National Security

Transcript | Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News | 24 October 2023

October 24, 2023

Tuesday 24 October 2023
Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Afternoon Agenda
Subjects: Microsoft $5bn cyber investment, PM visit to US & China, AFP leadership unaware of HK police visit

KIERAN GILBERT: Shadow minister for Cyber Security and Home Affairs James Paterson is live in the studio with me. This cyber shield, Microsoft working alongside the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). Do you like what you're hearing on that?

JAMES PATERSON: Well, it's very welcome private sector investment in Australia and reflects the very deep and mature relationships that Microsoft has had with our intelligence and security agencies for years. They've been a very important partner to ASD and we always envisaged when we announced the Redspice program, which is a $10 billion investment in ASD, that part of that would be partnering with private sector companies like Microsoft to deliver that uplifted cyber security. So it's really good, as is the commercial decision for Microsoft to expand their data centres from 20 to 29 here in Australia, which is in response to demand from customers who are very data hungry. And when we're moving towards AI going to get only more data hungry.

GILBERT: Our experts at the Australian Signals Directorate are well-respected internationally working alongside this Microsoft technology. Do you think the government can hit that target of being the most cyber secure nation in the world by 2030?

PATERSON: Look, it's a very laudable goal and we support the government's objective of getting there. What I'd be interested to see from the government is what their plan is, and I look forward to the new cyber security strategy being released, because it is very ambitious and it's going to require very significant ongoing investment from the government, not just Redspice and not just the $1.67 billion that we invested in our 2020 cyber security strategy. But a big uplift on both of those and that's what I'll be looking for from the government.

GILBERT: Do you think it's ironic as well that this comes this announcement with the prime minister in Washington a week out from his talks in Beijing, the first visit by a prime minister in more than seven years?

PATERSON: Look, it is slightly ironic, as we know, Beijing is the number one source of state backed cyber security threats to Australia and in just the last week, the director general of ASIO has disclosed they're also a sponsor of industrial intellectual property theft and the number one source of that in the world as well. One of the reasons why we have to invest in cyber security is because of those state backed threats. But it's not the only reason. We're also investing in it to thwart criminal gangs and enterprises for trying to make a profit out of the cyber criminality.

GILBERT: Do you welcome the visit, though, by the Prime Minister to China, and do you think it would be welcome? I know you've had several talks with colleagues in the United States. Does Washington welcome Australia normalising relations with Beijing? Because obviously, our Prime Minister and the president would be talking strategy, overcoming days.

PATERSON: It's important to talk to everyone, whether we disagree or agree, whether they are close friends and or not close friends. The most important thing out of the Prime minister's trip to Beijing is that he doesn't make any policy concessions to the Chinese Communist Party because it's not Australia that's done anything to harm the bilateral relationship. It is China and the decisions of the Chinese government that's harmed that. So I don't want to see the Prime Minister making any more concessions that frankly I think have already been made. When you look at decisions like the decision to not take action on the Port of Darwin. I mean in Opposition, Anthony Albanese said it was a grave mistake and he said he would do a review and now that he's done it of course is squibbed it and did so by dropping it on a Friday afternoon after a press conference after Parliament had risen for the week. Just no scrutiny and accountability of a pretty significant national security decision.

GILBERT: Would the Coalition overturn it if you did win office? It was established during the Coalition period in office in the first place.

PATERSON: I have consistently said for years on the public record that it was a mistake and it shouldn't have happened. And the good thing is that in office the Coalition changed our foreign investment settings radically so that the next Port of Darwin wouldn't come again. I'd be very interested to see what this latest advice says. I would be surprised if the advice said there is no security risk with the Port of Darwin. I suspect what it says is if you want to mitigate the risk, there are options for doing that. But if you want to remove the risk, the only way was cancelling the lease.

GILBERT: Do you think the Government has baulked on it because of this visit by the Prime Minister? Is that your accusation?

PATERSON: I don't know, Only the Prime Minister can explain that, and he hasn't adequately explained that because of the non-transparent way that he's handled this by dropping it cynically on a Friday afternoon after his press conference for the day, after the Parliament has risen, just before he goes overseas. We haven't had the opportunity to scrutinise this deal or the rationale for it. He hasn't explained why he's done what he's done.

GILBERT: In broader terms. Do you think it's right to be trying to run both tracks of defending our interests, on the one hand but cooperating on the other?

PATERSON: We provided bipartisan support for the government in stabilising the relationship with China. We think that the failure of the Chinese government to cooperate and communicate with the previous government was unfortunate and unnecessary and we think the destabilising actions that China has taken must be reversed. But let's be clear about this. China is reversing them for their own reasons, not because of us or anything that we do. They've judged that their economic coercion campaign against us was a failure. They've judged that their diplomacy, their wolf warrior diplomacy was a failure, and they are abandoning that for their own reasons.

GILBERT: When you look at the prime minister now in Washington, D.C., it looks like there will be some progress on a few fronts. Certainly the noises out of the government are more optimistic about the AUKUS deal and those export controls being relaxed by Congress. Do you welcome that?

PATERSON: We have a lot of heavy lifting still to do on AUKUS on the regulatory front. I'm very concerned about not removing those regulatory obstacles to the sharing of intellectual property, to the trafficking of arms, to intelligence sharing, to the movement of people, to the movement of capital. All of those things are barriers to the success of AUKUS. And nothing has passed Congress yet to do that. So I really hope the government is able to achieve that out of the Prime Minister's visit.

GILBERT: Finally, on the Middle East, you suggested it would reflect badly on the Prime Minister if he doesn't visit Israel. Is there a chance that it could he could just get in the way, like when Netanyahu is trying to carry out this war with Gaza? If you get the President Biden or other senior world leaders, maybe it has an impact, a show of support. But the Australian prime minister, do you think that carries as much weight?

PATERSON: Only if you agree that Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak, Olaf Schultz, the Italian Prime Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, they all got in the way. I mean, they've shown great solidarity with Israel, as I think we should too and if the Prime Minister can't go, well, then the Foreign Minister should go. Some senior Australian government representative should go because we have interests and equities and values which are at stake here and we are not being heard on the ground and it's astonishing that the Prime Minister still hasn't spoken to Benjamin Netanyahu.

GILBERT: And we've just seen Macron arrive in Israel to as we've been on air this afternoon. But before you go, you've been in Senate estimates. I have noticed this story that's emerged about Hong Kong police officers being trained in Australian facilities. Are you concerned about that or is, again, that dialogue good between our security agencies?

PATERSON: I am concerned about this because when I asked the AFP about this in Senate estimates last night, they didn't appear to know anything about it. So if we're going to be doing this, I'd really hope that the senior leadership of the AFP is well across it and knows what they're doing. They didn't appear to be. They also said they believe that part of the visit related to cyber security and it would be deeply ironic if the number one state sponsored source of cyber attacks on Australia was coming to Australia to train on cybersecurity or cooperate on cyber security.

GILBERT: Senator Patterson, appreciate your time.

PATERSON: Thank you.


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