House debates

Wednesday, 2 June 2021


Department of Defence

4:29 pm

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

I seek leave to move the following motion:

That the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Government recently extended a contract for the Department of Defence, for the storage and management of data, with Chinese-owned data centre Global Switch, without due process or public tender; and

(b) the extension of this contract threatens Australia's national security;

(2) condemns the Government for putting cost-saving measures above the safety of Australians' national security; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) immediately terminate all government contracts with foreign-owned external data storage companies, including Global Switch;

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

(c) explain to the House why the Department of Defence has delayed its withdrawal from Global Switch, unlike other government agencies such as ASIC and the ATO which have already begun transferring their data.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Clark from moving the following motion immediately—

That the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Government recently extended a contract for the Department of Defence, for the storage and management of data, with Chinese-owned data centre Global Switch, without due process or public tender; and

(b) the extension of this contract threatens Australia's national security;

(2) condemns the Government for putting cost-saving measures above the safety of Australians' national security; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) immediately terminate all government contracts with foreign-owned external data storage companies, including Global Switch;

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

(c) explain to the House why the Department of Defence has delayed its withdrawal from Global Switch, unlike other government agencies such as ASIC and the ATO which have already begun transferring their data.

We must suspend standing orders and deal with this motion urgently because we must urgently get Australian data out of the hands of foreign owned companies. I would remind members of the facts of this matter. They are quite simply that the Department of Defence currently stores data with the Global Switch company. Global Switch was an Australian owned company, but in 2016 Global Switch's ownership changed when the Chinese datatech consortium Elegant Jubilee bought a 49 per cent stake in it. Since then, Global Switch has become entirely Chinese owned.

Four years ago the then Treasurer, now the Prime Minister, gave government agencies a deadline of September 2020 to transfer their data from Global Switch to an Australian owned data company. Despite that, the government has extended the contract between the Department of Defence and Global Switch until 2025. The contract has been re-signed for $53.5 million, which is approximately $300,000 above the original quote. By the way, the ATO and ASIC also have data stored with Global Switch; however, they have begun transferring their data out with intentions to have it all withdrawn by next year, 2022.

There is an urgent need to deal with this motion because there's an urgent need to get government data out of foreign owned data centres. This is wrong on so many levels. It is obviously wrong from a national security point of view. It is self-evident that we should not have sensitive government data in the possession of foreign owned data companies, whether that data is stored within Australia or up in a cloud or offshore. It beggars belief. If you were to walk down the street and ask 100 people at random, 'Do you think it's okay to have sensitive official data is in the possession of a foreign owned company?' I reckon 100 out of 100 Australians would say, 'Of course it shouldn't be in the possession of a foreign owned company!'

It's also about exercising and proving our sovereignty. Are we a sovereign nation or what? Are we a sovereign nation, with the intent and the commitment and the capacity to look after our sovereignty and our security, starting with storing our data with Australian owned companies? In this day and age, data is every bit as important as the land on which we walk and our resources. It is part of our very being and our nation. It's a missed opportunity to support Australian companies and Australian workers and to ensure that the profits that are enjoyed by these companies go back to Australian shareholders. It's that simple.

This is not about any one country. In some ways, it's unfortunate that Global Switch is a Chinese company, because there's been a lot of talk about China and our bilateral relationship, obviously, in recent times. But this is not about China specifically; it's about the principle of Australian data being stored in the possession of an Australian company and not a foreign owned company. We could be having this conversation in much the same terms if Global Switch were owned by the Singaporeans, or the Kiwis even, or the British or the Americans or the Canadians or the Germans or the French. It's the matter of principle that Global Switch is owned by a company based in another country. That is the point.

