ALAN JONES: The Prime Minister joins me on the line, Prime Minister good morning.
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Alan.
ALAN JONES: Prime Minister can you understand how angry people are over this census business? The website is still down and my concern which has been represented to me even here in Rio de Janeiro, that at 17 after seven on Tuesday, PM, you tweeted how you and your wife Lucy had filled in your census form and it was “very easy to do”. Yet you as Prime Minister weren’t told that for more than nine hours, cyber security specialists had allegedly been battling a series of attacks on the website. We’re told that the Bureau of Statistics knew that “there had been a significant increase in traffic” which had crashed the computer system way back, long before you filled out your form, 10:08am on Tuesday. Then they shut the thing down at 7:45 and you as Prime Minister are not told until well after 8:30 via a phone call from the Minister.
There’s something seriously wrong isn’t there?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan there is a lot wrong. Let me get to the facts because I think this is what Australians need to know. The first, the most important thing is that the site was not hacked. No data was compromised, no citizens data, census data, was removed or interfered with. Now what the site was subject to is what is called –
ALAN JONES: Sorry to interrupt you there, so did the ABS say yesterday, my understanding was that the ABS said it had been hacked. So that’s not true?
PRIME MINISTER: No that was – well I think let’s say they were using language probably incorrectly. These are technical terms, it’s easy for people to get them wrong. Hacking, you would say, a website, a server or a computer has been hacked if somebody gets into the system and makes mischief there, exfiltrates data from it and so forth. It’s not correct to say that the ABS site, the census site was hacked. What happened was what is called a “denial of service” attack. Now these are extremely common and that’s a point I’ll come back to if I may in a minute. That basically involves malicious actors, you know, people making trouble on the internet and they do this to banks, they do it to media companies, they do it to Government websites and it’s essentially a large number of automated hits on a website that basically clog it up and prevent you filling in the census or doing your banking or you know, getting onto a newspaper website or whatever. So these denial of service attacks are absolutely commonplace, they are highly predictable, they were inevitably going to happen to the census website. But importantly they do not seek to get into the website, they’re just you know, parking a bus in front of your driveway, it tops you getting in and out. Now measures that ought to have been in place to prevent these denial of service attacks interfering with access to the website were not put in place. That is a fact, that was a failure. That was compounded by some failures in hardware, technical hardware failures and inadequate redundancy. Now these failures are being, have been rectified at my direction, the Government’s direction, under the supervision of the Australian Signals Directorate, which as you know are the elite electronic intelligence and security experts in Australia and I would say there is nobody better in the world in this field than them.
There are clearly very big issues, very big issues for IBM the systems provider for the census and for the Australian Bureau of Statistics itself. Those –
ALAN JONES: But I mean we’ve had, these people have had 365 days to get this one right, of the year. I mean your Minister -
PRIME MINISTER: They’ve had more than that Alan. The contract with IBM was entered in to, was announced in late 2014. And look to be fair, IBM has done this before, but there has clearly been a failure in the work that was done. I mean a denial of service attack is as predictable for a site like this, as predictable as you know, that the rain will fall one day or that the sun will come up another.
ALAN JONES: But hasn’t this been properly tested beforehand? I mean you’ve got this Minister McCormack who has only been there for three weeks said “I note with some humour really that many people are going on Twitter and Facebook and making various comments about the ABS, about the census and about me as well. But in fact wherever they go, it tracks you on your Facebook account so I can’t really see what the big deal is about it, I think sometimes it’s much ado about nothing”.
I mean this is an offence to people whose time is wasted trying to do what they believe is their legal obligation and they still haven’t been able to do it.
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan the site should be back online today. I’ve just been, from early this morning, on a telephone conference with the Australian Signals Directorate, my own officials and the ABS and the Treasurer Scott Morrison. The ABS as you know is within the Treasury. Mr McCormack is the responsible Minister - you’re right, he’s only had that responsibility for a few weeks.
ALAN JONES: Well yes. Might I say there Prime Minister, the person responsible prior to the election was the professional branch-stacker in NSW Alex Hawke. He was most probably on the phone instead of doing his job. I mean shouldn’t people - someone’s got to be sacked because of what’s happened, surely.
PRIME MINISTER: My prediction is that there will be some very serious consequences for this. But there will be a review, Alastair MacGibbon, the Government’s cyber-security adviser, will be conducting the review and we have the great advantage of the assistance of the Australian Signals Directorate who have been into this very deeply now and they know precisely what happened and more importantly –
ALAN JONES: Wouldn’t you be furious? As Prime Minister, you’re the Prime Minister and at 7:17 you’ve tweeted, and virtually - forgive me for saying this – made a fool of yourself because at 10:08 in the morning the Bureau of Statistics knew there had been an increase in traffic and the computer system had crashed for 5 minutes. They then shut the thing down at a quarter to eight and don’t even tell you.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I was told shortly after eight.
ALAN JONES: Via McCormack.
