Press Conference, Parliament House, Canberra

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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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4 July 2024

SUBJECTS: Top Secret Cloud; Hamas-Israel conflict; Parliament House protest; Senator Payman. 

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well it is a pleasure to be here this morning with Rachel Noble, the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate and Andrew Shearer, the Director-General of the Office of National Intelligence. And we're also joined by Iain Rouse from Amazon Web Services Australia. Today, we are announcing that in partnership with Amazon Web Services Australia, the Commonwealth will be establishing a Top Secret Cloud computing capability. This will house the data which is top secret across the Commonwealth. But the predominant users of top secret data around the Commonwealth are Defence and the national intelligence community. If you consider any sensor which is on a defence platform, which in turn feeds that data to a high-tech capability such as the Joint Strike Fighter which will use that to engage in targeting or perhaps to defend itself from an incoming threat or indeed to defend another asset such as a ship from an incoming threat, all of that is top secret data which will be managed by this cloud computing capability. 

And this speaks to the fact that today, modern defence forces and, indeed, modern conflict is more reliant upon information technology, upon computing infrastructure than ever before. And in turn what that means, is that increasingly, modern conflict is occurring at a top secret level. And so, this capability, in terms of computing infrastructure, will ensure that Australia maintains at pace with the leading defence forces in the world. It will ensure that Australia maintains and indeed increases its interoperability with our alliance partner, the United States. It will ensure that we have a far more resilient, capable, lethal, modern and potent Defence Force for the future. 

This is a $2 billion spend over the course of the next decade and this capability will be in place from 2027. Whilst it is a cloud-based environment, I want to make clear that this data will be held in Australia in facilities which are secure and purpose-built for this capability. So this absolutely heightens the security which will be in place around the data that we use. I really want to thank Amazon Web Services Australia for their partnership with the Commonwealth, but I also want to thank both Rachel and Andrew and through them the Australian Signals Directorate and the Office of National Intelligence who have been leading this partnership on behalf of the Commonwealth. Questions? Ben. 

JOURNALIST: What assurances can you give the Australian public about the security of this data? Obviously, these centres will become a target for foreign intelligence and also our adversaries in the event of a conflict.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, firstly, and I'm happy to have others give an addition to my answer. But I think importantly, this is a cloud-based computing solution, but I want to be clear that all the data is in Australia and in purpose-built facilities. And so, in that sense, there is a high degree of security that will be around them. Obviously, the location of those facilities is not something that will be public. But it is important to understand that where the data is is understood and managed by the Commonwealth and, indeed, Amazon Web Services Australia at every point. Rachel, do you want to–? 

RACHEL NOBLE, ASD DIRECTOR-GENERAL: Thank you. So, these top secret data centres and the people that will access and use them in partnership with AWS Australia will be built to the same standard and meet the same thresholds that we expect any top secret data or people clear to that level to meet today, and that's a really important part of the partnership as we go forward with AWS.

JOURNALIST: This may be a question for the directors or the Minister, but can you give us an idea of how you will, with the experience of WikiLeaks and other data breaches, how you will air gap the high top secret data? Also how you will be harnessing, potentially, AI to operate a system like this? And what top secrets won't actually be stored in this cloud that will still need to be kept within your own organisations?

RACHEL NOBLE: Right, so, we will make those decisions about what top secret data goes into the cloud and what remains within the much sort of closer control of top secret data centres that do exist today and will remain exclusively the purview of the Commonwealth. So those decisions will be part of that transition. Today, access to top secret data is really carefully managed at an individual level, and we have very strong controls over what individuals are looking at within that top secret environment, what they're accessing, whether that's related to the role that they have within the organisation and what they print, for example. Those same controls will be in place when we move to the cloud.

 JOURNALIST: Will the new centres be subject to the US CLOUD Act, the kind of purview the requests under that particular legislation given that it's an Amazon-based solution? 

RACHEL NOBLE: No, it's handled separately and these cloud centres will run under Australian law.


