Doorstop Interview ASD offices opening, Canberra

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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25 March 2022


Good afternoon. It's great to be here with the Minister for Defence Peter Dutton at this historic opening in ASD's 75th year; a new facility to protect our digital sovereignty and to protect the Australian people from the many cyber-threats that we are now facing. Minister, it's a great announcement, good of you to be here to support it.


Thanks Andrew, very much. I want to say thank you very much to the staff of the Australian Signals Directorate. The ASD is not an organisation that people would hear of every day, but they're the people who keep us safe, they keep our country safe online. The fact that we're living our lives and operating our businesses online in a way like never in history, indicates to people - and people know the threats that are there, they know that we need to deal with those threats and they also know the reality - with Russia or with China or Iran or North Korea - is that they are ramping up their cyberattacks.

So, Australia is constantly under cyberattack and this investment here in the building, in our people, in the work that goes on within the building, is all designed to keep Australians safe.

We have a lot to defend and there is a lot that we would be attacked for. Our support of like-minded countries in the region, the fact we stand up for the rule of law, for freedom of speech, countries like ours are under attack and we need to stand up for our values and we need to be very clear to our adversaries and those people that would seek to attack those values, that we're not going to tolerate those attacks and the work that's done here; work every day, 24/7, is designed to keep us safe.


Minister, you mentioned that Russia would be targeting us now. Have we seen an increase in recent weeks or any specific cyberattacks against Australian industry or against Australian organisations?


We haven't seen any evidence of those attacks yet. What we're worried about, in particular, is being collateral damage in some of those attacks. So, where there's malware that goes out or attacks that might be out on a Microsoft system, for example, and that would impact on businesses and Australian government and Australian households as well.

But we're monitoring on a daily basis at the moment what is happening, not just here, but with our partners as well. The Brits, obviously, are a very important source of intelligence and information for us because they know the Russians well, as of course the Americans do, but we would anticipate those threats and we’re monitoring it very closely, and I'd send a very clear message that we will retaliate in kind if we are subject to those sorts of attacks.


Minister, just a couple of quick ones from me. First of all, you mentioned inside during your speech the risk of cyberattacks that could take place during the pre-election campaign, or the election campaign. Can you expand on that? What would that look like? Do you have any reason to suspect that that would happen and where would that come from?


Well, Home Affairs has the capability to stand up in a whole-of-government effort to make sure that they can identify disinformation online. So you might for example get disinformation spread through WeChat or through other social media platforms.


Does that happen?


Well, there's disinformation propaganda on WeChat and other platforms on a daily basis, there's no question about that, and that's the subject of investigation, or monitoring and surveillance by our agencies. That's well-known. So that's the environment in which we live and their efforts really are designed to make sure that there are no irregularities and that they can dispel that information before it becomes a problem.


And just in regards to the election, heading into that, is the Coalition…the Liberals' biggest liability Scott Morrison?


No, not at all. I mean Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister who's provided the leadership to get us to the position where we are today post-COVID. There's no other economy in the world that's performed in the way that the Australian economy has. Tens of thousands of people are living today because of the decisions we made around COVID and if you're concerned about what is happening in the world, concerned about what you're seeing in Ukraine and with Russia, and you're concerned about this bond, this inseparable link between China and Russia, you don't want to risk going to an Albanese weak government. You don't want to risk going to a Defence minister in a Labor government - we don't even know who it's going to be.

I mean, how can you take defence seriously if Anthony Albanese can't look you in the eye and tell you who his Defence minister will be, or who his Home Affairs minister will be?

We're weeks out from an election and they still don't know - and that's because defence has never been a priority for Labor. They took money out of Defence, out of Home Affairs, out of the Australian Federal Police, out of ASIO when they were last in government, and they would do it again.

So I don't think this election is a time when you would want to risk your vote, when national security and economic headwinds that we're seeing around the world is something that is going to be the reality, that we have to deal with over the course of the next term of government.

I think Scott Morrison's a great asset for the Government and I think we can defeat Anthony Albanese.


Is he the best asset for the Government?


Of course he is. Of course he is, and our local members, the work that they're doing on the ground and the Government's track record. The track record that we've got in management of the economy and the Budget, the creation of jobs - 700,000 people would have lost their jobs during the course of COVID were it not for JobKeeper.

Our hospitals would have collapsed - that was the initial advice that the National Security Committee got - that our hospitals would have been overrun with presentations had we not put in place the COVID plans that we did.

