A seat at the table for homeland security?
15 Aug 2013|

Attorney-General's Department in the Canberra.As outlined by Tobias Feakin and Jessica Woodall’s post last week, ASPI recently launched its new international cyber policy centre in Sydney. An expert panel discussed many facets of Australian cyber policy.

What wasn’t really discussed by the panel was the political responsibility for cybersecurity in the Australian government.

In a recent ASPI paper Peter Jennings and Toby Feakin recommend establishing a Prime Minister’s Cyber Council, comprising leading private and public sector figures, as well as cyber specialists to discuss cybersecurity and a cyber policy unit, reporting to the Secretary of the Attorney General’s Department.

I’d like to suggest that while bureaucratic innovations such as those proposed by my colleagues are important, it’s even more critical we get the political ‘ownership’ of cybersecurity (and homeland security more generally) ‘gripped up’.

While it’s clear which ministers speak to defence and foreign policy issues in Cabinet, it’s not always clear who’s responsible for broader domestic security. It’s mainly the Attorney-General, but that minister has around 60 portfolio responsibilities, and only about half of those are directly relevant to homeland security (including cybersecurity).

The Minister for Home Affairs and Justice has some domestic security responsibilities, but he’s only an ex officio member of the National Security Committee of Cabinet, where those areas are normally the job of the Attorney-General.

A Minister for Security and Resilience at Cabinet level would provide unity of command in areas related to cybersecurity, counterterrorism, organised crime, and emergency management.

A coordinated system needs someone with the authority to oversee the entire homeland security jigsaw, and the time to place the pieces in the right places. Agencies such as the Office of Transport Security, with responsibility for waterfront security, should be brought into the new Minister’s portfolio.

The new Minister shouldn’t play second fiddle to the Attorney-General. The new position would provide a single focal point for assessing and developing the wide range of elements that comprise homeland security, from cybersecurity to combating organised crime. It would have the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Federal Police under its wing. The Attorney-General could then focus on the role as the Commonwealth’s first law officer.

The Minister for Security and Resilience wouldn’t require a new bureaucracy. The Attorney-General’s Department could support them, just as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supports two Ministers.

This step will provide better coordination, cooperation and central direction, and move us closer to security and greater resilience on the home front.

The new Minister could appoint a Minister Assisting for Cybersecurity, because this is an area of public policy that requires an enormous amount of stakeholder engagement with the private sector.

There’s a precedent here: there’s now a Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.