House debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

Private Members' Business

Foreign Owned Data Centres

2:50 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) calls on the Government to:

  (a) immediately terminate all contracts with foreign owned external data storage centres, in particular, the Chinese owned facility, Global Switch; and

  (b) immediately and securely transfer all externally stored government data to Australian owned data centres;

(2) acknowledges that:

  (a) the recent contract extension between the Department of Defence and the Chinese-owned data centre, Global Switch, threatens our national security; and

  (b) this continued relationship was formed without due process or public tender;

(3) condemns the Government and the Department of Defence for seemingly placing cost savings above national security; and

(4) further acknowledges that having any government data stored by Global Switch is a national security risk.

I served in the Defence Force. I joined up voluntarily as we were going to war with Indonesia, which of course we did. My battalion was on 24-hour call to go overseas. I did a sigs course somewhere along the way. We had no mobile telephones and no computers in those days—none of those things. We used two-way radios and we used a code, which today is the equivalent of a fire wall. The codes were so easy to break. My instructor told me they were farcical, but you still used them anyway. Similarly today, the firewall is farcical, particularly against a sophisticated nation like China—arguably the most sophisticated nation on earth these days. A firewall is not going to stop them. To the people of Australia it is unbelievable that our information system inside the defence department is contracted out to a Chinese company.

There's possibly not a person on the planet who doesn't know about the aggressive nature of the Chinese government—not the Chinese people; I must separate that. It is a dictatorship. It is an expansionist, imperialistic dictatorship. There's not the slightest whiff of communism in that whatsoever. We know what is going on with the Uyghurs in the western province. Everybody on earth knows that there's a million people missing from the province. They're moving Han people in and concentration camps are being set up. If the world takes the same cowardly approach it did to Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong and Stalin, the same appeasement attitude that was taken in those days, it will lead to the same outcomes. It is now a matter of public record that 48 million people died under Mao Zedong, 28 million died under Stalin, and about 50 million died in the Second World War as a result of Hitler, because we didn't have the courage to stand up. Not only are we not standing up; we are grovelling on the floor. There is a full-scale foreign affairs inquiry into what happened at the University of Queensland, which is obviously run by the Chinese consulate. And we had Simon Birmingham, a minister in the government, greeting Mr Hoj, who was the vice-chancellor responsible for the decisions at the University of Queensland.

To show you how incredibly out-of-touch some of the people in Canberra are, we got a letter back from the defence department saying:

The safeguarding of Defence's data is of the utmost priority for my Department.

'Utmost priority'? You put a most aggressive foreign power in charge of it. Further, it said:

Defence has comprehensive security controls in place at the Global Switch Ultimo data centre ...

No-one can get in, except China, which is already in there and owns the system. They're keeping people out. Well, who are they keeping out? Australians? It goes on:

... to protect against compromise by a foreign power—

A foreign power owns it! They're saying 'to protect against compromise by a foreign power'. Mate, a foreign power owns it—

or other malicious actor.

They are the malicious actors! If there's anyone naughty on this planet—their aggression in the South Pacific is well known by every well-informed person on the planet, and they're making no secret about their aggression. Further, it says:

All of the most sensitive data was removed from this facility—

and they were stupid enough to put this in—

in May 2020.

Scott Morrison ordered them out in 2017. The man who is now Prime Minister of this country interfered in another portfolio because he was so distressed by what was going on in there, and, being in the very powerful position of Treasurer, he was able to do that. That was in 2017, he decided. But they inform us—they're stupid enough to inform us—that they didn't remove this information until May 2020. But they're inside the system, Madam Deputy Speaker Owens. [inaudible] to multiply physical security and cybersecurity control. To keep who out? Sylvester the cat? He hunts and runs at the canary cage. You put him in there, you're keeping him there and you're defying the Prime Minister—because, whilst the Prime Minister is defending his minister, by the same token—I'm sorry, Mr Scott Morrison—you're on record; you made the decision to kick them out, and it was a good decision, and you showed a lot of courage and leadership. We need you to show that again now. (Time expired)

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I would add that you can't make this stuff up. You just can't make this stuff up. In summary, the data storage firm Global Switch—

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Clark, do you reserve your right to speak?

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I was going to speak right now. I reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to.

12:56 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise as a government backbencher to support items (1), (2), and (4) out of the member for Kennedy's motion. I too am concerned about Global Switch and its parent company, and the issue that this poses to our national security.

Firstly, can I say that, while a lot of brickbats have been thrown in this place against News Corp, my congratulations, actually, go to Charles Miranda and News Corp for running this story, because this is important information that needs to see the light of day. With that out of the way, the good news, which the member for Kennedy will hopefully acknowledge, is that the Prime Minister has given an assurance that Defence's secure data remains safe. He has cited a statement issued by the Secretary of Defence that 'Defence has comprehensive security controls in place to protect against compromise by a foreign power or other malicious actor', and that 'Defence has migrated its most sensitive data to a purpose-built data centre'. I'll say that again: Defence has migrated its most sensitive data to a purpose-built data centre. They went on today, 'Defence is now progressing work consistent with the strategy to migrate less sensitive and unclassified data assets to an alternate data centre.'