What we're talking about today is a symptom of a broader problem, and that is foreign ownership, involvement and influence in our country. In some ways, the Global Switch issue is a symptom of this bigger problem, like the fact that the Van Diemen's Land Company, Australia's biggest dairy asset, is owned by a Chinese company—a Chinese company that made all sorts of commitments to the Foreign Investment Review Board, the Treasurer and the Australian community, commitments that have not been delivered. They said they'd be exporting fresh milk to China—not happening. They said they'd be employing about 100 extra Australians—hasn't happened. They said there'd be significant capital improvements, including for environmental protections—hasn't happened. Fortunately, I should add, the company that now owns the Van Diemen's Land Company has committed to dispose of some of the properties, but it's still the fact that Australia's largest dairy-producing asset is foreign owned. About a quarter of Tasmania's agricultural land is now foreign owned. That is completely out of step with public expectations. The Port of Darwin is on a 99-year lease to a foreign company. The mainland east coast gas distribution network is controlled and owned by a foreign company. It is not good enough and it is completely and utterly out of step with community expectations, our security needs and the importance of safeguarding our sovereignty.

The government not only needs to get Defence data out of Global Switch; it needs to have a fresh look at the whole issue of foreign ownership and involvement in our nation. We need root-and-branch reform. I'm not averse to foreign investment. This country was built on foreign investment, and we need foreign investment. I'm not anti-foreign investment. That would be a ludicrous proposition. But we do need to apply a national interest test to foreign ownership or control of our strategic assets. Surely the data centre storing the Australian Department of Defence's data is a strategic matter.

There are so many reforms we could turn our minds to. I'm very mindful that I'm speaking to the need to suspend standing orders. This is such an urgent matter. That's why we need to suspend standing orders now and deal with this motion and start dealing with the broader issue, the unacceptable issue, of excessive foreign involvement, influence and ownership in this country. After we've dealt with Global Switch, let's turn our minds to all of the other reforms that might apply; for example, the fact that the Foreign Investment Review Board must apply much tougher scrutiny to investment that could adversely affect Australia's agriculture, business and property sectors, including the commercial property sector, as well as—and this is crucial—our cultural, environmental and heritage wellbeing.

We've got to lower the threshold for FIRB's involvement in the purchase of agricultural land. Currently the threshold is $15 million. That's an awful big farm in a lot of parts of Australia! Surely the FIRB's threshold for scrutiny of the purchase of agricultural land should be more in the order of $2 million. As to this idea that it's all current foreign business investment and acquisitions of an interest of 20 per cent or more, or businesses valued at over $261 million—surely that's too high as well. I don't know what the correct figure is, but to think that the FIRB would only be interested in a business acquisition by a foreign entity when the value was over $261 million is ludicrous.

I'll end my comments there. I'm grateful that the government has allowed me to have my say. I believe I'm speaking for a great many Australians when I say: we need to suspend standing orders immediately and deal with this motion immediately; the government, as quickly as it humanly can, has to get our sensitive defence data out of the Global Switch company, because it's foreign-owned. We've got to start worrying more about our national security—start worrying more about exercising and proving our sovereignty.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder?

4:41 pm

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

I second the motion. We could talk about strategic economic assets, but my honourable colleague who is moving this said, the first time we moved it, that you couldn't make this up. You seriously couldn't make this up! Australia's most strategic security asset is that information system. And it's in the hands of people that put on their national television, over there in China, pictures of Australian soldiers cutting the throats of babies. They advocated, five weeks ago, that Australia should be bombed. And you've given them all of the control of your information system.

Now, I was a minister for almost a decade in the Queensland government and I know the power of inertia, and I would plead with the honourable Minister for Defence and the Assistant Minister for Defence to understand. Don't underestimate the power of inertia in the Public Service. They will undermine and ignore you continuously and continuingly and give you four million reasons why they can't do it. There is no way of dealing with public servants, except with ruthless brutality. And if you don't agree with that statement, then you do so at your own peril, because we're in a parliament here where the answer to our strategic fuel security was to put our tanks in the United States! Well, I don't know—when I went to school, they told me the United States was on the other side of the globe! It's in the Northern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere and we are in the Southern Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere. Now, I don't blame the minister. I think they're dealing with people who will never admit they're wrong and will constantly assert that they were right 'because'—and if you think that you can override them, then you are kidding yourself. And there is only one way of dealing with them.

