Budget 2020: Commonwealth Ombudsman scores AU$1.6m to oversee encryption laws

Elsewhere, government fills out some of the details for where its cybersecurity strategy money will be spent.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
(Image: APH)

If there is one word to sum up the Australian Budget of 2020-21, it is pre-announced.

As far back as June, it's been possible to see the framework that the government has used for its cyber announcements, at the time announcing AU$1.35 billion for its Cyber Enhanced Situational Awareness and Response (CESAR) package.

By August, another AU$320 million was kicked in via the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy to take the total to the AU$1.7 billion -- the figure being thrown about with maddening glee in the papers.  

One of the rare notable pieces of funding was the fulfilment of the wish from the Commonwealth Ombudsman for more funding.

"The government will provide AU$1.6 million in 2020-21 (including $0.9 million in capital funding) to the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to ensure that it can effectively oversee the use of the new Telecommunications and other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 by law enforcement agencies," the Budget papers stated.

"This measure will be offset by redirecting funding from the Department of Home Affairs."

The irony is Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe was looking for funding to handle the proposed Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (IPO) Bill 2020 that would allow for Australia to work towards a bilateral agreement with the United States in order to implement the US CLOUD Act.

Entering into a bilateral CLOUD Act agreement would enable Australian law enforcement to serve domestic orders for communications data needed to combat serious crime directly on US-based companies, and vice versa.  

"If passed, the IPO Bill will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain certain electronic information under proposed and future bilateral or multilateral agreements, when compared to current mutual legal assistance arrangements," Manthorpe wrote at the time.

"On this basis, I anticipate that not only will the number of inspections my office is required to perform increase, but so too will the volume of electronic information accessed by Australian law enforcement agencies which my staff will need to asses."

Elsewhere in the Budget papers, AU$12.7 million has been set aside for an Australia-India cyber and critical technology partnership as part of a AU$62 million plan across four years to "support the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with India", which includes AU$19.5 million to focus on science, technology, and innovation. This announcement was made on June 4.

The government also said it would spend AU$222 million over four years with AU$22.3 million ongoing to improve and modernise the IT systems and business practices related to export regulations in the agricultural sector. The money will go towards "simplifying interactions between farmers and exporters and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment", integrating systems to lower "regulatory burden", as well as "mitigating export system outages and improving the cybersecurity of information".

AU$4.9 million will also be spent across two years to "build, consolidate, and strengthen cybersecurity capability in the energy sector", which is in addition to the AU$4.7 million that will be spent in 2020-21 on the Australian Sports Foundation to help the fundraising of community sports clubs and boost the network and cyber functions of the organisation.

Across the Cyber Security Strategy, AU$21 million will be spent in 2020-21, AU$43 million will follow in 2021-22, a further AU$37.3 million will appear in 2022-23, and AU$48 million is allocated for 2023-24. This brings the noted allocations to just over AU$149 million across the forward estimates.

Of that, the Australian Signals Directorate will lose AU$10.7 million in 2020-21, followed by AU$10.8 million of funding related to the strategy in 2021-22, and AU$11 million for 2022-23. No funding is allocated for 2023-24.

Across the four years, the Australian Federal Police will get almost AU$90 million, Home Affairs will get AU$54.2 million related to the strategy, and the Department of Industry, Science, Energy, and Resources will get AU$37.7 million.

The Budget papers stated the $1.4 billion in funding for CESAR will be spent over a decade, and that it would be offset by pulling funding from elsewhere within Defence. 

The papers also stated the Office of the eSafety Commissioner would receive AU$39.4 million over three years to "continue its work keeping Australian families safe".

"The additional funding will enable the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to respond to a sustained increase in demand for its existing programs and fulfil additional functions and responsibilities, including overseeing a new adult cyber abuse takedown scheme under the new Online Safety Act."

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