JOURNALIST: I’ve got a question on NATO, if that’s ok?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We'll just finish questions on this. I'm happy to answer questions about the day, but–

JOURNALIST: Could you explain why you had to partner with a company such as Amazon to deliver this capability, why the Australian Government doesn't have the capability to do it itself? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I'll ask others to supplement my answer. It's– I mean, defence industry across the board are important partners in terms of bringing the most cutting-edge technology to the Australian Defence Force. There's nothing unique in the context of data management about that. If you think about what we do in terms of building ships or planes or infantry fighting vehicles, we partner with defence industry, with private companies all the time. And yes, we are about promoting Australian defence industry and we do that very proactively and we try and have Australian defence industry contribute to global supply chains, but we're completely up front about the fact that what we seek to bring to bear for our own Defence Force is the highest technology in the world. And in this instance, it's Amazon Web Services and Amazon Web Services Australia, which are able to provide that technology for the Commonwealth.

 ANDREW SHEARER: I'd just add that one of the imperatives for us as a national intelligence community is interoperability with our most important intelligence partners. And this partnership with AWS Australia offers us that interoperability. This will be a game-changing capability for our 10 intelligence agencies. It will help us collaborate more, integrate more closely, and make sure that we keep pace with our most important partners. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Iain would you like to–?

IAIN ROUSE, AMAZON WEB SERVICES AUSTRALIA: Thanks, DPM. There's two elements here which I think are important elements of capability that the Australian Government is seeking and asking for. Look, we're humbled to be in this position, and we thank you for the partnership. Those two important capabilities are designing, building, constructing world-class infrastructure to the standards defined by the Australian Government and secondly, something we call cloud services, providing software choices for the government and the national intelligence community to select from, whilst we maintain our pace of innovation. So our thousands of engineers are creating software, we're providing those as choices to the government, they can use those choices of cloud service to then solve problems much faster than ever before. And they're the two elements which we're bringing together in this capability.

 JOURNALIST: There was a question before about AI, when can we understand how the AI element will work?

 RACHEL NOBLE: Sure. So as Iain said, the benefit of this partnership is that we in the intelligence community, Defence, and the Australian Defence Force will be able to access the very best and most modern capabilities that AWS, as a global leader in this space, can provide us. So there's a great uplift for us to be able to really access those very contemporary services through this partnership. 

I mean, artificial intelligence is an important game changer for all of us in the intelligence community, and we are working to embrace the use of it in an ethical, well-governed and well-understood manner where we understand very carefully when we bring AI tools into our environment how are they being used, what are they going to the data and do we understand how carefully they need to be governed, but we've got to go on this journey. 

JOURNALIST: I think many Australians would assume that the arrangements at the moment are, you know, as secure as they need to be, and we have the best security. Is that not the case and how will this be substantially different from what we currently have? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, in security terms we absolutely have security. So, there's not a difference there. But what this does do is give much greater resiliency. I mean, it really enables, through cloud-based software and capabilities, to have a much more distributive effect in terms of the data that we hold across the various servers, if you like, that exist within these data centres. And what that means, for example, is that if one server goes down, you are still able to operate as that data is distributed across the network of servers. Now that is the bit which is new, if you like. So that is the cloud technology that we are bringing to bear. But just so, you know, I want to keep emphasising it – this data is not sitting in some amorphous place around the world. This data will be sitting in specific data centres in Australia with all the security around them and all the links between them being links which only carry this data. So I think the phrase was used about having an air gap around this, there really very much is that in terms of the way this is being managed.

 JOURNALIST: A point of interoperability with other partners, how many other nations are going down this approach with data management? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, fair question. And there's some restrictions in what I can say about that in terms of how other nations speak about themselves, but I think probably the important point to make in – well, two points to make in answering that question. Firstly, we must do this to keep pace as a modern Defence Force which has lethality and potency in the future. We simply have to do that. Which is to say enough defence forces are going down this path that for us not to would be the reverse. The second point is that in terms of our key alliance partner, the United States, we definitely need to do this because this is what will then ensure that we have a common computing operating environment with the United States defence forces in the future.

 JOURNALIST: Is that something that the US requested? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's something that we work with the US on. It's obviously in Australia's national interest to have the greatest degree of interoperability that we can have with the United States forces. They understand that that's how we understand our national interests and that's what they want, too. So it's really something we work on together. 

