Cybersecurity to make a return to cabinet

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to bring cybersecurity back into Cabinet more than two years after he scrapped the ministerial position.

In news handed to The Australian newspaper on Friday, the position of Minister for Cybersecurity is to be brought back as part of an expected government reshuffle in December.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull created the role in 2016 as part of the national cyber strategy. But this position was scrapped by Mr Morrison in August 2018 as one of his first moves after taking the prime ministership.

There have been long-standing calls for government to reappoint a cyber minister from the local industry and the federal Opposition, but this was not included in the updated 2020 Cyber Security Strategy.

Parliament House
Ministerial Cybers: The Prime Minister will re-appoint a cyber ministerial post

Mr Morrison is now set to re-install the ministerial role, but it’s unclear whether this will simply be added to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s existing role as a cabinet minister, or if a new minister will be appointed.

It appears unlikely to be the latter, with reports that the reshuffle will see the number of government ministers reduced from 23 to 22, following the departure of finance minister Mathias Cormann.

Shadow assistant minister for cybersecurity Tim Watts said he is concerned that the new role will just be tacked on to Mr Dutton’s current position.

“It’s hard to see how adding the words ‘and cyber security’ to his title is going to make that much difference to the government’s ham-fisted approach to cybersecurity,” Mr Watts tweeted on Friday.

“Labor has been calling on Scott Morrison to admit he got it wrong when he dumped the Cyber Security Minister role from his ministry, one of his first acts as PM. But it’s hard to see how changing Peter Dutton’s title is going to make a difference.”

The reshuffle is expected after the coming sitting fortnight, the last of the year. The sitting fortnight will feature cybersecurity prominently, with the government set to introduce legislation introducing new security obligations for critical infrastructure operators, and significantly widening the definition of this to include far more tech companies.

The new policy was revealed in the federal government’s $1.7 billion, 10-year cybersecurity strategy, unveiled in August this year.

There have been calls for cybersecurity to be returned to cabinet since it was removed by Mr Morrison in August 2018. Angus Taylor had previously served as cybersecurity minister under Mr Turnbull.

Earlier this year, Mr Turnbull said the lack of a dedicated minister was a key weakness in the government’s cyber policies.

“There isn’t anyone designated with that authority and responsibility. That creates a problem. You do need to have a person in ministry who is the political voice on this issue and does that day in, day out,” Mr Turnbull said earlier this year.

Labor has been calling on the government to appoint a cybersecurity minister, as has a number of prominent figures in the cyber sector, including through submissions to government on the new strategy.

The Opposition is also expected to have its own reshuffle following the government’s one by the end of the year.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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