"The warfare of the 21st century" is going to be "fought in cyberspace before kinetic shots are fired" says leading national security expert David Irvine.
And perhaps the fight has already begun, with Australia's institutions, businesses, and citizens subject to a near constant barrage of cyber attacks.
Previously chair and now a board member of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, Irvine has a deep knowledge of the cyber risks posed to Australia and Australians by both nation states and criminals.
His career has included heading both ASIS, which manages Australia's overseas spying activities, and ASIO, responsible for domestic protection.
Irvine describes cybercrime as a "massive issue", and say that compared to countries like "China, Russia,[...]Iran, and North Korea" the West is lagging behind in its defensive cyber capability.
"I think almost every Western country is probably behind the game in its defences."
Part of this is the nature of cyber incursions. "One of the rules in cybercrime is that the criminal is always half a step ahead of the protector."
What can be done? Last year the government committed $1.67 billion over 10 years to combating cybercrime, but Irvine calls in particular for a "public awareness campaign" to get the message through strongly.
"I think back to the old days of HIV and the Grim Reaper, and my sense is that we actually need a very hard hitting campaign that brings home to individuals and businesses[...] the threat that they are under and the sort of resilience that they need to develop as individuals, as companies, and as a nation."
Irvine is also chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board, and is a former ambassador to China. He says of the current tensions with China, and warnings about "the drums of war":
"Ultimately, I think we depend on China and the United States to develop a modus vivendi which concedes some interests but protects others. Because the alternative is really too horrendous to contemplate."
Sunday is ANZAC day - and this year it comes at a particularly important time for Australia’s military image.
Last week, Scott Morrison announced Australia’s remaining troops will leave Afghanistan by September, following President Biden’s announcement of the United States withdrawal.
One negative legacy of Australia’s participation in this conflict is documented in the Brereton report on Australia war crimes, which detailed alleged incidents of unlawful killing and cruelty by some special forces troops.
Among the report’s recommendations was the revocation of the Meritorious Unit Citation that had been awarded to some 3,000 soldiers.
The Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Angus Campbell, agreed with the recommendation. But critics were fierce and this week the new Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the award would not be revoked.
Executive Director of the Australia Defence Association Neil James joins the podcast, to discuss the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the strategic risk China poses, and the high profile new minister in the portfolio.
James is concerned the departure of international forces from Afghanistan will lead to more instability.
“By withdrawing and without a peace agreement with the Taliban, it’s going to be a reasonable problem. The simple thing about all wars is they always end when one side gives up or both sides get tired. And in this case, unfortunately, the message being sent to the Taliban is that the international community has given up.”
On China, James is concerned about any “number of flash points that could easily cause a war, even if only accidentally”.
Taiwan “is the big flash point.”
“President Xi will seek to legitimise his presidency by, in his words, absorbing Taiwan back into the motherland. That will automatically cause a war for the simple reason that Taiwan is a functioning democracy and a lot of the world’s democracies will probably object to that. That’s the biggest flash point.”
On the controversial Dutton decision to override Campbell over the citation, James believes the minister did the wrong thing.
“I think probably, to be brutally frank, he was ill advised. And I think if he [had] bothered to consult a bit more broadly and understood the implications of what he was doing, he may not have done it.”
“[The revocation] needs to be done for the simple reason that the revocation of the citation isn’t an Australian issue - it’s an international issue. We’re showing the world that we’re taking the Brereton report seriously.
"We admit the war crimes occurred even if we have difficulty convicting anyone of it, eventually. They certainly definitely occurred. And therefore, we have to be seen to be doing something about it.
"And by cancelling the revocation, we’re actually sending the wrong message internationally about Australia’s commitment to international law. But we’re also sending the wrong message internally within the defence force about unprofessional behaviour.”
While James thinks Dutton was “the only bloke who could have taken over the ministry after [Linda] Reynolds” was moved, he remains a strong defender of Reynolds.
Even before the Brittany Higgins matter, Reynolds faced considerable criticism from commentators. James believes there was a sexist element in some of the attacks on her performance in the portfolio, and he condemns those who thought Australia couldn’t be “taken seriously as a country when both the foreign minister and the defence minister were female”.
“I mean, that’s just absurd in the 21st century. It was actually absurd for most the late 20th century.”
Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate has given evidence to a Senate inquiry into her dramatic exit from Australia Post.
Holgate left her position last year, when the prime minister denounced her in parliament for giving Cartier watches as rewards to Australia Post executives.
Victim of a hit job, Holgate inflicted damaging hits of her own – delivering blows against Scott Morrison and Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo, and following up her evidence with a media blitz.
She accuses Morrison of bullying and says Di Bartolomeo should resign.
Queensland Nationals senator Matt Canavan, who sat in on her appearance, also believes Di Bartolomeo should go.