Nevertheless, there is a concern that any defence data may still be in the hands of Global Switch, and that was a concern recognised by this government and also the Department of Defence a few years ago, when Global Switch transferred from being a parent company that was based in the UK to come under the ownership of a Chinese consortium. That Chinese consortium is called Elegant Jubilee. It is made up of mainly two outfits, the Jiangsu Shagang Group, which is indeed a private firm that's basically run by a fellow called Shen Wenrong. Shen Wenrong has been a deputy for the congress of the Chinese Communist Party. It is without doubt that this company, Jiangsu Shagang, is in bed with the CCP. More than that, one of the subsidiaries or the owners of Elegant Jubilee is an outfit called AVIC Trust. AVIC Trust is partly a state owned Chinese corporation—that is, partly owned by the CCP.

This is something that we can't tolerate in this country. We can't tolerate it. I've got to say I've been incredibly concerned about what seems to me—and I could be wrong; I'm happy to be corrected by defence officials—to be this blase attitude towards Chinese companies, particularly state owned corporations and companies with very sensitive links to the Chinese Communist party and the Chinese military, by defence officials. Others in the national security apparatus seem to get it. I've been concerned about this since the port of Darwin was ticked off by the Department of Defence, to go to a company, Landbridge, that had sensitive links, key links, with the People's Liberation Army of China.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a paper in the last week. In that paper, they say this:

Beijing's strategy of using commercial investments in critical infrastructure to support its military expansionism is most evident in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

… China's state-owned enterprises (SOEs) play a key role in implementing the BRI. Ostensibly commercial operations, they operate in a hybrid style, fulfilling CCP objectives and in return receiving strong government support … Each Chinese SOE is required to have a CCP committee and numerous subordinate party branches, ensuring that commercial strategies are aligned with party directives.

Chinese SOEs designated 'important backbone state-owned enterprises' are uniquely beholden to the CCP.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has said to this government, my government:

Australia should build its research and analytical capacity to better understand the nexus between the CCP and SOEs.

Very much we should—because the port of Darwin affair, with a company with strategic links to the Chinese military and, in this case, a company that has, if you look down the food chain, links with the CCP, is very, very problematic. We need to have it fixed, and this needs to be done across the board, in all areas of Australian government. (Time expired)

1:01 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I haven't changed my view in the last five minutes. I'm still firmly of the view that you can't make this stuff up. The facts of the matter are really quite simple, and those are that the company Global Switch stores defence data, Global Switch is Chinese controlled and Global Switch have the contract until 2025. They are the facts of the matter, and they are alarming on so many levels.

The obvious level is security. Surely, in 2021, we should be acutely aware that information is every bit as valuable to this country as land and infrastructure. It's the beachhead of World War II. It is vitally important that we do everything in our power to protect it. There's also the issue of our sovereignty. We're almost abandoning our sovereignty by allowing a Chinese-controlled company to store our defence data. Surely we should be asserting our sovereignty and showing the world, particularly countries like China, that we will always assert our sovereignty and we will always do everything in our power to protect it.

There's also the issue of the government honouring its promises. Four years ago, the now Prime Minister, then Treasurer, said that this matter would be remedied. He made a promise. It's a promise that has not been delivered on. That should concern us all. There are also the perils of us trying to do national security on the cheap. I'm the first to say that we shouldn't waste money on defence and that we should spend that money that might be saved elsewhere, but that doesn't mean we do anything to compromise our national security, and certainly not national security on the cheap. When I was in the Army, we had an old joke: 'You'd better watch out; your rifle was made by the lowest bidder.' I think we've got a case of that here. We look for any company from anywhere in the world and controlled by anywhere in the world, so long as it's cheap. And you can't do defence on the cheap.

There's the issue of supporting Australian businesses. Now more than ever, government should be doing everything they can to promote Australian businesses and support Australian businesses. Now more than ever, when we're acutely aware of the importance of self-sufficiency, this is exactly the time that we should be fast-tracking changing this contract, getting our data away from a foreign-controlled company, giving it to an Australian company, promoting Australian jobs, promoting profits in Australia and helping shareholders in this country. That's what we should be doing.

This is not about any one country. I know my honourable colleagues have spoken about China, and it's understandable that we're very focused on China at the moment. But we should be having this conversation about any country other than Australia that is being given excessive influence in this country. For heaven's sake, that dreadful COVIDSafe app is a complete waste of money and a complete dud. I never downloaded it, and I said I wouldn't download it at the time. The data from that, for what it's worth, is stored by Amazon, an American-controlled company. So I'm not seeking favourites here or picking on any one country; I'm saying that, when it comes to government data—particularly sensitive data and particularly defence data—it must not be stored by any foreign-controlled company.

Let's wrap a bit of context around this. It ain't like this is the first thing that's come along that should worry us. The member for Dawson has spoken about the Port of Darwin. You only have to go to the Port of Darwin website to see that it says that it's a defence port, yet it's leased by a foreign-controlled company for the next 99 years. What about all the broadacre prime agricultural land that we have allowed to be sold off to foreign-controlled companies? What about the natural gas distribution network on the mainland, which is owned by a foreign-controlled company? It is just not good enough.

I do acknowledge that the Treasurer, on account of the coronavirus pandemic, has cracked down on the security vetting of foreign investors. But pandemics come and pandemics go, and I am worried that we will go back to the old ways. The Treasurer, the Prime Minister, the government and the next government must ensure that in future all foreign acquisitions are carefully scrutinised from a security point of view. And, if there is even a whiff of threat to our national security—including our economic security when it comes to investing in agricultural land and other assets like the Van Diemen's Land Company, Australia's biggest dairy-producing company—and our military security, the government must say no. That is what the community expects the government to do. That is what we need to do in the future—and they can start by getting this contract off this company storing our defence data.

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Sitting suspended from 13:06 to 16:00