Interview with Natalie Barr, Sunrise, Seven

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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27 October 2022

NATALIE BARR, HOST: Well it is Australia’s worst cyber security breach with more than 4 million Aussies now confirmed as victims in the Medibank data hack. The revelation comes two weeks after the hack was first reported, and it’s prompted the government to introduce new laws to dramatically hike fines for data breaches. Under the push, business would face fines of up to $50 million, triple the value of benefits gained from the hack, or 30 per cent of the company’s turnover, whichever is greater.

Joining me now is Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Good morning to you.


BARR: So currently the maximum fine for a breach like this is just over $2 million. It clearly hasn’t been enough to force companies to take these threats seriously. How do you think you’re going to change that?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the increased penalties we hope send a message about the government and the community’s abhorrence of these attacks and that we need to be taking every step we can to see them stop. So, this is an important step forward, as is obviously the work that we’re doing through the Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, with companies to make their systems more robust.

But I think what we’ve seen in the last month with a couple of very high-profile attacks with Optus and now Medibank, is a wake-up call for corporate Australia. Obviously, the government itself is concerned to make sure that the data we hold is protected. Australians expect their data to be safe, and it’s really important that it is. And it’s really important that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that protection is there.

BARR: So, is it true that Medibank didn’t have cyber insurance because it was so expensive?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’m not in a position to go into that. We are working closely with Medibank to try and make sure that the impact of this is minimised. But, you know, there’s no denying this is a very, very significant –

BARR: But you’d know that, wouldn’t you? Because that’s the rumours amongst the journos this morning, and that’s horrendous.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean, this is a very significant breach, as we know. And we’re working closely with Medibank to do everything we can to, you know, minimise the impact of it. But, really, this is a wake-up call for corporate Australia and for everyone who holds data. We need to be making sure our systems are as robust as possible.

And it’s also important for individuals in terms of the way we protect our own data. It’s really important that people are not clicking on links. It’s really important they’re not going to unsourced websites. And it’s really important that they’re not revealing information about themselves in phone conversations unless they are absolutely certain about the circumstances of those calls.

BARR: Yep, you’re right. Good warning for us all.

Okay, moving on, Australia is stepping up its commitment to Ukraine today. We’re sending over an additional 30 Bushmasters and also 70 ADF personnel. They’re going to be sent to the UK in the new year to help train troops. Why is this important?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s really important because, firstly, the conflict in Ukraine engages Australia’s national interests because the principles which are at stake there affect the whole world. We can’t allow a situation where a large country can impose itself on a near neighbour not by reference to the rule of law but by reference to power and might. And that’s what Russia is doing to Ukraine, and that action simply can’t be allowed to stand.

What we’re really seeing with the war in Ukraine is that this is developing into a long-term, protracted conflict, and so we’ve been very mindful that we need to have support there for Ukraine over the long-term. And this next tranche of support reflects that. It takes our contribution in supporting Ukraine up to $655 million. We’re one of the largest non-NATO contributors to Ukraine. And whilst Ukraine is a long way from Australia, the reason we’re doing that is, as I said, because our national interest is very much engaged in what’s happening in Ukraine.

BARR: Okay. The big story back home this week out of the Budget: power prices going to skyrocket. How are you going to address this? Is your government going to intervene in the energy market?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have made clear that we want to have every option open here. And again, this in large measure relates to the war in Ukraine. We’ve seen an extraordinary global event which is having a very significant impact on energy markets around the world. It’s very important that we don’t see any price gouging occur as a result of that. The ACCC has a pretty important role to play here as well.

But we are – our mind is open to whatever we can do to produce a downward pressure on power prices. But can I say, a key part of that obviously is making sure that we get more renewable energy online, because that is the cheapest form of power.

BARR: The only problem is that takes time. You’ve got individuals facing huge power prices, 50 per cent increases by the end of next year. You’ve got companies, small and big, coming off these contracts by the end of the year facing enormous prices. You’ve got to do something, don’t you? Are you going to put a cap on gas prices? Are you going to curb gas exports?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Again, I’m not going to go into particular propositions now. We’ve made it clear, as I said, that we are looking at every option which is available to us in circumstances where energy markets around the world have been very disrupted by the events that we’ve seen in Ukraine.

So, I mean, you’re right, we do need to be thinking about this in the short term, and we are very much doing that. Indeed, the Budget that we handed down on Tuesday was all about trying to ease the cost of living pressures given what’s going on here. But the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have made clear that we’ll look at every option when it comes to the energy market.

BARR: Yeah, but it doesn’t ease people’s pain, does it?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will look at every option when it comes to the energy market. I think the measures that were in the Budget on Tuesday night make a big difference in terms of cost of living. It’s a $7 billion package in respect of easing the pressures on cost of living. So we could not be more focused on the fact that this is the challenge which is facing Australians right now. That’s really what the Budget on Tuesday night was all about. And that’s dealing with this in the here and now.

BARR: But when people start opening those power bills, that’s going to break people. People are going to have to choose between paying that power bill and paying for other things. So, something’s got to give, doesn’t it?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, look, we’re really aware of the challenge. This is the focus of the government’s energies right now. It’s what the Budget on Tuesday was about. We’ve made it clear we will look at all options when it comes to immediate other measures that can be taken in respect of power prices. And over the medium to long term we’re actually dealing with one of the core issues which is underpinning this, which is the fact that, you know, we’ve had a lost decade where more power has come out of the grid than gone into it, and that’s a failure of the former government to invest in renewable energy.

BARR: Okay. Richard Marles, we thank you for your time today.




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