Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(a) the Government's rush towards 82 per cent renewable energy could expose Australia to unnecessary national security risks due to a dependence on imported solar panel components from China;
(b) that an analysis, led by the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, Senator James Paterson, uncovered exploitable flaws and vulnerabilities in smart inverters which accompany many Australian solar photovoltaic systems;
(c) that almost 60 per cent of installed smart inverters are being supplied by Chinese manufacturers bound by China's national intelligence laws, which could require companies to be ordered by Beijing to sabotage, survey or disrupt power supplies to Australian homes, companies or Government;
(d) that energy security is national security, and the predominance of Chinese firms supplying inverters leaves Australia vulnerable to cyber-attacks;
(e) that the Government has been aware of the concerns raised by the Opposition but continues to do nothing to alleviate the risks;
(f) that providing affordable and reliable energy that is free from foreign interference should be a first order priority of Government, and that the Government is failing on all fronts;
(g) that the Opposition's concerns have been reinforced by the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) which has delivered a report revealing the threat posed by solar inverters; and
(h) that the CRC has warned of the potential for a 'black start event', which:
(i) refers to a scaled, targeted and simultaneous attack on the grid resulting in a power plant being rendered incapable of turning back on without reliance on a generator or battery; and
(ii) could shut down the entire power grid and take a week to recover; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) stop dithering and take action to ensure Australia's energy grid is free from foreign interference;
(b) immediately launch a review into the national security implications of its 82 per cent renewable target; and
(c) follow the CRC recommendation and ensure cyber security impact assessments be completed for all solar inverters being sold in Australia, and that mandatory cyber security ratings be introduced for solar inverters.
The government's target of 82 per cent renewable energy in the nation's electricity grid by 2032 raises more questions than answers just at the moment. Many experts have raised concerns about the rate of change with the pathway that the government is on, the assumptions around green hydrogen and the ability of anyone to construct 10,000 kilometres of new transmission lines within the next nine years. Along with this, new concerns are arising about our sovereign security. We've long been concerned about Australia importing the bulk of our solar panels, and it's worth noting that 82 per cent of the world's solar panels are made in China. We also import wind farm generators. In fact, we import some of the steel for the towers and certainly much of the steel for the transmission line towers. Those things are all concerns to me and to Australians.
But new concerns are now arising about the underlying technology used to operate our dynamic electricity grid. Components are operated by wireless signals, with databanks embedded within, in this case, Chinese companies, which are ultimately compelled to do their government's bidding, to provide information when the government says that it needs that information. Take photovoltaic inverters, for instance. Fifty-eight per cent of the inverters used in Australia are made in China. They are internet-connected devices which can be remotely operated. If there is one thing the Ukraine war has taught us, it is that systemic targeting of the transmission grid and its generators is one of the faces of modern warfare. Just imagine—perhaps we don't even have to imagine—that an aggressor could strike our electricity grid down from a switchboard thousands of kilometres away. Sadly, that seems like it may well be the reality, if not now then in the not-too-distant future. The rapid change that has occurred in our generating systems—that is, thousands of small-scale generators sitting on people's roofs all over the nation—has absolutely changed the operating environment in which we exist. The US Department of Energy has identified trust in and reliance on the communication platforms, and the risk of hostile forces attacking them, as a No. 1 priority.
The government talks much about its commitment to modern manufacturing and the building of things in Australia. That's great. In Australia we make many things, par excellence. There are some things that we're no longer competitive in, like washing machines, for instance. We need to get focused and identify the areas in which we need sovereign capacity and remove the obstacles. Yes, we do need sovereign capacity in traditional areas like steel manufacturing, aluminium and energy, but it's increasingly clear we need sovereign capacity in intelligent technology as well, in our communications platforms, where the chips embedded in parts and pieces and components that we use every day have the ability to communicate with countries that may be hostile to us. That's solar and battery communications. Even the innocuous dongle can actually be communicating with others. We need to take that into account.
I'm indebted to the WeekendAustralian, Justin Bassi and Alexandra Caples, where they warn the problem is much worse than we think. They warn about the risks of light-touch security, which will not stimulate innovation and prosperity:
Rather, it is the surest way to a vacuum in which those who would do us harm are themselves able to operate, innovate and disrupt …
They make this statement, which I think is a rewording of JFK's famous statement:
Instead of asking what online freedoms must be sacrificed for security, we must ask what security is required for online freedom.