24 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Digital development funding announcement; security questions re: solar panels; calls for Prime Minister to visit Israel

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, let's stay in Canberra now, because joining us is the Government Services Minister, Bill shorten. Good to see you, Bill. A couple of issues this morning, a couple of foreign matters. Let's start on cyber. You've got the $5 billion tech spend announced by the Prime Minister this morning. Now, it is primarily aimed at China. So, does that make for an awkward visit when he eventually heads to Beijing?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: No, not at all. The Prime Minister and Ed Husic, who is the Minister responsible for developing the digital private sector, have announced a $5 billion investment by Microsoft in Australia. I just think that's good news for Australia and us becoming one of the leading digital economies in the world using cloud computing. What that investment means effectively is we’ll increase the number of data centres from 20 to 29, they're going to set up a Microsoft is going to set up an academy here in Australia with New South Wales TAFE, so we can train people to be take up the tech jobs of the future. And there will be using some Microsoft technology to work with Australian Signals Directorate. So no, I think that's good. The deal about the Prime Minister going to China, of course, is a separate issue, and that's a good development that at last we have an Australian Prime Minister, on our terms, talking to China. And that's partly through resolving some of the knotty trade disputes we've had on barley and wine.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. So, on that, I mean, there have been a number of positive breakthroughs. Let's be clear on that regarding China. The PM's trip, the trade tariffs, the release of Cheng Lei, that's just to name a few. But is this playing too much into China's hands and perhaps giving them too much leverage?

SHORTEN: Well, what is it that we've got to do? I mean, either we don't have any form of meaningful engagement, or we do, but if we do have meaningful engagement, somehow, that's bad too. I mean, I think the government deserves a bit of a tick or a pass mark in terms of working with China. We're not trading off any security issues. We're very firm on all of that. But I think that where we can, we should try and get the best out of our relationship with China, so long as it doesn't compromise our national interests. So, I think we're actually doing pretty well in that area, considering.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. Okay, so the context of that last question was related to Liv’s story that she's running today, this piece that was picked up by The Australian that points to China potentially being able to hack into our systems through solar panels. I mean, are you, do you have any concerns that our network is vulnerable?

SHORTEN: Well, I sort of think the National Party is a bit cute, aren't they? Now, this is their latest reason to not do anything in renewable energy, because it's a Chinese spy. Listen, I think technology generally is vulnerable to bad actors globally. Our phones, you've got to assume your microphone is always on in your phone. I think one of the challenges, it's not just a solar panel renewable energy issue, the challenge is that our technology can be used to spy on us. But that's not just about China. We live in a world where there's increasing cyber hacks, where if people are indiscriminate with the information, they put up online, it can be harvested and used against you. So, I think there's a general challenge. You know, we have our phones. They're great. We have them all very close to us. But a lot of this technology is not dumb. And you've always got to be switched on about making sure you've got good safety hygiene in terms of your technology. So, I don't think it's just a solar panel issue. I think it's a technology safety hygiene issue generally. And it's not just about China. There are people out there who seek to use our devices to get into our homes in a way which before all this amazing technology existed, wasn't possible.

STEFANOVIC: And just to final one I want to ask on Israel, Bill. The Prime Minister, he was again asked about this this morning, and he was strong in his support of Israel. But do you think he should be in Israel on this current trip to actually show solidarity with the Jewish people?

SHORTEN: I know he has solidarity with the Jewish people and with Australians of Jewish heritage, just as I know he feels keenly for Australians of Palestinian heritage. The Prime Minister has been very clear about his repugnance at the shocking atrocities of the psychotic Hamas attacks. France and England and the USA, they're permanent members of the UN Security Council. You know, I love Australian foreign policy, it's important. But I honestly don't know if it is necessary for him to be in Tel Aviv right now. I just I know the outrage, the Liberal outrage machine, is saying he must be there, but I genuinely not sure what it would add for an Australian Prime Minister to be in Israel right now. I mean, what is he going to say there that he can't say here? And again, we're not permanent members of the UN Security Council like those other countries.

STEFANOVIC: Is it because though, I mean, some have suggested that not everyone in the Labor Party is singing from the same song sheet, with some senior members essentially accusing Israel of war crimes last week.

SHORTEN: No, that's not why he's not there. And I don't think that is what senior Labor Party people have been saying. I think they've been expressing their support for all of the victims caught up in this dreadful conflict. But Labor and the Prime Minister and myself included, have been very clear that whatever the plight of the two state negotiations in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel have been up to now, nothing legitimizes the atrocities that Hamas did. You know, I completely repudiate the view that somehow Israel deserved what happened to it. It didn't. Those people didn't deserve that. I also know that we want to make sure that, however Israel deals with Hamas and its right to defend itself, that we want to see international laws be observed as much as they can. And that's important for innocent Palestinians caught up in this situation beyond their control.

STEFANOVIC: Bill Shorten, as always, thanks for your time. We'll talk to you soon.