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Looking to do some otherwise illegal research? South Australia wants you

South Australia is in the process of legislating its Research, Development and Innovation Bill 2017 that would allow the government to make a declaration that its laws do not apply to a research project.

“To the extent that the governor considers necessary for the purposes of the project or activity and subject to this section, provide that an Act, specified provision of an Act, or any other law does not apply, or applies with specified modifications, in respect of the project or activity,” the Bill states.

The only state law that would be unable to be waived under the proposed legislation, spotted by journalist Asher Wolf on Tuesday afternoon, is the South Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act. All Commonwealth laws would continue to apply to a declared project.

During the second reading of the Bill, South Australian Deputy Premier and Attorney-General John Rau said the Bill would overcome legislative and regulatory barriers.

“This declaration is a mechanism to temporarily suspend, modify, or dis-apply laws that would otherwise prohibit the pursuit of an innovative research and development proposal,” he said.

Under the Bill, a research and development declaration would have an 18-month window, with the possibility for it to be extended for another 18 months.

“This Bill is as much as anything a very loud signal to anybody in the research and development game anywhere in the world that we are available, we are open for business, and we want you to talk to us, and then let them come to us,” Rau said during the committee stage of the Bill.

Despite not seeking wide consultation of the proposed legislation, Rau revealed that he had sent a copy of the original Bill to the heads of the Australian operations of Google, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Hills, Microsoft, Samsung Electronics, and Facebook.

“At least one of those has already responded by saying, ‘We are actually quite interested in knowing a little bit more about what you people are up to’,” Rau told Parliament.

The Bill was criticised by the Law Society of South Australia [PDF] for not containing appropriate safeguards.

“The society is fundamentally opposed to any legislation that would allow the government of the day, by way of delegated legislation, to declare that a law of the Parliament does not apply,” it said. “Whilst noting that the government appears to acknowledge this concern by providing effectively a veto in Parliament … that purported safeguard is inadequate and unsatisfactory.

“There is no explanation as to why [the Aboriginal Heritage Act] would be exempt but not others such as the various criminal law legislations, legislation relating to environmental protection, laws relating to compensations, including workers compensation or our work health and safety laws.”

The Law Society called out Clause 16 of the Bill, which allows for acts undertaken in good faith under a declaration to be lawful.

“Clause 16 potentially has the effect of deeming lawful what would otherwise be unlawful solely by reference to someone acting in good faith,” it said. “Someone may be acting in an unlawful manner, be seriously misguided, and yet act in good faith. That such action would be considered lawful and binding, particularly in the circumstances proposed of no liability on the part of the government or potentially acting in reference to the declaration, for such action, is plainly inappropriate.”

The Bill was also criticised by the South Australian Greens MLC Tammy Franks.

“You can’t make this stuff up, truth here is far stranger and more sinister than fiction,” she said. “For the deputy premier to push for a Bill that could technically then override almost every law of the state is simply outrageous. That he has consulted with Amazon, Google, and Facebook but not the public of South Australia is extraordinary.

“Why on earth should Parliament now allow laws, hard fought and won, that afford South Australians privacy, consumer, animal cruelty, or workplace protections to be wiped out with the stroke of the governor’s pen because big business can’t handle some red tape? That red tape protects privacy, safety, and civil society. It is there for a reason, and if we are to suspend it, we should also debate the reason why.”

The Bill has made its way through the South Australian lower house, and it currently in the South Australia Legislative Council.

Commonly cited during debate by the government was the state’s driverless car trial legislation introduced in March.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan said at the time that companies looking to trial technologies on South Australia’s roads will simply have to submit plans of the proposed trial and have sufficient insurances to protect themselves and the public.

“South Australia is now positioned to become a key player in this emerging industry and by leading the charge, we are opening up countless new opportunities for our businesses and our economy,” he said.

The state recently went live with its digital driver’s licences for most classes through its mySA Gov smartphone app.

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