Advisory committee backs bigger govt role in crypto security


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

There is a role to play for the federal government in protecting Australians from the dangers of cryptocurrencies and ensuring the associated benefits can be properly realised, according to Telstra CEO and government cybersecurity advisor Andy Penn.

Mr Penn, who chairs the Industry Advisory Committee on cybersecurity, delivered an address to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Wednesday morning to mark the release of the committee’s new paper on cryptocurrency in Australia.

In the report, the committee calls for mandatory minimum cybersecurity standards for cryptocurrency exchanges, better education for Australians investing in crypto, more resourcing for the regulation of the technology and greater regulatory clarification.

Andy Penn
Telstra CEO Andy Penn

“The very fundamentals of our finance system have also been turned on their heads thanks to cryptocurrencies and decentralised finance models. New crypto billionaires are minted daily, while just as regularly someone loses it all betting the wrong way. It has also become a major channel for money laundering, in particular within jurisdictions that lack adequate monitoring and oversight,” Mr Penn said in the speech.

“In the same way we keep our banking information secure on our phones, we need to teach consumers how to stay safe when trading crypto, too. We are recommending more secure settings for Australia’s decentralised financial future, both at a cryptocurrency exchange and at a customer security level.

“Protecting and educating consumers is good, but it only does part of the job: we still need to ensure those trading and spending cryptocurrency in Australia are protected by legislation and secure market settings.”

The committee called on the government to consider mandated minimum cybersecurity standards for crypto exchanges and an environment of transparency to be created around them.

Relevant regulators and law enforcement agencies should be better resourced to meet the growing demands of the sector, the report said, while there needs to be greater clarity and confidence around the regulatory settings.

Australia should also be looking to the rest of the world and following global best practice in taking steps to build local crypto capability and capacity, the advisory committee said.

“It is essential that forward-looking regulatory settings are put in place to support crypto-driven economic growth,” the report said.

“As a new financial frontier, the Industry Advisory Committee is also recommending more secure settings for Australia’s decentralised financial future, both at an exchange level for Australian organisations and a customer security level. There is a role for government and industry to work together to do this.”

“Australians can and should be able to embrace the digital economy and access the benefits offered by cryptocurrencies with confidence.”

The report looks at cryptocurrency with a cybersecurity lens, and points to a government report last year, led by Senator Andrew Bragg, as the way forward more generally.

That committee report recommended a new licencing regime for digital currency exchanges, a new corporate structure, clarifications of anti-money laundering guidelines, tax exemptions and for Treasury to investigate the potential for a central bank digital currency.

The Industry Advisory Committee was formed in late 2020 to guide the implementation of the federal government’s cybersecurity strategy. Along with Mr Penn, its members include AUCloud chair Cathie Reid, NBN Co chief security officer Darren Kane and Macquarie Telecom Group CEO David Tudehope.

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