The nation needs a cyber minister: Turnbull

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The lack of a specific minister responsible for cybersecurity is a key weakness in the federal government’s new strategy and overarching cyber policies, according to former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Speaking on a ForgeRock webinar on Friday, Mr Turnbull, who included a minister for cybersecurity in his Cabinet in late 2017, said the lack of a public face for the government’s cybersecurity efforts, and an internal advocate, will damage its efforts in the space.

“One of the weaknesses at the moment is the government does not have a minister for cybersecurity. There isn’t anyone designated with that authority and responsibility. That creates a problem. You do need to have a person in the ministry who is the political voice on this issue and does that day in, day out,” Mr Turnbull said.

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull: Australia needs a dedicated cybersecurity minister right now

“When I was Prime Minister naturally because I had an interest in it, I talked about it a lot and felt reasonably confident doing so. Naturally Scott Morrison has other things he’s interested in and he’s not going to be talking about this issue, so you lose that Prime Ministerial megaphone, and you do need a minister who knows about the issue and can talk about it knowledgeably and enthusiastically.”

It is hardly a ringing endorsement of the minister currently responsible for cybersecurity in Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton who, along with Mr Morrison, unveiled the Coalition’s new 2020 cybersecurity strategy earlier this month.

Mr Morrison scrapped the cybersecurity minister position less than a year after Mr Turnbull launched the role, in his first Cabinet reshuffle since taking on the top job.

The reappointment of a specific portfolio role was a key recommendation from several submissions to government on the new strategy and is also supported by the Opposition.

But the new strategy included no mention of it.

Mr Turnbull also lamented the lack of a public cybersecurity spokesperson and advisor since his appointee Alastair MacGibbon left for the private sector.

“Whoever has replaced him doesn’t seem to have any profile. It’s so important – to make the C-Suite in the corporate world aware of the issue,” Mr Turnbull said.

While Mr Turnbull’s own cybersecurity strategy in 2016 was particularly focused on industry growth, he acknowledged that the government’s 2020 iteration “doesn’t have the same emphasis on opportunities and investment in innovation”.

“Now a lot of people have said that’s because the government has no imagination and is not interested in innovation. I’m not sure whether that’s true or not – it could be because the innovation agenda is still continuing and it’s got enough momentum so it doesn’t need to be re-accelerated, but it is absolutely critical,” he said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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