Topics: UK & US cyber-attacks; Cyber laws; Labor’s fuel efficiency U-turn; Julian Assange; Religious Discrimination Bill; Supermarkets;

07:55AM AEDT
26 March 2024


Simon Birmingham: Overnight, we’ve seen both UK and US authorities make statements in relation to cyber-attacks that have been seen in their countries. In particular, we’ve seen attribution to Chinese entities of attacks on the UK electoral system of attacks targeting particularly UK politicians as well as in the US attribution of Chinese entities targeting many numbers of Americans. These are deeply troubling instances. They are a reminder of the seriousness of the security environment that we all face. It is a situation where the government needs to continue to invest in relation to Australia’s cyber protections, and particularly the protection of our electoral systems, to ensure that Australians can have absolute confidence that our systems are robust and protected from the types of malicious cyber activity that we see targeting democracies around the world.


Journalist: Just on that, there’s some kind of cyber conference happening in Parliament today. There’s calls more so around controls for social media companies and big tech giants when it comes to protecting children is that something that you’d be entertaining?


Simon Birmingham: We have to be ever vigilant in updating cyber laws to make sure that we are protecting our democracy, our values, our children on all of these levels, and big tech companies around the world and malicious actors, including state actors, pose a real threat to the way in which our systems of government and our societies work. We should be ever vigilant in pursuing updates that can protect kids from harmful content online, can ensure that the online environment is not used for the promotion of extremist or terrorist ideologies, and also that our systems are resilient to the types of cyber-attacks that can undermine our economies and/or hurt our democracies.


Journalist: It looks like the government is going to be watering down their vehicle emission standards. Obviously, we haven’t seen the details, but that seems to be the chatter at the moment. Is that something that your party would support?


Simon Birmingham: Well, for weeks now, Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen have been saying, trust us, we’ve got this right and Peter Dutton and the Coalition are running a scare campaign. But it turns out Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen have got it wrong, and they’re about to embark upon a big backflip when it comes to the way these fuel efficiency standards have been structured. So, for weeks now, they’ve been claiming the automotive industry is wrong, the experts are wrong, and the Coalition is wrong. When the truth is Labor was wrong all along and we will have to look carefully at the detail. But people are going to wonder whether Labor can be believed when they said they’d done all the legwork for this policy in the first place, and now they’re having to upend this policy.


Journalist: What do you think is the right level of emissions reduction when it comes to vehicle emissions standards?


Simon Birmingham: I want to see us pursue as ambitious an approach to emissions reduction as possible, but it’s got to be one that doesn’t create such distortions in our market. That means Australians can’t afford to update their cars, end up driving even less efficient cars for longer. They would be counterproductive measures, and we’ll have to look carefully at the detail of what does come forward.


Journalist: Julian Assange is going to be before a UK court later tonight. Should Australia be making more efforts to help him?


Simon Birmingham: I trust the British justice system. Our own justice system was built upon the fundamentals of the British justice system. Yes, Mr. Assange’s case has gone on for a long time, but the reality is it has gone on for a long time in part thanks to the many, many years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy, the various appeals process that he’s totally entitled to pursue, but which have also added to the length of the proceedings.


Journalist: Just really quickly, the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus and Michaelia Cash are going to be meeting today to talk about the religious discrimination bill and whether there can be any kind of consensus on that. What would you like to see? What’s something that the Coalition might be able to agree on when it comes to that particular bill?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think the government needs to be transparent in its approaches here. I still haven’t seen that bill, nor, of course, have basically hardly any of the Members of Parliament across this building. And of course, the stakeholders have been engaged on it, have rarely, if any, seen the totality of the bill and not been able to talk freely with their constituents about it. So, there needs to be some transparency to this if it is to be resolved sensibly.


Journalist:  There’s a lot of things at the moment. But the Greens bill on supermarkets is going to be considered in the Senate. It sounds like there’s some opposition that the Nationals are putting to your party room this morning. What do you think needs to happen with the supermarkets? Do they need to be broken up?


Simon Birmingham: We won’t be supporting or considering or taking economic policy from the Australian Greens. Ultimately, we want to ensure we have a competitive environment in Australia. An environment that also has profitable businesses that are necessary for the strength of our economy and the superannuation returns of many Australians. Thanks guys.