Interview with Deborah Knight, Afternoons, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Greens senator Lidia Thorpe; cyber data breaches

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Ed Husic is the Minister for Industry and Science. Angus Taylor is the Shadow Minister. And both of them join me now, as they do every Friday. Gentlemen, welcome. We need to start with the Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, who has rightly resigned as the party’s Deputy Leader in the Senate after the revelations that she had had a secret affair with the former Rebels bikie boss Dean Martin at the same time as she was on the Law Enforcement Committee getting confidential information about bikie gangs and organised crime. Clear conflict of interest. But the Greens Leader Adam Bandt has stopped short of calling for her resignation from parliament altogether. 

Ed, should Lidia Thorpe go? 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: I think those revelations we heard yesterday were pretty concerning for all the reasons that you just mentioned. Being on a committee that’s looking at law enforcement while those questions are hanging. And we have said publicly, and the Prime Minister has said it’s important that Adam Bandt explain that his office knew, when he knew and why he didn’t act earlier because it was clear that there were a number of concerns within the Greens about this situation. And, you know, the case ultimately of Lidia Thorpe going from the parliament will be a matter for Adam Bandt and the Greens. But I think there are a lot of questions that will need to be answered, because it’s a pretty series issue. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And the Coalition is going to push for a censure motion against the Greens senator, Lidia Thorpe. Will you and Labor back that? 

ED HUSIC: I think I’ll just wait and we’ll obviously see the shape of what’s being put forward and how and how the Greens – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Sounds like some fence-sitting, Ed. 

ED HUSIC: No, I’m just being upfront. We we’re not going to sign up holus bolus to what the Coalition is putting forward, and also the Greens do need to deal with this as well. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And this, Angus, is another example, isn’t it, of why it’s so important to have a federal integrity body, because surely this is exactly the sort of issue that the federal integrity – federal ICAC should be looking into? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think it’s simpler than that – she should just leave the parliament. It is as simple as that. This is a test of leadership for Adam Bandt. Look, it’s clear, Deb, you can’t receive confidential briefings on bikies during the day and then date them in the evening. It’s simply not on. 

It’s also a test for Anthony Albanese. Is he going to accept her vote in the parliament? Is he going to accept her vote in the parliament? I think this is a really important question, because she is clearly not fit to be in the parliament. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And the Greens want to be a legitimate party, and they did well at the last federal election, of course, and they’re hoping to do well in the New South Wales election coming up early next year. If they want to be a legitimate political force, then surely they’ve got to have consequences when MPs or senators cross a line. Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, absolutely. I mean, she – as I said, there was a clear conflict of interest here. There’s no denying that. She’s not denying it. But I do think there is a real question about whether Labor will now accept her vote if she’s going to stay in the parliament because Adam Bandt won’t throw her out. I mean, this is an important question. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, Ed, what’s the answer to that question? 

ED HUSIC: To accepting votes of people that have a question mark over them? 


ED HUSIC: Well, I mean, there have been a number of Coalition people over time to time where question marks of whether or not they’ve used their position in a particular way that if you put it to common sense or to the public, people would have questions about it as well. So, I think in terms of the whole issue of this particular Senator, how that person should be treated, the way in which they should answer for what they’ve done, I absolutely agree these are core issues. And in particular, the Leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, is going to need to deal with this. 

Because for this particular Senator, too, there have been other cases where, for instance, there were concerns about the treatment of First Nations Peoples that had met with this Senator, and they were pretty over the top. There was one Aunty that said she was quite stunned by the way in which she’d been treated, and the Greens didn’t really deal with it effectively then, even though if it had been any of us we would have copped a hiding if it was Labor or Liberal in speaking that way to people who are raising legitimate public policy issues. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And you say, though, that it’s up to the Greens. If this was a Labor senator who had done what Lidia Thorpe has done, would you expect them to resign from parliament? 

ED HUSIC: Well, you’re asking me about hypotheticals, but certainly – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, I’m after an answer, because you’re not giving me an answer. Should she be gone or not? 

