The federal government has questions to answer about its record $9.9 billion investment in the Australian spy agency’s cyber capabilities, including where the additional highly skilled workforce will come from, according to the Opposition.
The federal budget, handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday night, included the “biggest ever investment in Australia’s cyber preparedness”, with $9.9 billion pledged to the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) over the next decade.
The project has been dubbed Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber and Enables (REDSPICE).
It means the spy agency will double in size with 1900 new staff members, and will ‘triple’ its cyber offensive capability.
In a joint statement, shadow Defence minister Brendan O’Connor and shadow assistant minister for cyber security Tim Watts said that Labor welcomes the funding boost for ASD’s cyber capabilities, but said there are several questions posed by the announcement.
These centre on how the ASD will actually find 1900 new cyber workers over the next 10 years.
“Despite the flashy announcement, there are many questions the government needs to answer about how it intends to deliver REDSPICE,” the shadow ministers said.
“The cybersecurity sector already faces a massive skills shortage after years of neglect under the Morrison-Joyce government. The government needs to outline where it will find the 1900 extra cyber professionals it plans to recruit to ASD from an already heavily contested talent pool.”
The Opposition also pointed to delays in ASD workers receiving security clearances.
“This skills shortage is compounded by the massive backlog in security clearances that the government has allowed to develop, leaving many recruits waiting more than a year before they can begin roles,” they said. “REDSPICE would significantly increase the pressures on this already clogged process.”
A portion of the funding for the cyber expansion will come from the existing Defence budget. Of the $4.2 billion allocated across the next four years, $588.7 million of this is new money.
“The Morrison-Joyce government needs to explain what Defence cuts it has planned,” the Labor Shadow Ministers said.
“As Australians know from this government’s bungling of its submarine acquisitions, announcements alone don’t fill capability gaps. Given the rapidly escalating cyber threats facing the nation, Australians can’t afford for REDSPICE to become the latest major defence capability project that never makes it from announcement to delivery.”
Mr Frydenberg labelled the ASD funding boost as a “game-changer” and one that will come with a “significant opportunity” for the local industry.
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