You can only guess that Josh Frydenberg’s commitment of $9.9 billion to the Australian Signals Directorate for a cyber defensive and offensive capability uplift caught Labor by surprise.
Because in his Budget-reply to the Parliament on Thursday night, Opposition leader Anthony Albanese didn’t say the word ‘cyber’ even once, let alone stake out Labor plan – despite the Treasurer having so dramatically lifted the urgency of the Morrison government’s focus in this area.
It’s a strange omission. Just an hour or so after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Australian Parliament to provide an update on the war in his country – a conflict that has been a textbook demonstration of how cyber weaponry has changed warfare – Mr Albanese was entirely silent on the issue.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s $9.9 billion investment over ten years to the ASD was a huge commitment – a staggeringly large number to drop in a budget speech. But if we’re honest, the actual amount that will be spent by ASD on cyber uplift over the next ten years is likely to be a lot more than the Treasurer outlined on Tuesday.
And that’s regardless of who wins the 2022 election. Because it has been rightly identified an area that needs intervention now. And cyber threats are growing, not diminishing.
There are plenty of questions that can be asked of the government’s $9.9 billion funding announcement – and Labor shadow assistant minister for cybersecurity Tim Watts has already started asking these questions.
But to simply ignore cyber, a frighteningly immediate issue that was a centrepiece of the Treasurers budget seems remiss, if not negligent. You get the feeling that Mr Albanese locked the Budget reply speech some time ago.
It’s one thing to run your own race, but this was not a good look.
So, what did we get instead? Nothing, really, related to the technology and tech-related innovation sectors.
Yes, a passing reference to the already announced plans for an Officer of Made in Australia and a quick recommitment to a reconstruction fund and boosting local manufacturing. But nothing really.
By all means, keep your powder dry and make your big industrial development announcements along the way through the campaign. But what’s the point of a Budget-reply speech if you don’t respond to key new funding unveiled in that Budget?
Framing the looming election against issues of national health, aged care and childcare services is all well and good. Yes, ok also to the optimism, the single mum and the learning the value of a dollar.
But cyber is central issue now. In Australia as in the rest of the world. How do we know this? Because two days ago the Treasurer dropped a billion dollars a year on it.
Surely that’s worth addressing, upfront.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.