ED HUSIC: This would be a very serious issue which you would expect that it would be taken very seriously by the leadership on our side. And I think Australians are absolutely entitled to believe the oversight processes in parliament and our legal system are maintained with the utmost integrity and the information that is given is confidential. And, again, it will be something that the Greens – as you said in your question – if they want to be a serious party, they’ve got to deal with these issues seriously. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, should she go, Ed, or not? You’re happy to leave it up to the Greens? 

ED HUSIC: They’ve got to make the call on this issue. And they’ve got to answer those questions, and then they’ve got to respond. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it’s clear cut to me she shouldn’t be planning in parliament. And I think it’s untenable for her as well to remain as the Indigenous Affairs spokesperson for the party, because she’s not going to be able to represent the very complex issues of Indigenous Australians with the question marks hanging over her the way that they are. 

I wanted to also cover the issue of cyber security, because this is a really big issue for all Australians and around the world. And we’ve had the Optus hacking saga, of course, another major Australian company adding to the list with Medibank Private. And it’s not just personal info here – like names, addresses and Medicare numbers – but it’s even worse: personal health details. Angus, you used to be the Minister for Cyber Security and we’ve known about the growing threat of online criminal activity for years. Why are we so behind the 8-ball with cyber security? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it’s a difficult issue and an important one, because people, you know, lose their personal data it really can have a very significant impact on them. That’s why we did put in a notifiable data breaches framework and legislation. What that means is that companies must notify the individuals immediately, Deb. You’ve got to be agile; you’ve got to be responsive – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But we haven’t had that happen with Optus or Medibank. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: So, there’s a real question here about whether they have breached that requirement. And that should be something the government is looking at very, very closely. There is a requirement to notify. It is that simple. We put it in place. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But is there a time frame? Because this is the argument from the companies? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: It must be as quickly as possible – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, that’s pretty loose isn’t it – as quickly as possible? What does that mean? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: The wording of the legislation is not loose; it’s pretty tight. And so, there is a requirement to do it. And so, the question is – and this is a question for the government – have they breached that, and if so, what are they planning to do about it? 

There’s a second point I’d make on this, Deb, which is that we need to as much as possible get to a position where companies don’t need to hold this kind of data. And we put, again, digital identity in place which, as I understand it, Labor is continuing to support, as they should. I’m sure – I think Ed’s always been a supporter of this. And that means you don’t need to carry this kind of data in the way that many companies have been carrying it. That needs to continue to be rolled out as quickly as possible. It’s a difficult area. It’s an important area, but these things do need a timely response. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And that’s a big shock, I think, for a lot of us, Ed, that apart from the fact that we are exposed in the way that we are with our personal information and our health information with Medibank – I mean, that’s taking it even more seriously – but the fact that these corporations and companies, why are they allowed to store all of our personal data for the amount of time that they do – years and years? And many of the Medibank and Optus customers haven’t been Medibank or Optus customers for years and yet they’ve still got their personal information? Why can they sit on all of our data for that long? 

ED HUSIC: Okay, I will absolutely answer that point, Deb, but can I just emphasise for people listening in that Australians should know the smartest, toughest people at the Australian Cyber Security Centre and the Australian Federal Police, they are working on this problem, around the clock, frankly. And they’ve got them now working in, embedded effectively, inside of Medibank to help coordinate the response. And please appreciate that we’ve got to be careful about what we say that won’t compromise the efforts to be able to track down how, who, what, where, and why this is all happening. But that work is going on as we speak. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, can I address that, Ed, because it always seems after the fact, though. I mean, surely the corporations should have their security tight enough that it shouldn’t get to this point in the first place. 

ED HUSIC: Let me come to that in a second, because you also asked me the thing about the data. But it is important that when something as serious as this happens that we’ve got people moving in quickly to try and work out, okay, what’s gone on, what do we know and deal with it. 

On the issue of – you’ve asked me two things, one about data and one about in terms of the security issue. In terms of data, I do think that’s a legitimate issue – how much companies store, why, how long. That is important. And Angus mentioned in terms of digital identity, we do need to get to a point where when you’re applying for certain things companies don’t need to hold that data but, rather, have a verification process that just does the stuff instantly and moves it out and doesn’t require that data holding in place. And that is something we flagged we want to look at longer term to make sure that that’s dealt with. 

