Topics: Citizenship on Australia Day; Morrison Government’s world-leading cyber security initiatives; Government action to counter misinformation and violent extremism.
NEIL BREEN: I speak to the Home Affairs Minister, the MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Karen Andrews, every Wednesday – and even though it’s a public holiday, she never sleeps, she’s on the line. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m very well, thanks. Happy Australia Day to you. What do you got planned for today?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, happy Australia Day to you, Neil, and to all of our listeners this morning. I’ve actually got a couple of things planned today. Shortly I’ll be heading off to my first Australian Citizenship Ceremony of the day, and I think there’s close to 100 people that will becoming Australian citizens at that ceremony.
NEIL BREEN: Where’s that one at?
KAREN ANDREWS: That’s at Burleigh Heads. So it’s pretty much down on the beach, which is an iconic place to become an Australian citizen.
NEIL BREEN: Yes!
KAREN ANDREWS: And then I have one later this afternoon at Mudgeeraba. So it’ll be a couple of citizenship ceremonies for me today, but I love them. I mean, people are always so excited about becoming Australian citizens. And of course, many people don’t realise that Australia Day is the day where we have the majority of people who are choosing to become Australian citizens actually being conferred with citizenship on that day. So it’s great.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah – it is a really big day for citizenship. I think a lot of the great things about Australia Day have been lost in the debate about ‘Invasion Day/Australia Day’ – I’m not really that interested in getting into it, because it’s the same thing around and around in circles – but I agree with you about the citizenship ceremonies. When I was a younger journo, I remember it was January of ‘95, and I was covering for some people who were away on the Gold Coast – I was working for the Courier Mail, working at the Gold Coast Bureau – and I had to cover the citizenship ceremony at Broadbeach, just near the Surf Life Saving Club across the road from the shopping centre there. And I remember I went along – like a journo on Australia Day, working on a public holiday – and I could not believe how happy they were, these people who got their certificates and delighted to be Australians. It really opened my eyes.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely. So all these people who have come from so many different places around the world are all gathering together, and they’re so excited about becoming Australian citizens. It’s a fantastic day, and to hear some of their stories, the things they have done, and the fact they’ve chosen Australia to be their forever home; it’s just fantastic.
NEIL BREEN: Okay. So while all this is going on, being the Home Affairs Minister never ends. We’ve got this situation at the moment where we’ve asked citizens to leave Ukraine, and we know that the Russian troops are on the border there. 127,000 of them, but we’re helping Ukraine with regards to cyberattacks, how are we helping them?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we’re certainly providing all the assistance that we can, and of course, it’s not only to the Ukraine that we would be providing support where needed; we would provide it to many other countries. I think it’s an indication of just how well regarded Australia is in the cyber security world. To put this into some perspective, I mean people in Australia have always been very conscious of the risks that China poses to us from a cybersecurity point of view – and we’ve talked about that on this show as well – but we’ve also talked about there being other actors out there. Of course Russia is one of those. Now, what we have become aware of – as has the rest of the world – is that in recent times, there’s been some activity in the Ukraine, potentially by Russia. So we do have an Ambassador for Cyber Security. He actually is part of DFAT. So he will be working to provide support from a diplomatic point of view. But we will be working closely because we have a very active interest in understanding what is happening with cyberattacks across the world, because we need to assist where we can. But we also need to make sure that as a Government, we are protecting Australians and Australian businesses.
NEIL BREEN: So what sort of activity are we talking about in Ukraine, like attacks on the electricity grid or things like that?
KAREN ANDREWS: That’s always going to be a risk – it’s one of the risks we have faced in Australia, and that’s why as a Government, we’ve legislated for critical infrastructure to be able to protect against that. So energy grids are certainly one of the pieces of critical infrastructure that are particularly important. Some are things such as water supply and, of course, financial systems, health, all of those sorts of things are very critical. So we will be doing all that we can to look at what the source of these attacks are, how they can be remedied, how we can use that information to support potentially the Ukraine, but use that here in Australia to protect our critical infrastructure.
NEIL BREEN: One of the things that worries me is Australia is not getting on well with China. There’s no need to trawl over that – we know that’s a fact. We’re going to help Ukraine now, and we’re aligned to the US and the UK that will make Russia turn on us as well. Like we’re going to have two of the pretty big dogs in world politics not really liking us too much.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, Australia is actually a very good global citizen, so we are providing support. But I take the point that you’re making, and we do have very strong allies as well, and we will provide support alongside them to nations that need our support. So I think that’s a very positive thing from Australia. Our allies do include the United States the United Kingdom. It includes Japan, India through various arrangements, whether that be Five Eyes from a security point of view or whether it be the Quad arrangements.
NEIL BREEN: Okay, so just quickly, before I let you go, you’re taking action against people who are trying to spread dangerous misinformation online. What’s this about?
KAREN ANDREWS: There’s a lot of misinformation that’s out there and I think people are very mindful now of what they’re seeing, reading, hearing about COVID. We know there’s a lot of misinformation out there, but it isn’t just in relation to COVID. There’s a lot of misinformation out there on the internet and some of it has really serious consequences, particularly for those people that are becoming radicalised online and are looking at various types of extremism all being fed by what they’re seeing and hearing online. So one of the first steps that we can take as a Government, as we have, is to try and counter violent extremism before it actually occurs. We’ve actually put in close to $70 million to make sure that we are countering violent extremism. It’s really important. If we can stop it before it starts, then we’re better placed. Of course, we then have a strong law enforcement system and agencies here in Australia with ASIO, and particularly the Australian Federal Police; our law enforcement agency federally. So we will continue to protect Australians by taking all the action we can to counter violent extremism in the first place. But the message to listeners this morning, Neil, is to be very wary of what you see and hear online. Get your information from trusted sources.
NEIL BREEN: Grace Tame yesterday didn’t really give the Prime Minister much love when she went to Kirribilli. What did you make of that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I’ve actually pondered this overnight. It’s up to her how she chooses to conduct herself in public. In my view, I think she has squandered an opportunity to be out there promoting the cause that led her to becoming Australian of the Year. So I see it as a wasted, or a squandered opportunity.
NEIL BREEN: Thanks very much, Karen Andrews, Home Affairs Minister. Enjoy your Australia Day.
KAREN ANDREWS: You too. Take care.