Address to the Global Information Conference 2024 – Phoenix Challenge

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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11 June 2024

I begin by acknowledging the Kaurna people, traditional custodians of Adelaide, and as the Assistant Minister for Defence, 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.

Federal and State Parliamentary Colleagues;

Senior Defence leaders;

Distinguished Guests;

Friends All;

I’d like to thank the Information Power Institute for inviting me to speak to you today, and for bringing together government, industry and academia to debate and discuss the challenges of the contemporary information environment.

The information environment today is arguably the most contested space on the planet.

Geopolitics was once a term defined by the physical domain.

Today it is boundless. 

And the strategic challenges we face in the physical domains are forcefully driving tensions in the information space. 

The traditional advantages of our island geography can’t protect Australia from space and cyber-attacks and disinformation. 

And we can’t ignore the reality of a world where malign actors – both state and non-state – are rapidly improving their cyber capabilities which is increasing the risk of disruption to Australia’s critical systems, infrastructure and networks.

It is very clear to the Albanese Labor Government that investment in innovation and asymmetric advantage – including through our AUKUS trilateral partnership – and investment in our people that will make the difference.

This underscores the importance of the foundational thinking our Government has done with the National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program, to focus our investment and our efforts on the most important priorities. 

They provide a clear statement of Australia’s intentions in the region and in the world. 

And together they establish a clear plan to shift the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to an integrated, focused force with a strategy of denial as its cornerstone.

To deliver these reforms the Government has delivered increased funding to Defence – the second consecutive Budget to do so. 

National security is a big focus of the Albanese Government and it’s a highlighted again in our Budget. 

The total increases in defence funding since we came to office have been $5.7 billion over the next four years to 2027-28 and over $50 billion over the next decade to 2033-34.

The additional $5.7 billion over the forward estimates will be the biggest lift in Defence expenditure over a forward estimates period in decades.

That means annual Defence spending will almost double over the next ten years to $100 billion in the financial year 2033-34.

This funding will enable the investment in innovation that will deliver the capabilities we need to bolster Australia’s deterrence, along with the workforce that is our most important capability.

We have rebuilt the Integrated Investment Program to ensure it is coherent, logical and affordable. 

Included in our rebuilt Integrated Investment Program is the further strengthening and integrating of Defence’s space and cyber capabilities.

This includes improved protection of networks and systems, enhanced cyber and electronic warfare effects, and new space-based situational awareness capabilities.

Of course, enhanced cyber capabilities are needed to protect the ADF’s warfighting networks and to understand and counter threats in the cyber domain that are increasing in scale and complexity.

We are investing in the technical backbone of our communication systems.

Our investment will ensure they are hardened against attack and enhanced.

The result is the best and most efficient way of getting the right information, at the right time, to our warfighters. 

These initiatives are complemented by our Government’s investment in REDSPICE (Resilience – Effects – Defence – SPace – Intelligence – Cyber – and Enablers).

It’s the most significant single investment in Australian Signals Directorate’s history, to expand the range and sophistication of our intelligence, offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

A continuous pipeline of innovation is central to successful deterrence in all domains, and the Government has created and funded a unique Defence innovation engine in the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator – known as ASCA.

It is rapidly developing and scaling the disruptive technologies that will ensure our people have access to the best possible information, and so that they gain and retain information advantage on the battlefield. 

And it has begun its first AUKUS innovation challenge in electronic warfare, conducted simultaneously with the government innovation programs of each of our AUKUS partners.

The Government is committed to uplifting the technology of gaining, retaining, protecting and using the information we have, so that we can effectively deter and respond to actions against our national interest. 

But information is fundamentally a human business.

So a central element of the Government’s strategy for the future is investing in recruiting, retaining and growing the highly specialised and skilled workforce required to meet Defence’s capability needs.

That means a transformed and increased targeted recruitment effort, but it also means upskilling and professionalising the workforce we have. 

It involves looking outside our traditional sources of skills to make sure we are finding and recruiting people with the skills we need in this rapidly evolving space. 

There are a huge number of changes happening in the information environment.

And one that has gained the most public attention is the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence technology. 

But as important as it is to plan for, resource and encourage the development of the technologies and the people we need to succeed in a contested information environment, it’s also vital that we are clear on what success means.

Success for Australia means that Australians can continue to freely engage in the exchange of ideas, online and offline.

It means we can protect our electoral and governance processes from the interference of malign actors, so that Australians alone determine the future of our country. 

It means that Australians can safely use new and evolving technology for businesses to prosper and individuals to thrive.

And it means developing Australia’s capacity and capability to provide an effective deterrent, to safeguard Australia’s prosperity and contribute to the peace and prosperity of our Indo-Pacific region. 

Success in this endeavour will depend on leveraging the full measure of talent, knowledge and insight in Defence and across Government, in academia, and in defence industry.

It will depend on people like you, on the networks and engagements you will have during the course of this Conference.

I am both a realist and an optimist on the future of Australia in the information environment.

The challenges are immense, but we are well-placed to effectively protect our national interests. 

I wish you well for your discussion today.

Thank you.


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