Topics: Medibank; cyber security legislation; Australia-China relationship; Anthony Albanese’s hypocrisy to not attend COP27;

04:20PM AEDT
11 November 2022



Jane Norman: Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham joined me earlier today as well before the AFP press conference. I started by asking him about the decision to attribute today’s Medibank attack.


Simon Birmingham: Well, transparency is important and transparency can be an important part of justice and of prevention. Obviously, we will want to see and hear all of the details about what steps will be taken to bring these people to justice. There needs to be every effort undertaken to ensure that if penalties can be applied, if charges can be laid and successfully put in place, then we ought to make sure the full weight of the law goes against people who undertake these types of activities. But of course there are often challenges in terms of distance, geography and otherwise. And I know that the AFP and our other agencies put every effort into supporting as well as protecting and for individuals out there who may be affected. They should definitely make sure they’re taking all of the advice from the Australian Cyber Security Centre and following the steps to ensure the protection of themselves and their families.


Jane Norman: Well, that was my next question to you, of course were just recently in government dealing with similar issues. What are the powers that are available to the government in circumstances such as these?


Simon Birmingham: Well, of course it depends in terms of the geographic location of individuals and other arrangements. And we see a mix if you talk in general in terms of cyber attacks of sometimes we know state actors, otherwise non-state actors who are simply in it, as appears to be the case here from the publicity for ransom for of course, raising money. But if they are located in other locations around the world, then there can be extradition or other challenges, too. So you have to make sure that you let the authorities pursue it, pursue it as vigorously as possible. I trust that today’s announcement has been done fully informed by the basis that it helps to ensure we have justice, helps to advance the transparency and understanding of these circumstances and hopefully helps to serve as a deterrent in future, too.


Jane Norman: We know that the government well the Parliament has basically approved bigger penalties for companies that fail to protect their customers privacy, their customers data. Your colleague this week, James Paterson, put forward a proposal to have so-called safe harbour laws so that a company may be in the midst of a cyber attack can go straight to federal government authorities and say help us without fearing, I guess, the penalty that comes next. Is this something that you wanted to see more fleshed out, perhaps adopted?


Simon Birmingham: I think these are very important issue that James has raised. He’s got plenty of experience working with our intelligence and security agencies in terms of their oversight, their legal frameworks and understanding. And in this case, he’s seeking to make sure that we don’t end up in a situation where companies feel they can’t get the best available help. As a government, we made sure we invested significantly more in providing funding and support for cyber security services now and into the future. And we want to make sure that Australia’s companies, yes, have the incentives to make sure they are doing everything possible to protect their customers, their businesses, Australian industry and information and data. But we also need to make sure that when they do face the inevitability of cyber attacks upon them, they feel confident in going to the experts and the agencies of government and getting all the help they can possibly seize. And so the government has to tread carefully through these types of reforms. By all means, have stronger penalties to help make sure the incentives are there for companies to put the protections in place, but also make sure they don’t create any deterrent for companies getting the help when they need it.


Jane Norman: Yeah, Well, Simon Birmingham, on to another issue. The Prime Minister has jetted off to South East Asia for the first of three world summits, global summits he’ll be attending. Of course, much of the attention will be focused on whether or not Mr. Albanese can secure a face to face meeting with his Chinese counterpart. Today, the China Daily editorialised that China values its relationship with Australia and it spoke positively about, in its words, rebuilding trust in the relationship. Is this a positive sign to you? Does it look like China maybe is offering an olive branch here?


Simon Birmingham: Look, all the signs indicate a meeting will take place. Us President Joe Biden has announced that he will be meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the margins of the G20 summit in Bali. Those dialogues are welcome and of course it will be welcome if our Prime Minister has such meetings and discussions as well. It was nothing but counterproductive for China to cease having such discussions and meetings with Australia in recent years, even when you have points of difference. You should still make sure that you sit down and talk. Cancelling talks should be the last thing you do rather than one of the early penalties as China made it. I did see the editorial that you referenced. Some of the tone of that is welcome. Of course the continued language by China that there should be some meeting halfway is a misrepresentation of the facts. The reality is that that Australia has been on the end of receiving coercive behaviour and sanctions from China that have attacked Australian industries like our wine industry, our barley industry and a range of other sectors indirectly. And we should be seeing those economic sanctions from China lifted on Australia. We should expect to see progress in relation to matters such as detained Australians in China and that they should have their legal rights respected importantly. These are all crucial issues and the test of any talks will be whether there are advances in getting outcomes towards resolving some of these challenging issues.


Jane Norman: We know, of course the PM has said publicly a number of times the beginning of the negotiations is for China to drop its trade sanctions that you’ve been mentioning against Australian industries. What do you reckon China means when it says or the China Daily means when it says that we need to meet them halfway? What is it that Beijing wants from Australia?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, that’s for Beijing to have to explain. But the Government has said, and I welcome this fact, that there is a continuance in relation to Australia’s strategic interests and a stability around the policy settings there. As a Coalition government we put in place greater protections for Australian infrastructure investment in Australia, our democratic system, because we saw the need for those protections. It’s important that all of those pillars remain and I’m not suggesting there’s any doubt they won’t, but there is no real ground for Australia to meet halfway in that regard. We should pursue areas of cooperation where we can with China and there’s much in terms of the peaceful development and prosperity of our region that we can cooperate on. But we should be having that cooperation without facing the type of trade sanctions and punitive action that China has applied to Australia in recent times.


Jane Norman: And just finally, Simon Birmingham, while Mr. Albanese is off to a series of summits in South East Asia, in Egypt right now of course, COP27 the next round of UN climate change talks are happening. We have Assistant Minister Pat Conroy, who’s been there all week. The Energy Minister Chris Bowen is on his way there to represent Australia. Is that a satisfactory level of representation from the Government in your view?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Jane, I’m not going to necessarily criticise the representation the Government’s decided to send. What I would do though, is just call out the rank hypocrisy. I’m sure all viewers remember the way in which Labor carried on 12 months ago about the debate as to whether or not Scott Morrison would go to the previous conference of the parties for these climate change discussions in Glasgow. Scott Morrison went. He was largely always going to go. But the fact that he didn’t lock in instantly with a date and a commitment instantly and left any shadow of doubt saw a huge pile on occur. I’m not going to play the same game. I think it just shows the hypocrisy and the petty politics that Labor was playing at the time.


Jane Norman: The Prime Minister’s defended it, saying this COP27 is one of implementation. It’s not about setting new policies and programmes. Is this one less important than the last?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think that speaks volumes, Jane. Implementation matters on these things. The promises are the easy part. The implementing is the challenging part. And so I think in that regard the Prime Minister is tying himself in knots, trying to excuse himself for his past comments and the hypocrisy of what he’s demonstrating now. I would hope that he takes implementation just as seriously, if not more so, than the making of the promises and the commitments.


Jane Norman: Okay, Senator Birmingham, we’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Jane. My pleasure.