And in terms of the security issue that you raised in our other question, that is absolutely – I think that is an issue. It reflects as much about culture as technology – that is, you can have the best – I’ve said this to businesses for many years – you can have the best cyber security systems in the world, but if your culture doesn’t value data and the way it’s captured, stored and used, it will be a problem. If you’re storing your password to an account on a post-it note, on a desktop – which has been the reason why some data hacks have occurred – that is a problem that needs to be clamped down on. And I think greater responsibility will need to be placed on the executives and directors of companies to make sure they get that cultural change in a place that ensures that the public can be confident that their data is being respected and protected.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Absolutely. Well, we need to know that our information is protected. And just as we’ve been speaking, Energy Australia has just announced that 323 customer accounts have been accessed in another cyber breach. So - addresses, phone numbers, and partial credit card information in those systems. There’s no evidence so far that customers’ info has been transferred outside Energy Australia systems, but Energy Australia has said that they’ve implemented 12-character passwords for their My Account online customer service form. So, it is happening. The hackers are targeting – the attacks are relentless, and we need to have confidence in the systems. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And that’s a matter for government to implement. 

ED HUSIC: And, Deb, if I can just quickly say, I do agree, absolutely. But the other point that’s worth noting is that INTERPOL – so the global police agency, policing agency – has said that cyber security and this type of stuff that we’re experiencing now is the biggest thing that they’re worried and concerned about globally. So, it is something that we all need to deal with here but work with other countries to make sure is looked at. And there are two things that obviously in these cases we need to be looking at – one is the sort of where you’ve got criminals, nasty actors that are trying to access this data in the way that they are, and some of it is about making sure that companies aren’t being clumsy or careless when it comes to data. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And are you confident that that’s going to occur, Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I mean, I think that things that Ed’s talking about are absolutely right. But, you know, it has to be pushed very hard and consistently. This is why if there has been a notifiable data breach and they haven’t notified, they should be – the book should be thrown at them. There’s no doubt about that. 


ANGUS TAYLOR: And, you know, making sure that companies are in a position where they don’t have to hold that data, we’re now getting close to a point where that’s achievable. And so, let’s get on with it. So, I mean, I think there is some bipartisanship on this. I totally agree that the capability of the Australian Cyber Security Centre is outstanding. But we must be right on this all the time because it is a huge deal. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: There’s too much at stake otherwise. There really is. 

I wonder if you’ve ever had high hopes for something that turned out to be very short-lived? So, what is it that you have thought, “Yeah, I’m going to really make this work,” and it was an utter dud? Who do I start with first? Ed, maybe you? 

ED HUSIC: Well, look, I thought about that, and there wasn’t anything that sprung to mind other than I did have a short-lived stint as the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, late November 2020 to late January ’21. I have to say, I was very much enjoying the portfolio and hoped to have stayed in it, but then we had a reshuffle, and I loved the space, but I also loved the fact that the National Party lost their minds that someone from Western Sydney could dare want to be an Agriculture Minister, which I thought was a bit snobby by them. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Did you buy any Blundstones maybe, or an Akubra? 

ED HUSIC: No. I mean, I didn’t get an Akubra. I reckon it’s a bit weird when city folk do that in the agriculture role. But that’s just me. 


ED HUSIC: I’ll probably get into trouble for saying that, Deb. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I don’t know. How about you, Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: I was going to offer Ed the opportunity to come down to my farm, but it was so short lived that I never got the chance. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Never got the opportunity.

ANGUS TAYLOR: But look, it’s normally Ed talking about basketball, but it’s me today. 


ANGUS TAYLOR: Because I was cricketer - which I was younger – I still play occasionally. But my son is an avid basketballer, and he dragged me onto the basketball court. 

ED HUSIC: Smart boy. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: And I thought, “You know what? I’m going to be really good at this.” I was hopeless. 


ANGUS TAYLOR: Absolutely hopeless. So, Ed, maybe you can give me some lessons on that. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, there you go – you could swap. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, happy to. Can I tell you one of the worst things I saw with people who took up basketball was Josh Frydenberg trying to play basketball. It was the first time I ever saw anyone self-commentate their play. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Really? He should stick to the tennis court. That’s where his skills were. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, he’s pretty powerful there. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Thanks, fellas. Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll talk again next week. 

ED HUSIC: Thanks, Deb.