eSafety resources quadruple as national cyber office funded

Australia’s new national cybersecurity office will be funded to the tune of $46.5 million as part of a funding package that also includes $23.4 million for ‘cyber wardens’ to help small business to build cyber resilience.

As foreshadowed ahead of the Budget, the federal government will also quadruple the ongoing base funding of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, which was facing a “funding cliff” from the end of June, and boost funding for Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

The government will provide a total of $101.6 million over five years to “support and uplift cyber security in Australia”, with the bulk to flow to the new National Office for Cyber Security led by a yet-to-be-appointed coordinator for cybersecurity.

The office, which forms part of a new Cyber and Infrastructure Security Group within the Department of Home Affairs, was established at the start of this month in response to the spate of recent data breaches at companies like Optus, Medibank and Latitude.

According to Budget documents released by Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Tuesday night, the office will receive $46.5 million over the next four years to “ensure that the Commonwealth’s cybersecurity efforts are strategic, coordinated, timely and effective”, as well as ongoing funding of $11.8 million.

The funding comes after Home Affairs revealed that no additional funding had initially been provided by the government to establish the office, which will initially be supported by 55 staff. The office will also have access to additional staff in the event of a significant incident.

As part of the cyber package, Treasury will also receive $23.4 million over three years for a small business cyber wardens program delivered by the Council of Small Business Organisations” that will “support small business to build in-house capacity to protect against cyber threats”.

A further $19.5 million will be provided over the next 12 months to “improve the security of critical infrastructure assets and assist owners and operators to respond to significant cyber-attacks”, according to Budget documents.

The government has also committed $12.2 million in 2023-24 to “sustain the cyber resilience of Commonwealth entities currently serviced by the Cyber Hubs pilot program”, which is funded until the end of June, and continue to assess and certify cloud and data centre provider to host data.

The package will be partially funded by redirecting the $8.6 million provided to the Australian Taxation Office for Cyber Hub pilot activities, effectively depleting the funding it received in the October 2022 Budget.

It is unclear whether the ATO will still take part in the pilot, or the outcome of the business case that will determine whether the Cyber Hubs established in Defence, Services Australia and Home Affairs will continue long-term.

With the eSafety Commissioner facing a 50 per cent funding cut from the end of June, the government will provide $33.3 million a year over four years, quadrupling the ongoing base operational funding from $10.3 million to $42.5 million a year.

Baseline funding – which has not materially changed since the office was created in 2015 – was slated to drop from $51.8 million to $21.3 million in the 2023-24 financial year, followed by further falls to $10.3 million from 2027-28, which

Communications minister Michelle Rowland said the investment would address the “funding cliff” left behind by the former Coalition government, providing “certainty and stability to the online safety regulator”.

“The Albanese government’s investment will allow eSafety to keep up with demand for its takedown schemes, deliver more education programs and hold industry to account for keeping their users safe,” she said.

“This funding will also ensure eSafety can better coordinate with law enforcement to remove child sexual exploitation materials, commission additional research and evaluations to guide its work, and elevate the voices of young people in the development and delivery of online safety policies.”

The government has also committed $44.3 million to the OAIC, including for a new standalone Privacy Commissioner and to progress investigations and enforcement action in response to privacy and data breaches.

Just under $1 million will also be provided to the Attorney-General’s Department to progress the government’s response to the Privacy Act Review and to support a seperate independent statutory review of Part IIIA of the Act.

More 2023 Budget coverage:

Chalmers stumps up $392m for new Industry Growth Program

Budget lays out $2bn for government tech overhaul

Budget 2023: $2bn for green hydrogen production credits

Defence commits $151m to AUKUS pillar two

My Health Record gets $429m for technology upgrade

Govt backs Quantum and AI industries with $101m

Full Monty ambition for critical minerals supply chains

STEM programs get a tickle rather than an upgrade

myGov gets Budget certainty, new money flows to Digital ID

APS in-house consultancy locked in with $11m

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