15 November 2023
SUBJECTS: Annual Cyber Threat Report; High Court decision; Israel-Hamas conflict.
DAVID LIPSON, HOST: The Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles joined me a short time ago. Richard Marles, thanks for your time. China's been singled out as the major backer of serious hacking of Australian companies and critical infrastructure. What is the Government doing about that?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, what the report makes clear is that in terms of cybercrime, we are seeing an increase in the number of reports of cybercrime over the course of the last year, a 23 per cent increase. Concerningly, each of those reports carry a much greater cost for businesses, a 14 per cent increase. So we're seeing more reports and incidents are themselves more costly for businesses. From a government point of view, we are seeing state actors showing more interest in our critical infrastructure and so we are investing $10 billion over ten years to the Australian Signals Directorate, which effectively sees a doubling in its size to bolster our cyber capacity. To bolster our cyber defences, in that sense.
LIPSON: Are we striking back as well?
MARLES: We have a full range of capabilities in the Australian Signals Directorate and we're making sure that we are as capable as we can be.
LIPSON: Okay. How much more of a rich target are we now that we've signed the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal?
MARLES: I don't think it particularly makes us a bigger target, but it is right to say that as we become more militarily capable, that is obviously going to draw attention in terms of the areas that other actors are going to be interested in. And so to flip that, as we move forward with AUKUS and developing a nuclear-powered submarine capability, we are acutely aware of the need to make sure that our cyber defences there are in the best possible place they can be. And that's why we're investing more in ASD. It's a key reason. I mean, in this day and age, you can't develop critical military capability without also making sure that you not only have physical protection around it, but you have cyber protection around it. And that is a key part of how we think about and prepare our Defence Force today.
LIPSON: We're hearing that companies that have been attacked online aren't always providing government agencies with all the information that they have about the attack. Will the Government legislate to ring fence any information that's provided from ending up in other areas of government where it could be used against the companies?
MARLES: Yeah, it's a really good question, David, and this is an issue that we are making sure that we get right and will form part of the cyber strategy that we announce later in the month. The issue here is that if you're a company and you're in the midst of a cyber attack, you need the best advice you can get. The Australian Signals Directorate is really our expert here. And their ability to come in in the moment, to be able to look at the systems, to be able to understand what's going on is really critical. And I can understand why companies in that instance want to make sure that whatever ASD comes across is not ultimately then the subject of what any other agency in government might do. So, that safe harbour concept is absolutely a concept that we want to see pursued. We need to be building the greatest possible confidence that we can for companies to interact with ASD in the moment, like when the attack is actually happening, because that's the way in which we mitigate it the most, make sure that the least amount of data ends up leaving the system, as it were. So, safe harbour mechanisms, safe harbour legislation is absolutely an area that we are going to examine very carefully.
LIPSON: Just a few other issues, if I can. The federal Government's argued in court against the release of almost 100 people from immigration detention, citing, amongst other things, national security concerns. Now, 81 of them have been released into the community. Are any of those that have been released a threat to national security?
MARLES: The concern that we have here is obviously for community safety. That's really our focus and we are concerned about this, to be frank. This is not what we wanted. We obviously argued against this, as you said, in the High Court. In these people being released, they have been placed on bridging visas with the strictest possible conditions to make sure that we are ensuring community safety. And we'll continue to look at what more we can do here, examining potentially legislative options, bearing in mind that the actual full reasons, the full judgments of the court haven't been released yet and that's making the situation more difficult in terms of how the Government responds. But that said, we are looking at every possible option here with community safety front and centre in terms of how we respond to this.
LIPSON: And just on the Middle East, would you like to see steps toward a ceasefire in Gaza?
MARLES: Well, again, there's been a lot of reporting on this. Around the world, our efforts in terms of deploying Australian statecraft and power, to the extent that we have it in this circumstance has been around trying to minimise the loss of life. That's what everyone around the world is doing. I think the whole world would love to see this stop and the humanitarian pauses that have been put in place are certainly very welcome. But in moving to a ceasefire, it cannot be one sided. October 7th happened. Hamas is still launching attacks against Israel and they've not resiled from the attacks which occurred on the 7th of October. And obviously, Israel have hostages who are still being held by Hamas. Israel does have a right to act against Hamas and that's something that we have acknowledged from the very start. In doing so, we have called for Israel and every participant to be engaging on the basis of the rules of war and we need to be thinking about, in all that's happening, minimising the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, obviously the innocent Israeli lives that were lost back on October 7th. And that is very much our focus in terms of the way in which we are engaging in our diplomacy.
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