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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP
Assistant Minister for Defence
Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Assistant Minister for the Republic
Ben Leeson: 0404 648 275
15 November 2022
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people.
I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
As the Assistant Minister for Defence, Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Assistant Minister for the Republic, I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation in the past and continue to do so today.
Thank you, Dr Ryan, for your introduction.
Senior Leaders of the Australian Defence Force.
Public servants from the Department of Defence.
Members of our internationally respected defence industry.
And researchers and academics from institutions across the nation.
I want to thank Consec for organising this event, as well as the Department’s Chief Information Officer Group.
It is pleasure to be here to officially open the Military Communication and Information Systems Conference and Expo.
This is the only Australian conference that focuses on the technologies, products, systems and services associated with military communications and information systems.
And it is being held at a crucial time.
It’s been said that we are living in the ‘Age of Acceleration’.
Technology is disrupting our institutions, our economy and our society and it is transforming the way that nations compete and how they wage war.
Innovations like artificial intelligence, automation, quantum computing, bio-tech, hypersonics and more are disrupting the battlespace in profound ways.
And these developments are exponential, not incremental.
Technology is also transforming the traditional capabilities that still play a crucial role in modern militaries.
Mastery of defence in the 21st century means mastering technology across all military domains.
Technologies, information systems, and communications capabilities are the fabric that support interoperability across domains.
Accelerating technology is also one of the drivers of change in Australia’s strategic circumstances.
In our Indo-Pacific region we are tracking a military build-up that is happening faster than at any time since the Second World War.
The challenge for Australia to remain at the cutting edge of technology is increasing.
Novel weapons are being developed and deployed, while expanding cyber and grey-zone threats are blurring the line between peace and conflict.
The Defence Strategic Update in July 2020 reaffirmed the need for Australia to invest in high-end capabilities that bolster our deterrence and better prepare us to respond in the event of conflict in our region.
That strategic imperative continues to drive us forward today.
That is why the Albanese Government has committed to combined Defence and ASD funding of 2% of GDP in 2022-23, which will rise to over 2% over the Forward Estimates.
That includes funding to equip the Australian Defence Force with capabilities like long-range and precision strike weapons, offensive and defensive cyber, and area denial systems.
A critical element of achieving our goals is AUKUS, our trilateral partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom.
In the 12 months since the announcement of AUKUS, significant progress has been made towards developing the optimal pathway for the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines.
The work of the Nuclear Powered Submarine Taskforce is progressing rapidly, driven through deep and broad engagement with our AUKUS partners.
At the same time, Australia, the UK and the US are also embarking on trilateral collaboration to enhance joint capabilities and interoperability through specific Advanced Capability initiatives.
Currently, the partners are pursuing six lines of effort – artificial intelligence, advanced cyber, quantum computing, undersea capabilities, hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare.
AUKUS partners are also working to leverage our innovation and information sharing capabilities to ensure rapid, tangible collaboration.
The partnership is also about encouraging the growth of the industrial base of each nation.
Beyond AUKUS, we are also working with other international partners to develop the capabilities we all need to maintain our competitive edge.
Changing technology is only one aspect of the complex geostrategic circumstances Australia is facing.
Australia can no longer rely on an extended lead time to prepare for conflict.
This is partly due to growing regional military capabilities and also the speed at which they can be deployed.
The Albanese Government moved swiftly to establish an independently led review of Defence's force posture and force structure.
The two eminent leads in former Australian Minister for Defence, Professor Stephen Smith, and the former Chief of the Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston, are well known to many of you here today.
The Defence Strategic Review will help Defence to better understand where it should prioritise investment, to ensure the ADF is well positioned to meet the nation’s security challenges through to 2033 and beyond.
I want to make it clear that it is not in Australia’s national character to seek to be an aggressor.
But we need to be better able to deter conflict, and in the worst case scenarios, defend ourselves, sustain our operations, and increase the cost for aggressors who are acting against our shared interests.
The final Review will be delivered to Government early next year.
The Defence ICT Strategy, which I launched at the end of August, envisages information and communications technology as being a pivotal warfighting capability for the Australian Defence Force.
The Strategy positions Defence to be ‘ready to fight and win in the Digital Age’.
It is no accident that the overarching theme of this conference mirrors the Strategy’s tagline.
It is the word ‘ready’ that I want everyone to keep front of mind, today and into the future.
We need advanced technology to be ready to use and ready to deploy as soon as possible if we are to effectively deter threats against Australia and our national interests.
Defence personnel must be empowered to make better decisions more quickly.
To be supported by cutting-edge communications and information systems that allow them to seamlessly access and exchange the data they need, when they need it.
And their enhanced connectivity must be matched by even stronger protection for Defence networks – as outlined in the Defence Cyber Security Strategy.