PRIME MINISTER: Yes that’s right. But can I just make this point Alan: the reason that I tweeted that was because – well firstly I had no reason to believe that there was a problem with the website and indeed as was the fact, Lucy and I completed it and it was very easy and straightforward and it worked very well and we want to encourage people to fill in the census. So these events – well can I just go back and correct a couple of other facts? There is a lot of misinformation out there. The denial of service attacks were completely predictable, should have been repelled readily. They weren’t because of failures in the system that had been put in place for ABS by IBM and as I said there are issues for both IBM and ABS about that. Now that’s a fact. What happened at 7:45 – and this is based on what I’ve been advised by ABS and confirmed by the ASD – was that as this denial of service attack which started at 7:30 was starting to have an impact, of course it should have been dealt with, the ABS observed and IBM observed some anomalous signalling traffic within the network. That caused them to be concerned, they though obviously, or they feared, that more be happening and they took the site down. So the site was not brought down by a denial of service attack. It was taken down, I think it’s fair to say, out of an abundance of caution, on the part of the ABS. But there is no doubt that there were serious failures in the systems preparation for an entirely predictable denial of service attack.
ALAN JONES: Yeah but I mean the bloke in charge of this prior to the election was Alex Hawke. This was the Assistant Minister given responsibility for the census last September. Now what’s this bloke done? I mean does he still keep his job? The bloke in charge at the ABS I might add is on $705,000 a year. Twice your salary! I mean what – people are angry Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Alan my calm demeanour on your radio program is disguising the fact that I am – not very well I suspect – that I too am very angry about this. I am bitterly disappointed about this. This has clearly been a failure on the part of the ABS, absolutely. A failure on the part of the ABS and it appears, my advice is, that the cause of this, the root cause of this, has been that measures that ought to have been in place to prevent these denial of service attacks were not put in place. That was compounded by some technical hardware failures.
ALAN JONES: Well what was Hawke, what was Alex Hawke doing? What was Alex Hawke doing as the Minister responsible for census prior to the election? Have you asked him what he was doing?
PRIME MINISTER: Can I say Alan I’ve been more focussed on finding out what went wrong technically and making sure that the site is back up. There is time for a review and an inquiry but – I know there are lots of people out there trying to find out who is to blame and which head should roll and so forth. My objective as the Prime Minister is to ensure that we have the best brains in the Australian Government in this area, the Australian Signals Directorate, formerly as you know the Defence Signals Directorate, that they are absolutely all over this problem, which they have been - I want to thank them for the great work that they’ve done – and that we get this site back up and running, which should happen today. Australians can complete their forms, doing so in the confidence that their data will be safe. Now that’s my job as Prime Minister today. The review and which heads will roll, where and when, is something that will follow.
ALAN JONES: Right. Prime Minister, what we are talking about here now, it goes - I don’t know - 70 or 80 stations across Australia and there is white hot anger out there. I wish you could see my mailbox, my emails. On February 23, your Government announced the approval of Van Diemen’s Land Dairy Farms, or at least Scott Morrison the Treasurer did, to the Chinese. Now forget for a moment that we are talking about 19,000 hectares of the best dairy country - 29,000 dairy cattle, 100 million litres of milk a year. I would have called it a vital national strategic agricultural asset. But Scott Morrison said, the Foreign Investment Review Board, the Chinese can have it. At some point in March, the Durack properties, famous Carlton Hill and Ivanhoe, two jewels in our crown, 476,000 hectares in the Kimberley’s – beneficiary of the Ord Irrigation Scheme which the people listening to you across Australia have funded.
PRIME MINISTER: I have visited those properties actually – I’ve visited Carlton Hill.
ALAN JONES: Right. 13,000 hectares of freehold arable land and it’s been sold to Shanghai Zhongfu trading in Australia as Kimberley Agricultural Investments. Now they’ll be able to do all sorts of things they’re telling us now. They’ll grow sugar and cotton and grain and so on, on an unprecedented scale they say for the Chinese people. The Durack family - historic stuff. Now there’s been a brouhaha over Van Diemen’s Land. There was a brouhaha over the Port of Darwin and yet Scott Morrison approves the sale of Carlton Hill and Ivanhoe on the eve of an election and does not tell the electorate. Is that duplicitous behaviour, to ask people to go to the election, denying them information on which they may actually make a different decision about how they’ll vote because suddenly at the end of March, March 29 – an announcement is made by the Government that a foreign ownership register will not be made public. So if you don’t have the foreign ownership register made public, the electorate will have no idea that the Durack properties have been sold. People who are listening to this program are absolutely outraged by this. Prime Minister – they’re seeing this in a behavioural sense as corrupt behaviour. What is your response to that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan, I want to resist that innuendo or allegation and as far as the Durack properties are concerned I don’t have the facts in front of me on that. Scott Morrison – I’ll speak to him as soon as we are off the air but I think we should, he’d be in a position to answer that but I can’t comment about those particular properties.
