Subjects: TikTok, ASIO oversight of security clearances, The Voice, release of advice from the Solicitor General
ANDY PARK: Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, thanks for your time this afternoon. Should TikTok be banned on government devices?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely. And the coalition has been calling for that for some time now as the true implications of having TikTok on government phones has been identified, and particularly in light of various bans overseas.
ANDY PARK: I’ve yet to hear how the evidence is articulated around exactly what data is going where. Can you just explain the particulars, or the details of this potential breach?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the head of the FBI has made some fairly strong statements recently about the concerns that he holds in relation to the data that is captured or can be captured by TikTok. Now, quite independently, there’s a lot of information available about the sort of data. Now, some social media apps already collect at least some of this data, but what is becoming increasingly well known is that TikTok collects this data more so than just about every other social media app. And it’s things like access to your calendar, to your location data, to face biometrics, which is very concerning, to the characteristics of your voice, your contact list information, on what other apps are you are running on your phone, keystroke patterns and just about everyone has to enter their passwords with keystrokes. And even though there’s face ID, of course, what we know is that face biometrics can also be gathered by TikTok. So what are the implications then for face ID? These are all very concerning things that is being collected now, whilst some of that information and its collection is available on the privacy provisions on the app, most people don’t look at that. But secondly, people need to be very much aware of the fact that potentially a foreign government can have access to that information.
ANDY PARK: Obviously this follows the United States, Canada, New Zealand – they’ve ordered the removal of TikTok from government devices. Why hasn’t the Albanese Government moved more quickly here? What exactly had to have been done to reach, what we expect will be next week, this ban from government phones?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that’s a very good question. So, Senator James Paterson has been raising this issue for months now, so the Coalition as a collective, has also raised those concerns in relation to TikTok being on government phones and potentially beyond that. So, as I understand it, the government did seek some further information, but it’s now well past the time when the minister responsible should have been able to make a decision on the use of TikTok on government phones. Now, I know when I was the Minister for Home Affairs, TikTok could not be downloaded on my home affairs phone. So the minister, when she came in to the role of home affairs, I’m assuming was given the same advice. So she’s been aware of it since she has been sworn into that role. So it is at the inexcusable point now that action has not been taken.
ANDY PARK: There’s been reports that senior government officials have raised potential diplomatic concerns about this review. We only have to cast our mind back to Huawei and that sort of saga, the warning is that it could look like Chinese companies have been targeted. What do you make of that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the number one priority of any federal government in Australia has to be national security. So yes, I do understand that some people might say this may look at targeting of any particular government, but the reality is the information that is able to be collected and potentially used against individuals and more collectively Australians, is at the extreme end. So I don’t think there’s any excuse that trade would be disrupted, and we should not protect Australia’s national security because of that. So I think it’s time to move well and truly beyond that and start to prioritize Australia’s national security.
ANDY PARK: The General Manager of TikTok in Australia and New Zealand Lee Hunter spoke to RN this morning. Take a listen to what he said when he was asked whether TikTok was a security risk for the 3 million Australians that use it.
ANDY PARK: Now, Lee Hunter says data is stored on servers in the US and Singapore, and would never be shared with Chinese authorities. Do you think he’s telling the truth there?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think there’s been various media reports that indicate that there is evidence that that information has passed through Chinese servers anyway. So I think while there may well be conflicting views, there is significant evidence that TikTok is a potential security risk to Australia. In the case of government ministers, government staff, it’s very important, I believe, that there is a ban immediately now put in place.
ANDY PARK: Just out of interest, do you think the US or Singaporean governments are more trustworthy in terms of storing Australian data. Is there any suggestion those servers would be more secure.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, again, there’s a range of views on that, we would be at a greater level of comfort with servers in the United States, our priority of course should always be to make sure servers are within Australia. That is very important, but it’s not always practical. We accept that we would look to our Five Eyes nations. And in saying that, I don’t want to be publicly criticizing any servers in Singapore for an example. And if we are talking about TikTok, we know that there has been servers in China that have been identified in relation to TikTok, but our priority should be to look at what servers we can have in Australia and use that as much as we possibly can.
