Dan Tehan and I have just been receiving briefings from Paul Taloni and his team here at the Australian Signals Directorate. Men and women in this building are on the front line of keeping Australia safe in the cyber warfare field. Cyber security is at the very forefront of what we are doing to keep Australia safe.
It is more important than ever, and just as you’ve seen with our Cyber Security Strategy, the appointment of a Cyber Security Adviser, with the efforts we are taking to protect Australians online, to ensure that our critical infrastructure is safe from cyber-attack.
This is the new frontier of warfare. It’s the new frontier of espionage. It’s the new frontier of many threats to Australian families, to governments, to businesses.
We have the most outstanding professionals in the world working for us here. There is no better cyber security organisation, signals directorate organisations than the Australian Signals Directorate. We are very fortunate to have such outstanding men and women.
Now, as you know, there has been evidence of Russian efforts to influence the recent American election. This is acknowledged now on all sides. It was controversial for a while politically in the United States, but it’s acknowledged that there was Russian interference both in terms of hacking and in terms of seeking to influence the election through so-called fake news. Threats like this from wherever they come, are of great concern to our nation, to our Government, to me as Prime Minister. We have to make sure we maintain the integrity of our political process. So we, Dan and I, are ensuring that there will be a full briefing by our cyber experts to other political parties, other political leaders, when Parliament comes back.
We need to be aware of the threats and how to mitigate them and protect against them. Awareness is the absolutely most important first step. A lot of the vulnerabilities, as you will have seen, are because people do not follow good cyber practice. They open attachments from sources they are not familiar with. They're not sufficiently careful in the way they manage their passwords. They don't, for example, use two-factor authentication with cloud-based application and so forth.
So it is very important to be aware - the vulnerabilities are always there - if people are not. It is also critical that we maintain the integrity of our political process.
So that has been the focus of our discussions today and we will be ensuring that all political parties and the other political leaders are well aware of the risks and how to protect themselves from them and how to ensure that we maintain - as I said - the integrity of our democracy. Dan?
MINISTER ASSISTING THE PRIME MINISTER FOR CYBER SECURITY:
Thanks PM. As we know cyberespionage is alive and well. As you've said, this issue is beyond politics. This is about protecting our democracy. That is why you have taken the steps that you have, because this goes beyond political games. This goes to the heart and soul of what we are and who we are as a nation. We have state elections coming up this year. We have to make sure that they are protected, that when Australians go to vote, they can have confidence that there is no compromise of our electoral system and our democratic process. It is a pleasure to have been at ASD with you today to get the briefing. As you said, these are outstanding Australians who are keeping us safe.
Just before we go to questions I should note that last night I spoke with Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, about a number of important issues, particularly trade issues. But in the course of that conversation I conveyed to the Prime Minister our condolences on the death of the Japanese national who was killed in Bourke Street last week. The Prime Minister of Japan was grateful for that expression of sympathy and conveyed to me his and his nation's condolences and deepest sympathy for the loss of life and the injuries occasioned by that shocking crime in Bourke Street last week.
Prime Minister, one way for foreign actors to influence the Australian political process would be to gather compromising material on individuals. How likely, or how would you assess the likelihood that some kind of material has already been gathered on Australian politicians or public figures?
I would only be speculating on that but clearly that is a vector.
Prime Minister, obviously without giving too much away of what you heard today, what are we talking about in terms of the vulnerabilities? Are we talking about Government communications or private political parties? Some specifics if you wouldn't mind?
Well, all computer systems have vulnerabilities, particularly if they are connected to the internet. You can have flaws in the hardware that provide vulnerabilities, flaws in the software, and - as I often say - the biggest vulnerability is often the “warmware”; the humans making mistakes, or, indeed, taking information as say Edward Snowden did in a criminal fashion.
The most important thing is to be aware and to practice good cyber hygiene. The ASD sets out some very good principles in this regard. My cyber advisor, Alastair MacGibbon, as you know is regularly speaking about this issue and raising awareness. The vulnerabilities are there and they are in every computer system, potentially. But, obviously the more aware you can be, the better your practices are, the less likely you are to be compromised.