ALAN JONES: There is a reason why I am asking and I’ll just very quickly say that Cubbie Station was sold to the Chinese under Swan and co when there was an Australian consortium on my program who told me that they had made a higher bid. They were ignored. Van Diemen’s Land Dairy was sold to the Chinese, Morrison approved it, but Jan Cameron on my program told me she’d made an equivalent bid – Morrison refused to see her and indeed ridiculed her offer. Now Carlton Hill and Ivanhoe have been secretly approved, the Chinese purchase when a major property owner at Rio here has asked to see me, a major corporate identity known to you who told me that he would’ve wanted to bid for these properties had he known they were for sale. Do you understand this leads to the conclusion that someone has ready access to decision making that is not available to others?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, can I just say generally I don’t know the facts of Carlton Hill, the station that you talked about earlier -about that particular transaction. I make this observation – the processes that the Treasurer goes through, through the Foreign Investment Review Board are absolutely rigorous, they are objective, their decisions that are taken –
ALAN JONES: Well, why weren’t we told prior to the election? Why didn’t he tell us?
PRIME MINISTER: Alan, I don’t know whether those. With great respect, I can’t comment on facts I’m not familiar with.
ALAN JONES: I tell you what, the people listening to you are furious.
PRIME MINISTER: But the Treasurer is the person to answer that because I don’t want comment on assertions I don’t know –
ALAN JONES: But you’d think you’d take this to the Cabinet? You’d think it’d be discussed by the Government? This is the point, now this week we learnt that South Molle Island on the Whitsunday’s – the jewel of the Whitsunday’s, gone to the Chinese. Daydream Island gone to the Chinese. Lindeman Island gone to the Chinese. Port of Darwin gone to the Chinese. They reckon Renmark [inaudible] going to go to the Chinese. Now, Paul Dibb - the Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University has written this week, “We are living in an exceedingly dangerous world that is challenging the core values of our western civilisation. The fact is Russia and China, both authoritarian powers, are challenging the western liberal order through the use of military force and coercion. They are aligned in their hostility towards the United States and its democratic allies, seeking to alter international borders and extend their territories and this is occurring just as western electorates are experiencing,” and here is the point, “a yawning gap between the governed and their governments.” Do you understand that that ‘yawning gap’ has a whole heap of people out there who vote very very angry?
PRIME MINISTER: Alan, I have just been through an election. I am very keenly aware of the concerns of the Australian electorate and the, perhaps I could describe it as the disappointment that many Australians have with governments and governments of both persuasions – the concerns they have about economic change, the concerns they have about –
ALAN JONES: This is an economic invasion Prime Minister. China are getting everything and then you’ve got the Global Times newspaper, an editorial headed a couple of weeks ago “Australia will learn its lesson.” Two million readers and what they’ve said, because they are upset with us because we supported the decision in the Hague, the Global Times talked about Australia’s uncivilised origins, described us as an offshore prison of the UK, that we were colonised in a process filled with the tears of the Aborigines and “if Australia steps into South China Sea waters it will be an ideal target for China to warn and strike.” Now these people are bullies of the worst order and Scott Morrison is opening the door, selling them everything they want – dairy farms, beef farms, South Molle Island, Tourism, now perhaps electricity – you’re the Prime Minister, can you put a stop to this nonsense?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan what we do is rigorously apply the litmus test of the national interest to these –
ALAN JONES: What is the national interest when we are selling off these infrastructure assets and agricultural assets? Where does the national interest lie? Our interest?
PRIME MINISTER: Well Alan, Australia has always been an importer of capital and –
ALAN JONES: Yeah that’s right, investment – I agree. Investment.
PRIME MINISTER: And you know there are, you talk about the Chinese investment in, and again I am not familiar with the Carlton Hill transaction but I read –
ALAN JONES: This is ownership PM, this is ownership. Not investment.
PRIME MINISTER: Well it is investment.
ALAN JONES: It is ownership.
PRIME MINISTER: Investment and ownership are – you can invest without owning something but most people when they invest, they have ambition to buy it.
ALAN JONES: You want control. You know this. You’re a businessman – you want control. You want control. They’ve got control. PM – the Port of Darwin, the Port of Melbourne, the Kimberley’s, Van Diemen’s Dairy, North West Victoria, South Molle Island, Daydream Island – my God. And now here we are up in the Kimberley’s, 476,000 hectares – the people listening to me PM across Australia are saying will Malcolm Turnbull stop this Chinese economic invasion? You’ve got Paul Dibb saying they are in a predatory mood, they are insulting us in the Global Times and we are giving them everything they want.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I wouldn’t place too much store on the Global Times – it is a particularly jingoistic, you know nationalistic newspaper – it doesn’t represent the – that’s not the President of China speaking.
ALAN JONES: No I know that.
PRIME MINISTER: There is plenty of stuff in the media in Australia that other countries might find annoying or insulting but it doesn’t represent the official voice of the Australian Government.
ALAN JONES: This is not a boxing tournament so we’re beaten by the bell - we’ve got to talk again, ok?
PRIME MINISTER: Ok, thank you very much.