The previous speaker has great respect in this place. He worked in the field of strategic security in our armed forces and was a senior officer in the Army in this field, so he knows what he's talking about. But I think that 25 million Australians know what he's talking about.

I have never seen a government more out of step with the people. They've let every asset be taken over by foreigners. If you go through the strategic assets, you may say that water is one of the most important. Well, Cubbie Station is the biggest consumer of water in Australia, and it's owned by foreigners. If you want to go to electricity, 42 per cent of the electricity control in Australia is in the hands of Chinese corporations, some of which are owned directly by the Chinese government. Some 15 per cent of our electricity is now coming from glass on the roofs. That all comes from China. Every single piece of glass comes from China. If you want to add it up, that kicks it up to 60 per cent of our electricity being controlled out of China.

I gave a scenario in a question last week in parliament. As a compulsive reader of history books since I was six years of age, I am well aware of the lessons of history. Our fuel comes from Singapore and South Korea. We export all of our own oil and condensate and we import our petrol and diesel from overseas, from Singapore and South Korea. They are two countries that are not going to defy China. If China bungs on an embargo—and for those of you that are my age, we saw embargoes by the Middle East on numerous occasions—if you say that it doesn't happen, the First World War was effectively a reaction to Winston Churchill buying a majority share in British Petroleum. The English people already owned Shell— (Time expired)

4:46 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to speak briefly on this motion and say to the parliament and to the Australian people that I support this motion. I think if COVID has taught us anything it is how critical it is that we own what's ours. We need to own our data. We need to own our rail. We need to own our electricity, our water and most importantly our land. I think that the Australian people would be absolutely and utterly gobsmacked if they knew that the government had extended a contract for the Department of Defence for the storage and management of data with Chinese-owned data centre Global Switch. That has been done without due process or public tender. It is extraordinary.

Our data is worth gold. Our data is everything. That is our national security. That is our sovereignty. Over at least the last four decades we have pretty much sold every single thing of value in this nation that we possibly could have to foreigners. We often talk about New Zealand in this place. New Zealand is so much smarter than us. New Zealand has a threshold: if it's not in the national interest, if it's over five hectares, it doesn't pass. Yet here we are happy to sell everything—our precious water, our best land—and we are putting our data at incredible risk. I would urge the government to look at this motion. This is incredibly important. Let's address this. Let's fix this wrong. I commend the member for Clark for this motion.

4:48 pm

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I will respond to the motion. I thank the members for Clark and Kennedy for moving this motion. I know they are both coming from the same place. Both have served our country in uniform, and I know they both appreciate the growing threats to our security in the region. I understand their keen interest in this matter. It's an interest that I share. It's an interest that many Australians share. Members may recall that I made comments about this matter some years ago as a backbencher, and they are views that I still hold.

Australia's digital sovereignty is near and dear to my heart, as it is to the hearts of the members behind me on this side of the chamber as well. It goes without saying that the use of mission data is critical to the successful conduct of defence operations both in war and in peace. The way we manage our data security and our data management is central to our ongoing relationship of trust with the Australian people, which is why the Global Switch Ultimo data centre has been such a lightning rod in the public square. I can assure the members for Clark and Kennedy that Defence has migrated its most sensitive data to a purpose-built data centre. Consistent with the whole-of-government hosting strategy, Defence data migration of sensitive ICT data and assets was completed ahead of schedule and under budget prior to the expiration of the original Global Switch Ultimo lease in September 2020. In fact, the most sensitive defence data was removed from GSU in May 2020. Defence is progressing work to migrate less sensitive and unclassified data assets to an alternative data centre through a rigorous risk based approach to ensure there is no adverse impact to defence operations. Additionally Defence has comprehensive security controls in place of GSU to protect against compromise by a foreign power or other malicious actors.