JOURNALIST: Just back on the AI issue, is– you call it a game changer. Is AI being used by adversaries to try to access top secret Australian data at the moment?

RACHEL NOBLE: I don't want to sort of comment specifically on that. But, you know, the growth of data and the use of data worldwide is, frankly, exploding. And what artificial intelligence does for an intelligence agency is allows us to make sense of that data that we might collect more quickly, triage it into what of that data is important to our national interest or our national security, and produce intelligence reports in a really sort of classical way like we have for 80 years. And so, it's a game changer in terms of how we understand the data that we are holding.

JOURNALIST: Are you generally seeing an escalation in attempt to say access Australian top secret data?

RACHEL NOBLE: I don't want to speak to that, David. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: One for Amazon. Do you operate any similar technology in countries we would consider adversarial? 

IAIN ROUSE: Whether the government considers countries are adversarial is probably a matter for the government. But I can give you this context, we are deeply committed to making sure we can maintain our partnership and ensure that Australia stays safe and prosperous. We've been here for a decade. We employ thousands of Australian citizens today. In the last decade, we've invested $9.1 billion into Australia. And we've committed with further $13.2 billion worth of investment through 2027. So we're here for the long haul with this partnership.

JOURNALIST: I’ve got questions on other issues.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We’ll come to them. Anymore on this?

JOURNALIST: Do we have any update on what data is being stored by Global (inaudible).  

RACHEL NOBLE: That that data centre held data at the secret level. So we're really talking about a completely different set of data in this instance

JOURNALIST: Was any company other than Amazon ever in the mix for this contract?

ANDREW SHEARER: We initially went to market and a number of other companies were interested and put in bids to be considered to deliver this game changing capability. We had an exhaustive process and today we're celebrating the result of that process.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) on this, and maybe to the spies as well. Have you guys–

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: That’s not exactly what they are, but–

JOURNALIST: In your assessment, are you happy that the technology being used is only unique to Australia, or the US? Or did that form part of the reasons why you went with Amazon?

RACHEL NOBLE: I think what's exciting about this partnership with Amazon is that we will have the opportunity in a much more agile and flexible way to access the best that the private sector has to offer in terms of technology capabilities, services and tools. And of course, because AWS are a global company, it means that we're getting the best of the services available in the world. 

JOURNALIST: Do China and India also have available– the best services available?

RACHEL NOBLE: I really couldn't speak to their capabilities.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Are we done on this? I think we are. Can I take the Directors General and thank Iain for joining us today. 

JOURNALIST: Deputy Prime Minister, there’s been reports that Japan is trying to organise a sightline summit at the NATO event with yourself, New Zealand and South Korea. Can you confirm that that meeting is being planned and would that be a meeting to discuss the potential implications of the Presidential election?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not going to go into the last part of that question in terms of the kinds of conversations that we would have with our partners. And again, the exact itinerary of meetings inevitably in a multilateral such as this tend to evolve as you as you go along. But the Indo Pacific Four – which are Korea, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, as NATO refer to us – is an important grouping. I've got no doubt that I will be meeting with them. It wouldn't surprise me if we ultimately do have a meeting together. And certainly, we have a shared interest in terms of managing our relationship with NATO from this part of the world. 

JOURNALIST: Right now, there are pro-Palestinian protesters on the roof of Parliament House. What does that say about not only the security of this building, but also the public sentiment?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, in terms of the security of this building, we have confidence in the way in which this building is secured and the way in which that is managed. In a broader sense, we live in a country where we cherish free speech, where it is important that people are able to engage in peaceful protest and where we respect the right of people to have their view. And there are clearly a range of views on what is occurring in the Middle East, which people want to give expression to, and they should. Having said that, it's also really important that people are mindful in doing that about the way in which they do it. There isn't a place for engaging in protests which endangers others. There is no place for engaging in protest which defaces public institutions or public buildings and we've seen a lot of that, over the last few months. That kind of protest, which engages in vandalism or defacing public buildings is disrespectful to every Australian. And really, we need to be thinking about in the way in which we do express our views about what's happening in the Middle East to do so in a way, which also has front and centre what it is to be special to be Australian and which is about building cohesion and understanding amongst us as Australians. And in that sense, I think it's really important that we do everything we can to take the temperature down here. It's not about denying anyone their right to have their say people should have their say, but that can be done in a respectful way which contributes to the national debate, without doing anything to disrespect other Australians to put people in danger and to give rise to social disunity. 