With Donald Trump pulling out of the TPP last night, where are we at now with the trade deal and is there room for China to come in and take on that role as one of the leading economies?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is all about jobs for Australia. Let's be quite clear about this. We are a trading-exporting nation. We are a trading nation. Trade is one-and-a-half times as big a share of our economy as it is of the United States. What that means is that there is a bigger proportion of Australians whose jobs depend on exports than there is of Americans. So trade is critical to us. Now other leaders in other countries can make whatever judgements they wish but trade policy, Australian trade policy, is written in Canberra in the interests of Australian jobs. We stand up for Australian workers. Now what we are seeing at the moment from Mr Shorten is the greatest example of Labor gutlessness for generations. Forty years of Labor leaders have stood up for trade, have sought to open up opportunities for Australians to export their products, export their services because they’ve recognised that trade is goof for jobs.
Dan and I were just at Portland Aluminium last week. What does that company need to protect those jobs? It needs open markets. It needs markets in which to sell its aluminium and it needs affordable energy. And now Mr Shorten has put himself in the position where he is against trade and he’s for higher energy costs. Bill Shorten is the biggest threat to Australian jobs especially in any business, any industry that has an export market or wants to take on export opportunities and that applies to most of our fastest growing industries.
Should there be a push to include China in the TPP?
We want to have more opportunities with more markets. We already have a China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Certainly there is the potential for China to join the TPP. Let me return to the TPP very briefly. President Trump has said America will not proceed with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. You have to recognise that his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has been a longtime advocate for it. The Republican Party in the Congress have been strong supporters of the TPP. So it is possible that US policy could change over time on this as it has done on other trade deals.
There is also the opportunity for the TPP to proceed without the United States and I’ve had active discussions with other leaders as recently as last night with Prime Minister Abe about that. We believe in trade. Now it is not for me to say what is good for other countries own domestic economies but believe me, if you believe in Australian jobs, if you want more Australian businesses to succeed, if you want more Australian workers to have well-paid jobs with businesses that are exporting to the biggest markets in the world than you’ve got to support trade. That’s why our Trade Minister is there seeking to secure new trade agreements with Indonesia, a new trade agreement with India. We signed one last year with Singapore as you know and in the previous Parliament: China, Korea and Japan.
We are constantly working to open the doors of new markets and open wider the doors of existing markets for Australian exporters because that is where the jobs are to be found. It is shameful that Mr Shorten is so weak that simply because Donald Trump has said he doesn’t want to proceed with the TPP and he is in favour of a more protectionist approach for America, Bill Shorten now says that’s what he wants to do in Australia. Well let me tell you, we are not the United States. Our economy is not that of the United States. Our jobs growth is based on Australians having access to bigger markets. Being able to sell more services, sell more products, sell more of the product from our agriculture.
What we need is bigger and better market opportunities and we are determined to make them available and we have done that. We have proved that. It is extraordinary that a Labor leader has decided to get on this protectionist bandwagon, totally at odds with Gillard, with Rudd, with Hawke, with Keating. This is a blast right back into the 1950s. He is not yesterday's man, he is last century's man.
What is your response to Labor's concerns that you're using the cyber security concerns for your own political advantage, the fact that you are making public these vulnerabilities, they say that is breaking typical conventions on national security?
Let me say to you, the only way you can proof yourself against cyber vulnerability is to be aware that it is there. Again, if that is what the Labor Party is saying, that shows, yet again, the shallow opportunism of what they are doing.
The reality is every Australian Government has sought to raise awareness of cyber vulnerabilities. My Government more than its predecessors, both Labor and Liberal, but that is a function of the nature of the times, but this has always been a risk and we have always set out to make people aware of the risks because unless they are aware of the risks they won't take the measures to protect themselves.
MINISTER ASSISTING THE PRIME MINISTER FOR CYBER SECURITY:
Just to add to that, I spoke to the Labor Shadow this morning to brief her about what we were doing so she has been fully aware and I said this was bipartisan, this was above politics and that is why we are bringing all the political parties together on this.
Is there a chance that Australia could be embroiled in a full scale cyber war, as you have talked about, and the general public would never know?
Certainly, there is a lot that happens in the cyber-sphere that is not publicly known. But equally, it is very important that families, businesses, large and small, Government Departments, not for profits, everyone is aware of the vulnerabilities that they have in the cyber area and take the often very practical and simple measures to protect themselves.
Do MPs need more than just warnings? Do we need more infrastructure and more investment?
