Budget 2021: ASIO the big winner from AU$1.9 billion national security pool

ASIO will take the majority, with over a billion dollars to be used on enhancing Australia's national security capabilities. There's also a bunch of funding for three yet-to-be-passed security Bills.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has been given a 10-year funding boost as part of the 2021 federal Budget.

The AU$1.3 billion boost, the Budget documents [PDF] say, is to be invested into building ASIO's ability to protect Australia and Australians from threats to security.

Specifically, the cash will go towards enhancing Australia's national security capabilities.

"This will support ASIO's technological capabilities, enhancing its ability to address threats to Australia's national security," the government said.

Meanwhile, a further AU$51.8 million is being provided to support the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's (ACIC) role in combatting "transnational, serious, and organised crime".

"This measure also includes funding to support enhanced collaboration and information sharing through the ongoing integration of Australian law enforcement agencies into the National Criminal Intelligence System," it said.

See also: ACIC believes there's no legitimate reason to use an encrypted communication platform

Partial funding for this measure has already been provided by the government.

"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.

"We also need to prepare for a world that is less stable and more contested."

The government is also providing AU$146 million over four years from 2021-22 for initiatives to prevent child sexual abuse, such as through building child safe capability in sporting organisations and delivering online safety education programs to prevent online harm and promote safe online practices for children and young people.

In August, the federal government released a lacklustre refreshed Cyber Security Strategy. On Thursday, as part of its digital economy strategy, it added a handful of cyber funding and initiatives, including AU$31.7 million to secure future connectivity using 5G and 6G mobile networks; a pledge to improve standards for trusted identities that underpin the digital environment; a promise to strengthen Australia's data security settings through the development of a National Data Security Action Plan; the piloting of Cyber Hubs that government hopes will see Canberra's biggest IT shops help "improve resilience and cybersecurity maturity of government agencies"; and AU$16.4 million over three years for the Peri-Urban Mobile Program to improve mobile phone connectivity in the bushfire prone areas of the peri-urban fringe of Australia's major cities.

FUNDING FOR BILLS YET TO BE PASSED

The Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020, currently before Parliament, introduces a government assistance regime that provides powers to protect assets during or following a significant cyber attack. This includes the power to authorise information gathering directions, action directions, and intervention requests.

On Tuesday, the government announced it was providing funding to "improve security arrangements for critical infrastructure".

The government will provide AU$42.4 million over two years from 2021-22 to improve security arrangements for critical infrastructure assets, including those designated as systems of national significance, in accordance with the Bill, and to assist critical infrastructure owners and operators to respond to significant cyber attacks.   

Another yet-to-be-passed Bill, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020, which paves the way for Australia to obtain a proposed bilateral agreement with the United States for implementing the US Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act), has also been allocated AU$9.6 million.

The government said it will provide the AU$9.6 million over four years from 2021-22 to support the bilateral exchange of information between Australia and the United States relating to the investigation of serious crimes.

It has also earmarked AU$4 million over four years from 2021-22, and AU$1.1 million per year ongoing, to the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to support oversight of the use of surveillance, data access, and interception powers that will be provided to security agencies under the Telecommunications and other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 and the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020.

The Identify and Disrupt Bill -- colloquially known as the "hacking" Bill -- meanwhile, is still before Parliament.

This measure will be offset by redirecting funding from the Department of Home Affairs, Budget documents say.

Elsewhere, as part of an investment into critical frontline biosecurity resources, AU$25.5 million over four years from 2021-22 will be used for "modern technologies and diagnostic tools" to improve the speed and accuracy of pest and disease identification at the border.

To modernise the country's biosecurity IT systems, technology, and data analytics, AU$31.2 million over four years from 2021-22, and AU$1.5 million per year thereafter, will be used to deliver digital capability for biosecurity screening of incoming international mail through new technology.    

The Australian government will also provide AU$98.8 million over four years from 2021-22, and AU$4.9 million ongoing per year from 2025-26, to establish an Office of Supply Chain Resilience to provide ongoing capacity to monitor and coordinate the government's efforts to boost supply chain resilience and also to support the implementation of other government policy priorities, including its COVID-19 response and continuing Australian Public Service reforms.

Elsewhere, Australia is set to receive a dedicated Freedom of Information Commissioner, a role currently filled by the Office of the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner. The OAIC has been in need of further funding for extra hands for a while, and the AU$3.9 over four years has been allocated to the new role.