15 November 2023
SUBJECTS: High Court decision; Annual Cyber Threat Report.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's go to Canberra now. Joining us is the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Richard, good to see you. Thanks for your time, as always. So, we will start there. Was the government blindsided by that High Court decision?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No. Obviously we were in the High Court arguing against this decision, so we're deeply concerned about the consequences of it, which is why we put those people who have been released on bridging visas which contain the strongest possible conditions on them. And we're now looking at every option available to us, including potentially legislative options around what more we can do. Bear in mind that the full judgement hasn't been released yet, so the full reasons for the decisions are not out there and we want to make sure that the steps that we take are legally robust. But our first and only concern here is community safety and we are deeply concerned about what has happened and that's why we are making sure that those who have been released are there strongest.
STEFANOVIC: So, like you said, you were in the courtroom. Why not have emergency legislation or some kind of emergency legislation there ready to go?
MARLES: Well, let's bear in mind, Pete, that what got knocked over here was a law that's been in place for two decades. So, I hear the comments of the opposition now. They were in government for a full ten years and didn't put in place any particular remedies around how to deal with this –
STEFANOVIC: Right, but this happened on your watch, though.
MARLES: Sure, but people were relying on the law as it was in place, as were we, and we are arguing for the maintenance of the law. And now we are in this circumstance. Those people who have been released are on bridging visas which have conditions, so they are in place right now. So we're not sitting on our hands here. There are steps that have already been taken which improve community safety, but our preference is not that these people are on the streets. And in terms of looking at legislative options going forward, we are examining all of that in the face of this decision. But you kind of have to have the decision to understand what then needs to be done in terms of remedying it.
STEFANOVIC: What happens if someone breaches their visa conditions?
MARLES: Well, again, this forms part of the response that we're looking at. I mean, when you break– the general answer to that question is a breach of visa conditions can result in a breaching of the law and in the committing of a crime.
STEFANOVIC: But then the court says you can't detain them and if there's no legislation, you can't do anything. So you're hamstrung.
MARLES: Well again, those are exactly the options that we are considering right now to make sure that we put in place the strongest possible regime which protects community safety as we speak.
STEFANOVIC: So, who's calling the shots here? Is it the Government or the courts? Because won't the courts just reject it?
MARLES: Well, what we want to make sure is that what we are putting in place is legally robust. I mean, the answer, obviously, to that question, Peter, is that we live in a system with a separation of powers and we can start doing a constitutional law lecture here. The courts have powers and we can't deny the fact that they have powers. We need to be making sure that in putting in place a legislative response here, it is legally robust and it survives any challenge. And that's why we want to make sure that we get this right. Now, it's not as though there's nothing we can do right now. We are placing people on conditions right now, and you heard the answer from the Minister for Immigration about what is in place as we speak. But we are not stopping there and we are looking at every possible option available to us and that includes legislative responses.
STEFANOVIC: Let's get to this cyber report, it’s out today. It paints a pretty bleak picture, doesn't it? I have a point to make, though. Does it show that we are more vulnerable or does it show that our systems are doing what they should?
MARLES: Well, I think it shows that the threat is growing. That's the real point here. I think it does show that the investments that we are putting in our cyber defences are working. There's more to be done. I mean, we are increasing our expenditure on the Australian Signals Directorate by about $10 billion over ten years, which effectively sees a doubling in that agency, and that's the main organisation which does the cyber defence of the nation. So we will continue to do that to meet the growing threat. I think there's more that the community needs to do in terms of making sure that we have good cyber health throughout our community, because there are more attacks, more cybercrime, as well as state actors. We've seen an increase of 23 per cent in the reports of cybercrime for businesses, and each of those cybercrimes are now carrying with them a 14 per cent increase in costs. So, more incidents and each incident is more costly. So, doing basic things like making sure that you backup your files, you keep your software updated, you don't click on untrusted links, all of that is really important to make sure that we have a resilient society. But from a state point of view, from the nation's point of view, we are investing in our cyber defences and we need to.
STEFANOVIC: Right. China appears to be a top culprit here and I'll have to close here, but China appears to be a top culprit. Will this be raised with Xi Jinping now that we're becoming closer mates again?
MARLES: We have the full conversation with China. And I'm not about to go into what happens in those conversations, but we have the full conversation with China and we've never said that China is anything other than a deeply complex relationship, which is why it's really important that our diplomacy–
STEFANOVIC: But have you said though ‘stop hacking into our systems’?
MARLES: As I say, the full range of issues is raised when we talk with China.
STEFANOVIC: Such as cybercrime?
MARLES: Such as all of it, Pete. And we have–
STEFANOVIC: And they say, ok, we won't do it, but they'll do it anyway.
MARLES: We've done an attribution in relation to China and that's reported in the cyber report, back in May of this year. We are focused on making sure that we have the best possible defences in place and there's a range of other state actors who have been engaged in this as well. As we increase our military capability, we increasingly think about cyber defences as part of this. I mean, cyber is increasingly a domain of warfare, of global contest, and it's a critically important one and it's a focus of our development, but it is a really critical issue for our defence.
STEFANOVIC: Richard Marles, always good to chat. We'll talk to you soon.
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Opening remarks - Australia-India bilateral Defence Ministers' meeting, New Delhi, India