SUBJECT/S: Security of Australia’s communications infrastructure




CHRIS HAMMER: Michelle Rowland, the Government is clearly concerned that our telecommunication networks are vulnerable to some extent. Does Labor share those concerns?

It’s well understood across the sector and across all levels of government, I believe, and all policy makers, that the security of communications infrastructure is paramount. This has been known for quite some time and certainly accepted within the industry that security of networks and enabling proper risk assessments to cope with that is fundamental. So I actually think that principle goes without saying.  

HAMMER: Now the sector itself is disputing the Government’s policy here saying it has been heavy handed, too interventionist, that they have a commercial interest in securing these networks and they don’t need this intervention. What do you think?

ROWLAND: I can understand their concern. The telecommunications sector in Australia has been based on a co-regulatory framework, and liberalisation occurred decades ago now. So it’s commonly understood that any regulation, any intervention by government, will be proportionate, but will respect the co-regulatory structure. I can understand the concern, particularly of industry bodies such as the Communications Alliance, because they have demonstrated that there are key aspects in the Government’s draft proposal that simply mean that it’s too vague to be properly understood and there is no clear guidance on fundamental issues such as cost. I think that this is a great concern. We need to have clarity in how these proposals will operate in practice and we need to recognise the co-regulatory structure. We also need to ensure that we don’t have more red tape put upon the sector and that the laws that are sought to be enacted actually achieve the desired outcomes. So I fully appreciate their concerns. There is still a little bit of time left in the consultation process on the draft that the Government has put forward and Labor will be consulting with the sector in upcoming weeks in order to get a better view of their concerns.

HAMMER: So given that there is an alliance of interest between the private telecommunications networks and the government, neither of them want the networks compromised, is this an area where there needs to be more consultation, less regulation?

ROWLAND: That I think is a valid approach. One of the big concerns I have is that when you look at the Regulatory Impact Statement that has been released along with this draft Bill, there is an appendix that shows a series of consultations that have been taking place between the Government and the industry for some time. The fact that we still don’t have a sector which has its primary concerns being addressed as a result of those consultations, it’s really a concern. Do we have proper consultation here? Is the industry really being listened to and their concerns being taken on board? For example, John Stanton highlights that there is nothing in the current draft that requires consultation with the carrier or carriage service provider prior to intervention. I’ve had a look at these provisions, I think he’s correct. It looks as though the Attorney-General consults the Prime Minister, consults the Minister for Communications, but doesn’t actually consult the industry player. I think that that is a great concern and something that I think is right to say needs to be addressed.

HAMMER: Perhaps there’s a case where ASIO, part of the Attorney-General’s portfolio has information from US intelligence sources that it’s not able to release to private companies but needs to act upon and needs this power to say listen guys, we need to do this, please do it.

ROWLAND: Sure, and that was recognised in the initial PJCIS report that came out that the government is the retainer of the information about the security threats and industry needs to respond. I think we also need to remember this, Chris, we have long had a situation in this country where national security interests have been based around having co-operation between the sector, the government, and between government agencies. That has long been an established convention. We would not want to see a situation where that convention is compromised or indeed trashed.