National security is the big winner of the 2021 federal budget, with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) scoring a $1.9 billion funding boost over the next 10 years.
“While we have been fighting COVID, other threats to our national security have not gone away,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said during his Budget speech.
“To keep Australians safe from these threats, whether domestic or foreign, the government is providing an additional AU$1.9 billion over the decade to strengthen our national security, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies.”
The funding, as outlined in the Budget documents, is set to be spent on fleshing out ASIO’s ability to protect Australians – and the country at large – from security threats. In particular, the federal government will invest in boosting the organisation’s technological capabilities as the threat of cyberattacks continues to grow.
“This will support ASIO’s technological capabilities, enhancing its ability to address threats to Australia’s national security,” the government said.
A major chunk of the funding – $945 million, to be precise – will be spent developing the speed and scale in which ASIO is able to combat foreign interference threats and espionage.
To put it simply, the world is becoming super technologically advanced at a rapid rate, which poses a huge risk to national security unless ASIO is able to advance at an equal pace. And unfortunately, tackling complex threats to national security doesn’t come cheap.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews asserted that the funding is on of the largest investments ever made in Australia’s national security.
“This unprecedented, long-term investment in our nation’s security will give ASIO the certainty it needs to develop its capabilities and workforce over the next decade,” she said.
“Coming on top of already record funding for ASIO, this funding boost will ensure ASIO can significantly enhance its capability to identify and respond to threats.
“It will also enable ASIO to respond to challenges posed by rapid technological change, particularly through leveraging the Australian technology industry.”
But despite being a pricey endeavour, the move comes after a stark warning from ASIO director-general Mike Burgess, who said that foreign spies are “constantly seeking to penetrate government, defence, academia and business to steal classified information, military capabilities, policy plans and sensitive research” during his annual threat assessment earlier this year.
“They are intimidating members of diaspora communities and seeking to interfere in our democratic institutions,” Burgess said.
“Over the past three years, ASIO has seen espionage and foreign interference attempts against all levels of Australian politics, and in every state and territory.”
Interestingly, the government has allocated significant funding to three security bills that are yet to be passed, including the controversial Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 otherwise known as the “hacking” bill.
Under the guise of providing funding to “improve security arrangements for critical infrastructure,” the government will provide $42.4 million, $9.6 million and $4 million to projects related to the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020, Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020 and the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 respectively
Additionally, an extra $305 million will be sent to Canberra to fund and staff ASIO’s new high-tech headquarters in the nation’s capital.
The major national security spending comes as Josh Frydenberg asserted that Australia needs to “prepare for a world that is less stable and more contested.”