Interview with Peta Credlin AO, Sky News

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The Hon Andrew Hastie MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

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Ella Kenny 0437 702 111

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20 July 2021

PETA CREDLIN: Andrew Hastie, thank you for your time. 


CREDLIN: Give us a sense – how big was this attack on Microsoft Exchange, and what was the sort of impact on Australia?

HASTIE: Well, this attack compromised potentially 100,000 servers globally, and 10,000 of those servers here in Australia, across business, government – federal, state, and local – not-for-profits, you name it, the whole of society was touched by this and that’s why today thirty nations came out together as one to name China as the culprit here, and to say ‘enough is enough, we’re drawing a line in the sand’.

CREDLIN: I want you to underscore for my viewers how significant this is – not just that we’ve got this alliance of nations, 38 nations, but they named China because you go back twelve months ago when Australia was saying we need to have a fair dinkum World Health Organisation investigation into Covid. So few countries were prepared to talk about China and the Wuhan role in the origins of the virus. We were roundly condemned and we’ve been paying the price ever since. Twelve months on and you’ve got all of these nations coming together. This is a big deal, isn’t it?

HASTIE: This is a very big deal. This is historic. I can’t imagine this happening, even two years ago, and I want to cast peoples’ minds back to the G7 at Cornwall in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister flew all the way to the United Kingdom during the pandemic to make the case that we have to do more – that is, the allies have to do more – on cyber crime and cyber espionage. He met with President Biden, President Macron, Prime Minister Johnson, he met with their intelligence chiefs and he put this issue on the map and I think it’s a very sound development that we have named and shamed China as behind these hacks, because it’s got to stop. We have boundaries in our normal everyday relationships and, so, too, we have boundaries on the international stage and this is thirty nations saying to China: enough is enough – no more.  

CREDLIN: We understand cyber warfare I think, but why is China targeting a not-for-profit business, or a mum-and-dad business operating Microsoft Exchange on their home computer? What is the end game when they’re sort of going into civil society? Beyond corporate espionage, what’s the game here?

HASTIE: Those who would have seen Minister Andrews and Minister Dutton’s statement this morning, we named as a government the Ministry of State Security in China. Now, they were responsible for the hacking but they also have contracted hackers to steal our intellectual property as well and that gives China, of course, a commercial advantage. So, why are they going after not-for-profits as well as other elements of civil society that aren’t necessarily part of our private sector? Data collection, to gather intelligence. That’s why the Australian National University was hacked: we educate all our army officers, air force officers and navy officers through staff college through there. It’s a great way to gather intelligence, long-term, for example on future leaders in the defence force. So there’s a whole range of reasons why you would go after civil society and that’s why Australia as a whole, we need to uplift our cyber security. I’ve said this before on your show and I’ll say it again, Peta, but I’m always closing and I’ll close again: complex passphrases; update your security software; make sure that you’re using multifactor authentication for your email or your banking; and back your data up. These are simple things that we should all be doing which will make us a harder target for criminals or indeed states like China targeting us. 

CREDLIN: I made the point at the top of the show, when governments are facing a crisis, you know, the PM, the Treasurer, the senior ministers involved in that portfolio tend to be focussed on it. We’ve had 18 months of Covid, right, so there’s a level of paralysis that happens in government when you’ve got something as significant as that, but to be honest, Covid doesn’t keep me awake at night. China keeps me awake at night. We’ve got the two ships off the coast of Queensland, we’ve got these cyber attacks, we’ve got the economic trade barriers that have been going on now for many, many months, we’ve got this constant fear of the militarisation of the South China Sea and beyond. Give me a sense for you, do you think that the next hundred years will be the century that the China relationship will define the west, or am I being a bit negative?

 HASTIE: I think the single most challenging policy issue for us going forward as a country for my generation and the generations to come will be how we maintain good relations with China in the Indo-Pacific region. That is the central challenge. The Defence Strategic Update which the Prime Minister launched at the Australian Defence Force Academy in July last year said the next decade is going to be very difficult, and post-pandemic it’s going to be more dangerous, it’s going to be more disorderly, and it’s going to be poorer. This cyber espionage is part of that disorderly kind of behaviour that we’re seeing in the Indo-Pacific region, so we need to continue to build our sovereignty – our digital sovereignty, particularly – because, as you know, our lives have migrated online since the pandemic. In fact, 13 million Australians are locked down tonight and as we enter the next year, 2022, people have to ask themselves: who do they want to lead us out of this crisis? The pandemic is one thing, but there are some massive national security and economic challenges ahead and my belief is the Prime Minister is the man to lead us forward, and that’s why we’ve got to get out of this winter, get out of lockdown, and focus on the big issues – and that is building our defence force, that’s why we’re investing $270 billion over the next decade to make sure that we can secure ourselves and protect our sovereignty. 

CREDLIN: I can’t let you go without asking you this as a West Australian and as a bloke who’s worn the uniform to protect free speech. I couldn’t believe this. I thought it was a misprint last week to read that the WA Government was blocking organisations that they didn’t agree with, from using facilities like the theatres in Perth. Now, they’ve since backed down. The Australian Christian Lobby will be able to hire these state-owned entertainment venues, but there was a whole lot of issues with Taiwan and Tibet organisations. What did you make of it all? 

HASTIE: Look, the Perth Theatre Trust is responsible for the Albany Entertainment Centre, along with the Albany local government and a shout-out to the Mayor, Dennis Wellington, who fought for free speech, and freedom of assembly, and freedom of conscience – so good on Dennis. But very worrying was the WA state government who basically denied access to the ACL on the basis of their beliefs and that is very un-Australian. It’s not democratic at all and this fits within a larger pattern of denying people access to their facilities because of their political views. You mentioned Taiwan, you mentioned groups who have been quite strong in their views on China, they’ve been denied access as well. So, the Minister, David Templeman, the Minister for Culture and Arts, he’s the local member in my seat, the state seat. We put him on notice last week. We won’t tolerate this. And they backed down, although it was a bit mealy-mouthed the backdown, but in the end it was people power that got the shift so all those people who emailed or made their voices heard – good on you. That’s how democracy works in this country and we want more of it. 

CREDLIN: Keep ‘em honest, Andrew Hastie, keep ‘em honest. Thank you for your time. 

HASTIE: Thanks, Peta. 

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