I think Scott Morrison's worked as hard as he can to work constructively with the Premiers and the Chief Ministers and unfortunately, that hasn't been repaid in kind by many of them and they've taken the political opportunity to give him a whack. But you know what? As I move around the country, I think we're at a tipping point now. I think we're at a tipping point where people say, "Look, you know, I might like this or not like this bit about Scott Morrison, but I'm sick to death of you just taking cheap shots at him." And I think it becomes counterproductive. We saw it in the last election with GetUp and I think we'll see it in this election as well, because the Labor Party won't help but run a negative campaign, and I think people will see through it.


Sorry, can I just ask one more on sanctions? Have the sanctions that we've just imposed on those Russian billionaires, have we found any of their large assets in Australia, including houses or yachts or anything like that? And in terms of our aid that we announced over the weekend, when can we expect those bullets and armaments to be on the ground?


Well, the first question is probably best put to DFAT or Home Affairs. In terms of the aid that we've provided, obviously we've had three C-17 Globemasters now been able to provide equipment. We'll provide more and I spoke last week, as you know, with the Defence Minister for Ukraine and went through the assets that he's interested in, the capabilities that they need support in, and we'll continue to respond to that because the barbaric behaviour that we're seeing in Ukraine at the moment, the loss of life of innocent women and children, is an international disgrace.

President Xi is the only person in the world who can pick the phone up to President Putin to stop this war and we must stop this war for the sake of those lives that will certainly be lost in Ukraine. I think it's incumbent upon the Chinese President to pick the phone up and to be the one person who has the power and influence over President Putin to bring this dreadful war to an end.


Just on that, why do you think President Xi hasn't used that what you call "influence" with Vladimir Putin? Why do you think they seem to be putting one foot on both sides of the fence?


Well, I don't think they're putting one foot each side of the fence. I think it's clear at the moment that China is aligned and they're inseparable from Russia and therefore, you'd need to ask China why they feel more comfortable in the company of Russia and Iran and North Korea. Frankly, we feel more comfortable in the company of France and Germany and the United States and United Kingdom, Canada and other countries, and that's the company that we will keep.

Now, we want a normalised relationship with China. The Chinese diaspora community here in Australia are amazing Australians. They've contributed to the great success of this country and they always will, but the Chinese Government, under the leadership of President Xi, is putting China on a path that's not in its best interests, it's not in the Indo-Pacific's best interests, and it's not in the world's best interests and we need to call it out.

And Australians need to contemplate all of that in the run-up to the next election because the Government's efforts, our billions of dollars and our decisions that we're making to keep Australia safe, I think that is disrupted if there's a change of government at the next election. I know the Prime Minister, myself, Andrew, many others within the national security team are determined to keep this country safe and that's why we're here at the ASD today.


Would you characterise Vladimir Putin as a war criminal? Joe Biden did.


I think if there's evidence to demonstrate that President Putin has conducted war criminal activities, then you know, there's been some talk about Nuremberg-style arrangements or the ICC taking action. I'm sure all of that evidence is being collected at the moment.

But that's one avenue to pursue. I think where we're best to concentrate our efforts at the moment is to bring this horrible, ghastly event to an end and to get President Putin to stop and the only way that we can do that is if China shows the leadership that we, as a free world, would expect of them, and they should make that call today.


Minister, you're not one to shy away from calling a spade a spade. Why not take some stronger words against India? We've seen the UK do it, we've seen the US do it. They're part of the Quad - why not take stronger words and encourage them to come out against Russia


I just think there's a very different scenario in relation to India than there is to China. I don't think you can equate the two by any stretch of the imagination. You know within the last few years Indian troops have lost their lives on the land border between India and China, and those Indian troops have lost their lives at the hands of Chinese troops in hand-to-hand conflict.

And there has been a relationship between India and Russia over a long period of time because they see it as a countermeasure to the influence of China and the threat of China to India, and they also understand that Russia has provided military materiel and support to India at a time when even some Western countries wouldn't. So, they live large with the threat of China, and that's been a reality for them.

We find it hard enough in our own region to contemplate conflict and we spend every day trying to deter any acts of aggression and we want peace to prevail in the Indo-Pacific. But for the Indians, they've lived with that threat for a long period of time, and that's why they see their relationship with Russia in their national interest. That's a very different scenario than saying to a superpower like China, "Why [inaudible] unbreakable friendship with Russia at a time when they're killing people in the Ukraine?"

Thanks very much.


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