Monday, 2 December 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Can the minister update the Senate on how the government is addressing real issues of importance, including strengthening Australia's response to the threat of foreign interference?
I thank Senator Molan for that question and for his deep and abiding commitment to our nation's security. The No. 1 priority for this Morrison government is to keep all Australians safe and secure. As our security intelligence agencies have made abundantly clear, the threat to Australia from foreign interference has never been greater. This is why the government is further strengthening Australia's response to foreign interference. We are committing $87.8 million to establishing a new task force, designed to disrupt and also to deter anyone from attempting to undermine Australian sovereign national interests. Working to the—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Those opposite here actually understand that this is important. Working to the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator, the task force will be led by a senior ASIO officer and will include experts from across Australia's national intelligence community, including the AFP, AUSTRAC, the Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation and the Office of National Intelligence, who will also support the task force. This task force will boost the ability of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to discover, track and disrupt foreign interference in Australia. It will deepen our understanding of what we know are sophisticated disinformation activities happening across the world, particularly against democratic processes and also elections.
This new Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce highlights the Morrison government's commitment to stepping up our nation's security. It also demonstrates our commitment to take stronger action to deter acts of foreign interference, to defend against them when they occur and to ensure that our laws are upheld.
Today's establishment of a Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce represents a joined-up, whole-of-intelligence-community effort. This task force brings together a package of intelligence capabilities, including many from within the Defence portfolio. This is in order to drive the effective and integrated operational response to this invidious challenge to our nation's interests. The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation in the Department of Defence collects and analyses imagery from data so that we can better understand the threats we face, including from foreign interference. This new package will allow AGO to provide greater, dedicated support to the new Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce. And to complement that, the Australian Signals Directorate will also be doing work in support of countering foreign interference. ASD will establish a new team to focus specifically on targets that seek to undermine and disrupt Australia's national interests.
The Morrison government has taken significant steps to strengthen Australia's capacity to defend against foreign interference. The establishment today of a Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce is the next step in responding to this growing and evolving threat. In 2018 this government introduced legislation to create new criminal offences and to establish greater transparency around foreign interference in our nation. We also implemented electoral funding and disclosure reforms in respect of foreign political donations. Today's announcement of $87.8 million builds on the $38.8 million of measures this government has already invested since 2018-19 to counter foreign interference. These measures include the establishment of a Foreign Interference Threat Assessment Centre in ASIO.
In conclusion, the Morrison government is constantly monitoring and reviewing these threats facing Australia, so that our agencies have the right tools at their disposal to keep us free of foreign interference.