PM&C and the Wikileaks Task Force


Additional Estimates - Finance and Public Administration Committee - Monday 13 February - Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

Senator LUDLAM: If you are able to take that away and let us know, that would be great. Thank you very much. I would like to change the subject and go to program 1.2, national security, while we have these folk here. Specifically, can we bring to the table whoever is most clued up on the cybersecurity policy. I have a couple of questions around this. This portfolio transfer happened over the summer break.
CHAIR: You have two minutes, Senator Ludlam. The time for you and Senator Rhiannon then comes to an end.
Senator LUDLAM: I am not going to be able to do this in two minutes. It is a shame Senator Brandis tied us up for two hours.
Senator BRANDIS: It is a shame there was a riot.
CHAIR: You can put the rest of the questions on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: A riot is what is occurring in Greece; it is not what occurred out the front. Anyway, can you tell us the reasons why the portfolio responsibility was transferred across from AG's to the PM's office?
Dr McCarthy: Certainly. The responsibility for cybersecurity policy was transferred from the Attorney-General's Department to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in recognition of the very strong emphasis and importance the Prime Minister places on the issue of cybersecurity.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell us why, in the budget portfolio statement, program 1.2 objectives have been altered to reflect that transfer? One of the things listed there, amongst things like natural disasters, identity security and critical infrastructure, was chemicals of concern, which struck me as a bit odd. What is a cybersecurity strategy going to tell us about chemicals of concern?
Dr McCarthy: I know the section of the portfolio additional estimates statement that you are referring to. In fact, that description is exactly as it was in the portfolio budget statements with the addition of cybersecurity policy. I can see how it could be read as implying that somehow those other issues you referred to, which have always been part of the deliverables, are connected to cybersecurity policy. Perhaps it is an inelegant wording.
Senator LUDLAM: So it is grammar rather than anything else that we missed. Does the interdepartmental WikiLeaks task force chaired by you-we have spoken of this before-still exist in virtual form? Are you still the chair?
Dr McCarthy: I chaired that in my capacity as Deputy National Security Adviser. All of the agencies that took part in that task force still stand ready to assist should we need to reconvene the task force, but it has not met for some time. But the Deputy National Security Adviser would chair that if necessary.
Senator LUDLAM: When was the last time that it was convened or that there was a meeting, physical or otherwise? Do you want to take that on notice, because I am aware that time is a bit short. Please provide us with that and whether there have been any changes to the membership. Please table a list if there have been any material changes to the membership since we last spoke. I would not mind a summary of its activities. I think the last time I raised this with you was in May last year.
Dr McCarthy: Certainly. My colleague Ms Noble advises me that the last meeting was on 13 December.
Senator LUDLAM: What can you tell us about that meeting and the reason for that meeting?
Dr McCarthy: I will take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: The membership of the meeting, any communique or anything that was delivered or any outcome of that meeting would be appreciated. To your knowledge, has the Prime Minister ever apologised to the WikiLeaks organisation or formally retracted the false allegations that they had broken the law?
Dr McCarthy: The Prime Minister has not made any apology to the WikiLeaks organisation.
Senator LUDLAM: She accused them of committing crimes which is pretty big deal. As that was my last question, I invite you to take on notice whether the PM might want to consider whether accusing an organisation of crimes when that was immediately refuted by the Federal Police would be cause for a retraction.
Dr McCarthy: I can take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: That would be much appreciated.