African flight school that trained Chinese pilots, who the US said were Chinese military pilots, sparked the crackdown.

Australia’s Five Eyes intelligence partners Britain, the United States, New Zealand and Canada will be exempt from the new law, officials said.

Exceptions are also granted if the Secretary of Defense approves the training or if it relates to humanitarian assistance or United Nations missions.

Penalties of up to 20 years in prison are imposed for providing military training or tactics to a foreign military or government agency, including hybrid civil-military organizations or state-owned enterprises, without authorization from the Secretary of Defense.

Introducing the amendment to the Australian Parliament on Thursday, Defense Minister Richard Marles said the bill was modeled in part on U.S. laws and would toughen criminal laws in Australia that already prohibit the provision of military training to a foreign government.

The intent was to “prevent individuals with knowledge of sensitive defense information from training or working for certain foreign militaries or governments where that activity would jeopardize Australia’s national security,” he said.

A former US Marines Corp pilot who recently returned from work in China was arrested in Australia last year and faces extradition to the United States on charges of training Chinese military pilots at a South African flight school. The pilot, Daniel Duggan, remains in custody and denies any wrongdoing.

The Test Flying Academy of South Africa was placed on a U.S. trade blacklist in June on national security grounds for “training Chinese military pilots using Western and NATO sources.”

The flight training division of AVIC, a Chinese state-owned aerospace and defense company that works with TFASA, is also on the blacklist.

The Australian home of TFASA chief executive Keith Hartley was raided by Australian Federal Police in November. A court was told Hartley was suspected of organizing the training of Chinese military pilots through the flight school. Hartley has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

Under the new law, it is also prohibited to work for companies in which a foreign government owns 50% of the shares or whose directors are expected to act in accordance with the wishes of the foreign government.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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