We all have to face the fact that Cyber has well and truly become a weaponised domain.
The days are long gone where we thought about cyber security as something that goes on at Defence bases.
We’re talking about any potential entry point, whether directly under Defence control or not.
An attack on Defence capabilities could originate anywhere...
At an industry facility, or on an employee’s personal device...
The list of ways in which an adversary might seek to infiltrate, disrupt and deny Defence systems is limited only by their imagination.
Defence faces millions of cyberattacks every single day.
Attacks probe every network and every capability.
When we look out, we see State and non-state actors moving quickly to leverage new technologies.
The malicious cyber activity targeting Australia is persistent, and the scale and sophistication of cyber threats is continuing to grow.
It clearly reflects the evolving strategic competition across the globe.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the cyber threat globally and threat actors across the world continue to find innovative ways to deploy online attacks.
The annual cyber threat report, released on the 4th of November by the Australian Cyber and Security Centre - the ACSC - should worry every single person at this Conference.
The ACSC received over 76,000 cybercrime reports, an increase of nearly 13 per cent from the last financial year.
On average one cybercrime report was received ever seven minutes, compared to every eight minutes last financial year.
And the average cost per cybercrime report has risen to around $40,000 for small business, over $88,000 for medium business and over $62,000 for large business.
Defence primes and sub-contractors are regularly targeted by state-based actors and criminals, due to the large volumes of sensitive and personal information and data they hold.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre offers a free partnership program with free alerts and advice and services, yet a relatively small proportion of Defence Industry Security Program members access it.
Partners receive early warning and advisories of threats and advice on how to mitigate them.
They can also learn from other partners on best practice in cybersecurity.
If you’re not a member, why not?
I strongly encourage you all to sign up today and report any cyber incidents through cyber.gov.au.
The Optus, Medibank Private and recent ForceNet breaches are each examples of deliberate and focused attacks.
The ForceNet attack was a ransomware attack and of profound concern to Defence.
I want everyone to understand that where there is a risk that Defence staff and personnel are affected we are going to talk about these attacks openly and publicly, because that is the best way to support our people to take the actions they need to take to secure their own information.
So I would make the point that if you run a cyber-security risk, you are also running a significant reputational risk.
As a strategic partner, we expect you to be operating with the Defence mission in mind at all times.
We expect you to be fully committed to working with Defence at every stage of the capability lifecycle.
And we expect you to be committed to cyber security over the life cycle.
Because cyber security is not a point in time capability, nor one that can be divorced from the supply chains that will increasingly be part of the development and delivery of complex capability.
So you can expect Defence to look increasingly closely at how you are ensuring your sub-contractors and down-stream suppliers maintain the integrity of Defence capability.
As the Minister with responsibility for ICT policy in the Defence portfolio, I will be prioritising cyber-security considerations in every decision I make.
Cyber security is the focus of many of the conference sessions here at MilCIS.
Arguably, cyber security should be a topic for discussion in every single one of them.
Achieving our vision for both ICT and cyber security will require Defence to expand and further develop its highly skilled workforce of ICT professionals.
Because for all the talk about technology, people are at the heart of this endeavour.
Ultimately, our people will be the capability edge that separates success and failure.
We have ambitious plans as a nation to establish sovereign capabilities that are powered by cutting-edge technology.
But there is no escaping the fact that we are constrained by skills shortages.
Attracting and retaining the best people is a significant challenge.
You will all be familiar with the intense competition for cyber-security talent throughout our economy.
We’re seeing similar workforce challenges within Defence and right across industry.
This is a challenge we cannot ignore.
Participants who attended the ICT industry roundtable event at Parliament House last month let me know that finding ways to increase workforce capacity is undoubtedly industry’s highest priority.
We discussed how skills shortages could affect industry’s ability to deliver capability to Defence as quickly as our changing strategic circumstances dictate that they must.
And we shared ideas for working collaboratively across sectors to strengthen our national ICT workforce, which in the end will benefit all of us.
The Albanese Government is committed to working in partnership with industry and academia to make progress on this crucial issue.
Let me take this opportunity to once again thank everyone who took part.
Your contributions are valued, and your open and honest approach much appreciated.
And I look forward to continuing these conversations during MilCIS.
Friends, Australia is a leading nation in many aspects of technology discovery, research and development, and uptake.
There is a deep pool of talent and knowledge in the Australian defence technology community.
Many of the people presenting at this Conference are world leaders in their field, and on the floor of the Expo you will see innovation that is world class.
Over the next few days, you’ll have the chance to engage with colleagues who are pushing the boundaries of knowledge in their respective fields.
And you’ll be able to share your valuable insights with them.
I hope your discussions are productive, and it is with great pleasure that I now declare officially open the Military Communication and Information Systems Conference.
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