I reiterate to the members and for the benefit of the House, control and access to the data storage issue remains under the full control of the Australian government. The facility was designed with multiple layers of physical and cybersecurity controls. Physical security arrangements are accredited by relevant government agencies and include 24/7 security presence, closed circuit television monitoring, sensors and alarms. The Defence Security Operation Centre provides 24/7 cybersecurity protection. A secure gateway provides further assurance to prevent unauthorised access. In combination, these measures represent the highest level of security assurance. Indeed, this is something I've repeatedly pressed to my department. Ronald Reagan, back in the eighties, made famous the Russian proverb: 'Trust, but verify.'

Mr Katter interjecting

Mr Wilkie interjecting

Member for Kennedy, member for Clark, I don't just take the departmental officials' word as gospel. My eagle eye will be on this problem going forward, and I will be seeking additional updates, as I did last week, because my concern is no different to yours.

I know the Minister for Defence is also keenly aware of this issue, and we will both be monitoring this process carefully to ensure it happens as quickly as possible. Again, the strength of our foreign investment rules and the fact that Defence retains full control of its GSU data provides the highest level of assurance as we complete the migration of the remaining defence information. The fact remains, consistent with the Whole-of-Government Hosting Strategy, Defence has migrated all sensitive ICT assets from the Global Switch Ultimo data centre prior to the expiration of the original GSU lease last year. Member for Clark, member for Kennedy, had I been a decision-maker many years ago, this would never have happened. But I'm here now, and we're working through this problem.

Debate on this motion is a good place to make a few points on the importance that I place on Defence becoming a more data informed organisation. In the years ahead, data and the management of data will be critical to our nation's security. I've always been of the view that Defence needs to adopt a disciplined approach to how information is collected, stored, analysed and, most importantly, how data is distributed across the force. A defence data strategy is well in the planning to guide data management and improve data literacy. This is critical to Defence becoming a more mission focused organisation.

Data is critical. This is clear from the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and the Defence Transformation Strategy—I'm sure they're documents we've all read. The Defence Transformation Strategy provides the vision and framework for the long-term enterprise-wide transformation. This will enable Defence's capacity to adapt as our strategic circumstances change, and on page 36 the strategy makes clear:

In developing the Defence Transformation Strategy, senior leaders emphasised that our Defence culture must recognise the criticality of data to everything that we do, and adopt a far more disciplined and deliberate approach to how information is collected, stored, analysed and applied in decision making processes.

At a more local level there are things that all Australians can do to ensure we are strengthening our digital sovereignty. We live in a data-rich world. This is a new reality for many Australians. The internet is now the neural system of our lives. Over the pandemic we've migrated much of our lives online—a whole host of services from news, to work, to social media. It's also important to our economy, and it's the lifeblood of our democratic society. Whilst our lives online present many opportunities, it also presents threats and challenges. Just as government organisations need to take data and cybersecurity seriously, Australians too can do their bit.

Many members would remember last year on 1 July when the Prime Minister at the Australian Defence Force Academy launched the 2020 Defence Strategic Update. The strategic head winds are blowing hard, and we are straddling vast change in the Indo-Pacific region where we're seeing the greatest geo-strategic competition between nation states, we're seeing militaries modernise and we're seeing the use of grey-zone tactics to coerce states below the threshold of conventional warfare. Cyberwarfare and espionage are grey-zone activities used by nation states to undermine their competitors' sovereignty and also to break apart habits of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Cyber is a new battlefield, and, whether we like it or not, we are all joined in an online contest to preserve our personal security but also our digital sovereignty as a country.

We can't be complacent. I know the government is not complacent. Defence is not complacent. No government has done more to strengthen the foreign investment rules in protecting our national sovereignty than this one. I know the member for Kennedy and the member for Clark won't be completely satisfied, but this is a work in progress, and we've done a lot over the last seven years. No government has done more to strengthen our national security than this one. Being the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security over the last four years, I've seen the body of legislation that has passed through that committee and into law through both houses of this parliament. We take these issues very seriously, and we are getting on with the job of ensuring that our critical data is safe and under control. I thank the member for Kennedy and the member for Clark for this motion. As always, my office door is open to you both—and to anyone else who would like further information on this issue.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allocated for this debate has expired.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be disagreed to.