What they need is better practices. Generally, as I said most of these vulnerabilities are a consequence of the “warmware”, the humans failing to protect themselves – you know, opening an attachment to an email that contains fishing malware for example, something of that kind. Everyone, most people are aware of it but not sufficiently aware. You need to be alert as well.
Back on Olivia's point, Governments don't normally speak very much about intelligence briefings from an organisation like the ASD. They could just speak directly and privately to the political parties. Why the need to actually publicise the fact that it is happening?
The threats to our democracy, threats to the integrity of our political system are a matter of concern for every Australian. We are just about to celebrate Australia Day, when we celebrate the extraordinary nation that we have created. All 24 million of us and those, the millions that came before us, what an extraordinary achievement in this great democracy. We need to maintain the integrity of that democracy and we all have a role to play in it. Being aware of these threats is part of it.
Is there any evidence that foreign countries have already tried to influence Australian politics or elections, aside from the bomb hack?
I am not aware of evidence in recent times that a foreign country has sought to influence an Australian election in the way that has been described in the United States. You can pretend these threats are not there, if you like, but that will only make you susceptible to being taken in by them. Alertness, awareness is absolutely critical. We have the means to mitigate the risk. You can't eliminate it completely but it is very important to take those steps to do so.
Just on the TPP - what value is the TPP to Australia now America is not part of it? And has any modelling been done to see whether it is still viable without them?
At the APEC conference in Lima there was a lot of discussion about this. The then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was very open about New Zealand's analysis, which was that, from their point of view, most of the benefit of the TPP would still accrue to New Zealand, even if America was not a party to it.
America is clearly the biggest economy. You have got to remember, while the TPP would significantly increase our access to the American market, we already have good access through the Australian American Free Trade Agreement. The advantage of the TPP and the reason why it has been so strongly supported and has been strongly supported in the United States, until the recent statement by the President, the new President, is firstly, it opens up opportunities for all of us in a much wider range of economies, including Mexico, other big countries in South America, Japan - it opens up new opportunities for our agricultural exports in Japan, for example. So, yes, it does open up more export opportunities, no question about that. I see Jason Clare was acknowledging that this morning. There is no question about that.
But what it also does, and this is virtue of a multilateral agreement, is it provides a commitment to maintaining common standards to remove barriers to trade from behind the border through all of those economies in the TPP. It is a very much trade enhancing agreement, it will enable those economies to engage and to integrate more. It will be better for Australian investment abroad, it will be better for Australian exports, particularly of services as opposed to physical goods. There is no question it is an advantage.
Losing the United States from the TPP is a big loss, there is no question about that. But we are not about to walk away from our commitment to Australian jobs. We're not like Bill Shorten who will throw in the towel and say he is not going to support trade anymore and try to be some kind of down under protectionist because he thinks that would be popular.
We know, and Australians know, that jobs here depend on markets for what we produce. Remember, we are a much bigger trading nation than the United States as a percentage of our GDP. Many more Australian jobs as a percentage depend on trade than do American jobs. Trade is critical and that is why it is important for me to remain engaged and my ministers to remain engaged with our counterparts. I was talking with Shinzo Abe about this in Sydney ten days ago. I was talking with him last night. Over the weekend, I had discussions with the New Zealand Prime Minister and the Singapore Prime Minister. We are, all of us are working to see how we can ensure we maintain this momentum towards open markets and free trade.
Believe me, protectionism is not a ladder to get you out of the low growth trap. It is a shovel to dig it deeper. Dan and I are Australian Ministers - we are responsible for Australia's interests. Other leaders can make their own decisions.
Believe me, our jobs, our economic future depends on bigger opportunities and bigger markets for what we produce. That is what we're about. Aussie jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what trade is about and it is shameful that Bill Shorten would throw in the towel. What a weakling, what a weakling. A statement in Washington and he gives up. He gives up. There is no other leader, no other leader in the TPP that is not seeking to ensure we maintain this momentum to free trade. You heard the Chinese President's speech at Davos, committed to open markets and free trade. It is not for us to lecture other countries and we don't, but it is good for Australia, it is good for jobs. Aussie jobs, that is what this is about. That is what we're standing up for, Australian jobs. Like the jobs at Portland - what do they need? Affordable electricity. Bill Shorten's a threat to that. They need trade. They need markets. Bill Shorten's a threat to that too.
He can go around in as many fluro vests as he likes - he is a walking, talking threat to Australian jobs.
Thanks very much.