JOURNALIST: How confident are you in the security of the building? How did the protesters get up onto the roof with banners? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I mean, I obviously don't know the detail of that but we are confident about the way in which this building is secured.

JOURNALIST: Labor made a virtue of the progress it's made since coming to government about the diversity that's been brought into the party and government. So what does it say about the party that we have a young, first-term Muslim woman who says she feels intimidated and exiled by the party and there is backgrounding going around about her being guided by her faith in making decisions to cross the floor?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I'm not sure what you're referring to in terms of the last observation. Let me say this about Senator Payman. I think all of us were just very excited when Senator Payman was elected as a member of the Labor Party to represent Western Australia in the Senate. Since October 7, what has played out has put an enormous amount of pressure on every member of parliament, but some more than others. And I think we've all been very mindful of the particular pressure that has been placed upon Senator Payman. In that sense, there has been a lot of people who have sought to, within the caucus, who have sought to reach out to Senator Payman, and to give assistance during this period of time. And we really are very mindful of the particular pressures which she has experienced. Now, having said all of that, you know, we are a team, we operate as a team. I'm only in the position I'm in right now, I'm only speaking to you now, because Labor was next to my name at the last election and, indeed, in every election, in which I've been successful, but for Labor being next to my name, I would not be here. And that statement is true of everyone who is in the Labor caucus. And we understand that what comes with that is a set of obligations about being members of the team. Now Senator Payman has by her actions placed herself outside of the team, she's knowingly done that, that is clear. I mean, we would welcome Senator Payman back in a heartbeat. If Senator Payman was to come back to the team, and do so on terms where she fulfils the obligations that we all do as members of the team. And that is all that's going on. And in terms of whatever Senator Payman does from here, is really a matter for her. But this has been a difficult issue, we have sought to act with restraint, but we also are fundamentally a team and we need to be moving forward on that basis.

JOURNALIST: Thanks DPM. You mentioned social cohesion, are you concerned about the possibility of October 7 issues and potentially religiously based political movements coming into the federal political sphere as a result? Would that be potentially disruptive or problematic?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Everyone has the right to have their say. So it's not problematic. I mean, this is the great meeting place of the country. And what's happened in the Middle East is a matter that's of enormous interest to many Australians. And so it's completely appropriate that people give expression to their views, and do so in the context of this building, be it members of parliament or be it people who are visiting the parliament or protesting peacefully around the parliament. That is all appropriate. And I mean, what we're seeing play out in the Middle East is obviously a human tragedy, but it's given expression, in terms of the way in which we engage in our business here is perfectly natural, so none of them is a problem. What is really important, though, is that in terms of the way in which people engage in protest, that it is done respectfully to other Australians, and that we keep front and centre what it is to be special to be Australian, and what we have in common as Australians. That has to be an important element in the way in which people engage in their protest. And it's and it's very important that as we walk down this path we do so in a way which is seeking to promote social cohesion.

JOURNALIST: Has the government treated the Israeli ambassador shabbily and what was the message on Lebanon?

MARLES: Well, no is the answer to the first part of the question. The Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tim Watts, did speak with the Israeli ambassador, that meeting happened. Meetings with representatives of foreign governments happen all the time, that is the point of having diplomats in capitals. In that meeting, there was an expression about our concern in seeing the conflict in the Middle East escalate and particularly escalate in respect of Lebanon. That position was put very clearly by the Assistant Minister Watts, and that is not just an expression at large about our view of the conflict, although clearly, we don't want to see it escalate. And we want to use our international voice in that respect. But at a more granular level, this matters in terms of the 20,000 Australians who are in the region and particularly in Lebanon. And so we have a particular regard for their wellbeing and their safety and that formed a critical part of what was expressed by Assistant Minister Watts to the Israeli ambassador. Thank you. 


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