Ministerial tussle over cyber muscle goes cross border

By Julian Bajkowski

Monday September 18, 2017

The once genteel rivalry between Sydney and Canberra for the mantle of Australia’s cybersecurity epicentre has conspicuously spilled onto the international stage, with state and federal ministers on Monday heavily pumping new overseas investment on their home patches.

Released from the House of Representatives, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor is in Singapore banging the drum for local investment in the Australian Capital Territory, part of a delegation hosted by Optus with a swag of local IT providers as well as representatives from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Digital Transformation Agency, according to an announcement.

“Canberra can really play a role as a hub for IT services to government in Australia,” Taylor said from the city state.

“I think we’re starting to see the potential for many of these companies based in the ACT to play global roles. It’s an opportunity opening now, for the region to build this sector.”

Cash splash

In Sydney, however, NSW Minister for Innovation Matt Kean wasn’t about to be upstaged or allow the latest major tech vendor investment into his state pass without loudly trumpeting how many new jobs will be created.

Having plumped $1.67 million for location incentives (about the price of a modest downtown Sydney apartment), state government-backed Jobs for NSW has managed to lure what Kean said is the massive telco group BT’s first global cybersecurity research and development facility outside the United Kingdom.

“This facility is a major boost for our economy and will be a real time nerve-centre protecting large enterprises, industries, governments and even nations from cyberattack,” Kean said.

“BT will also make a $2 million investment in capital infrastructure, and a further multi-million investment to employ cyber security specialists.”

New investment always brings smiles. Especially to ministers like Matt Kean (centre).

Ministerial chest-beating aside, BT’s antipodean foray is certain to have government agencies and tech providers, who are engaged in a fairly open war for tech security talent, looking over their shoulders.

Not to be out done the Victorian Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade Philip Dalidakis has also been pushing Melbourne’s claim to be the cyber centre of Australia.

“The cyber security industry is growing quickly and will surpass $100 billion in value in the next few years. It’s an industry that will create jobs and boost our economy and we need to be a big part of it.”

The big telcos and NBN have their operational centres in Melbourne and the Victorian government has aggressively pushed to build a major cyber hub centred around the Docklands precinct. This includes CSIRO’s Data61 Cybersecurity Innovation Hub, the Oceania Cyber Security Centre, the collaboration with Oxford University’s Global Cyber Security Capability Centre, and a Melbourne-based node of the Commonwealth Government’s Cyber Growth Centre.

While government organisations now accept they are prime targets for cyber espionage and are adjusting their security posture to reflect this, Australia’s booming financial services sector is ploughing unprecedented cash into digital resilience, an area where BT already has strong pedigree among local and global financial institutions.

At the same time Australian banks are hurtling towards settling transactions in real time under the Reserve Bank-backed New Payments Platform, an upgrade that will necessitate security upgrades across institutions.

Whatever it takes

That leaves government agencies looking to secure cyber talent needing to offer more than a routine public service salary and the promise of more affordable housing. One option some senior public servants are known to be keen on is the introduction of tertiary scholarships to entice cyber talent at the ground floor — rather than competing with banks for pay.

Meanwhile, Kean appears determined to turn cyber investment into a sustainable state industry that can produce and export security product over the long term rather than having to import it.

Kean cited BT’s creation of a new “Chief Global Engineer for Cyber Product Development” to be based in Sydney as proof the trade investment approach is working.

“I’m confident job opportunities offered by BT will also act as an incentive for Australian citizens currently working overseas to come back home and bring their highly valuable skills with them,” Kean said.

For state and federal governments alike, that may not be such a bad thing.

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