ANDY PARK: My guest is Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, you’re with Andy Park on ABC RN Drive. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil plans to make ASIO the central hub for top security clearances if plans to amend laws are passed. Is that something the Coalition will support?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, when we were in government, we actually started doing that work in any event, and you could look back to the end of 2021 when we started to look at the establishment of those capabilities within ASIO. And I think if you actually look particularly at the second reading speeches, or the second reading speech that was made by the minister, identifies in fact that that capability was established previously. Look, I will continue to work positively out our national security vetting system is particularly important. I have a great deal of confidence in ASIO and their capabilities be able to do that. I’m very keen to work with the government so that we get an efficient outcome and make sure that these clearances are put in place in an appropriate and timely manner while making sure that there are no shortcuts where national security is concerned.
ANDY PARK: Do you have any concerns over Labor’s plans to digitise the Medicare card. Are you worried it leaves it vulnerable to hackers?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’ll be very interested to understand more about what the government has put in place to protect the data of Australians. Now, the Coalition always did take our national security, cyber security particularly seriously – the protection of data was a very serious issue for us as well, and I think it’s really incumbent on the current government to make sure that the Australian people understand that the data that they have on government apps and that they put into government websites is going to be well protected.
ANDY PARK: Just on another matter, Karen Andrews, obviously in the news today the Constitution alteration bill for a voice to Parliament has been introduced I the lower house. It’ll be referred to a joint Parliamentary committee to be examined in full. What do you want to see before you make a decision on how you’re going to vote?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think there needs to be much more openness and transparency in relation to the voice and any potential change to the Constitution. What we’re actually seeing from the Prime Minister, I think is very disappointing in terms of the way that he’s handling questions from the opposition. And, I understand from some parts of the media as well. There are very genuine questions that people are asking about the detail of the voice, the impacts of any constitutional change. Those questions should be treated with respect. Now we have asked as a Coalition for the legal advice from the Solicitor General to be released, that is being dismissed-
ANDY PARK: -Just on that though, it is highly unusual that advice from the Solicitor General is revealed, and according to reports, he didn’t speak in favour of watering it down. What’s your mail on whether that advice was written or verbal?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yep. Well, I don’t know, but I’d like to see the advice because it raises suspicion for me when the government is doing all that it can not to release that advice. And we all know that the government was very keen to release the Solicitor General’s advice in relation to Scott Morrison, and they did that for purely political purposes. So if it was okay then for them to do that, to attack Scott Morrison, why are they not prepared to release information now in relation to the voice?
ANDY PARK: The Prime Minister says your side of Parliament s running a scare campaign, the same ones that have been run for decades on issues relating to Indigenous affairs. That apologies to the Stolen Generations or Mabo would end in litigation in the courts. I mean, what evidence do you have this this is an inevitability?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the reality is that what’s being put to the Prime Minister are very legitimate questions and very legitimate concerns. Now, he started from the position of saying, well, we need to put something pretty simple to the Australian people and then we’ll deal with it, the complexities, the issues and the implementation later. That was his very starting position. Now he’s being dragged a little bit further to provide some information, but he’s still trying to belittle the shadow Attorney General who is asking very legitimate questions. So I think until such time as the Prime Minister takes a positive step by answering the questions that are legitimately put to him, we are not going to be able to be in a position to move forward. Now, I don’t understand if he is so convinced that what is being proposed is the way forward. He should be out there advocating and giving all the reasons why everything is going to be fine as a result of these proposed changes he’s not doing, that he’s pretty unclear about any potential challenges to High Court only. He tried to cover that yesterday in question time by saying that he wasn’t aware. And that’s true and he should be giving a legal advice, but we have actually asked for the legal advice to be received and he doesn’t wanna provide that either.
ANDY PARK: Do you think good will and sentiment are enough to carry this campaign for the yes side of this debate?
KAREN ANDREWS: We are talking about a change to Australia’s Constitution. This is what the High Court will look to when it determines the interpretation of laws in the future. So this is not just something that any Australian should just be prepared to say, ‘Yes, that’s fine’. I think it is reasonable, particularly in this day and age for Australians to be questioning and wanting to know more about what the potential implications are. So this is not just a case of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best when you’re talking about a constitutional change. And I don’t understand why the Prime Minister is not keen to advocate properly by providing detail. It would enable Australians to make up their own minds.
ANDY PARK: We’ll have to leave it there, Shadow Minister Karen Andrews, thanks for your time this afternoon.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Thank you.