“The CEO of Australia Post, just like any government organisation, is not appointed by the minister or the government. The government appoints a board and then the board, under the chair’s direction, hires a CEO.
"The big main job of the chair is to find a good CEO and give them good direction. And that hasn’t occurred here.
"And I think, therefore, the buck must stop with Lucio.”
Despite this, Canavan doesn’t believe an apology is owed by the prime minister for his “parliamentary reaction”, as it was “understandable and everyone had a similiar reaction”. An apology is required from the government, however, for the “dismount, how we’ve handedled the situation post the initial scandal”.
Canavan belongs to the group within the Nationals known for being pro-coal, stirring the pot, and putting pressure on leader Michael McCormack. On this podcast, he discusses the Nationals’ election prospects, as well as the possible return to parliament of former Nationals leader and deputy prime minister John Anderson, who is seeking preselection for a Sneate run.
“[John Anderson is] making a major contribution to the intellectual richness of our country[…] he’s quite a thought leader. I think having the platform of the Senate would amplify that voice a bit. I think he’d also play a very stabilising and educating sort of role in our party room.”
As of Tuesday, only 920,334 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered - a fraction of the four million doses the Morrison government had promised by end-March.
The rollout's complications and failures have sparked a backlash from some GPs, pharmacists, and states.
The federal government says the problems are mainly supply issues – notably, the failure of millions of doses to arrive from overseas. Also, CSL has had trouble quickly ramping up its production.
At the same time, there have been glitches in the logistics of delivery to doctors and the states.
This week Stephen Duckett joins the podcast to critique the rollout. Currently director of the health and aged care programme at the Grattan Institute, he was formerly secretary of the federal health department and so has seen the health bureaucracy from the inside.
Duckett is highly critical of how the rollout has gone, with the government over-hyping expectations.
"The government hasn't met a single one of its targets so far. They had targets about four million people by the end of March. They had a target, about more than 500,000 residential aged care workers and residents by mid-March.
"Now, sure, it's the biggest logistic exercise we have ever seen, but the government has had eight months or so to prepare for it.
"I think the government should have set reasonable targets. It should have said, look, we know it's really, really important to get the vaccine rollout started, but we are reliant on overseas."
"The prime minister said he wanted to under promise and over deliver. He did the reverse."
One issue Duckett identifies has been the politicisation of the process.
"There's been a huge number of vaccine announcements. Every micro-possibility has been wrung out of every announcement. We've got photos of vaccines coming off planes. We've got announcements that we're thinking about having a contract."
"I think[...]the commonwealth initially thought it was all going to go very smoothly and they'd coast into the election very, very comfortably on the back of a successful vaccination rollout programme.
"So I think it had a political overlay from the start."
In the passionate debate over the treatment of women in workplaces, and particularly the extent of violence and harassment, the voice of Indigenous women, especially those living in isolated communities, has gone largely unheard.
Linda Burney, speaking at the ALP’s National Conference this week, strongly advocated for equality and opportunity for all in Australia. She called for a constitutionally-enshrined voice for First Nations people in parliament, commitment to realising the Uluru Statement in full, and a renewed focus on ‘truth-telling’.
As Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, and for Indigenous Australians, Burney joins the podcast to discuss the voice of Indigenous people, especially in light of the current cultural movement.
Domestic violence against women in Indigenous communities is a serious issues - a 2018 report by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare assessed Indigenous women as 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as non-Indigenous women.
Burney sees the abuse partly in historical terms.
“Think about the Stolen Generation…so many women that were removed were sexually assaulted and ended up in dreadful situations. Now they became mothers, and those mothers became mothers, and that trauma is handed down.”
Burney calls for change on at a “local community level”
“The Aboriginal women that I speak to don’t necessarily want this to end up with a man with a criminal conviction and the possibility of going to jail.
"What they want to see is for the violence to stop and for men to get help. And where I’ve seen domestic violence programmes in the Aboriginal community that are really successful, is at a local community level. Because the community has to own the problem, before it’s dealt with.”
And what about the attitude of Indigenous men?
“I don’t think aboriginal men are resistant to change. We have in the Aboriginal community a very strong movement in terms of mens’ groups.
"Men realise that there is a problem. They realise that they’re part of the problem. But we have to find ways to make them part of the solution as well.”
Over the last month, as more and more stories of sexually explicit behaviour and misconduct within the walls of Parliament House have been revealed, the “culture” of politics has come into question.
One particular issue is the role and representation of women, and the need for more female voices to express the interests – and pain and frustrations – of women across the country.
As Sussan Ley puts it:
“I feel overwhelmingly that the culture of this place has got to change.”
Ley, Senator Marise Payne’s “proxy” as minister for women in the House of Representatives, represents the regional seat of Farrer in southern NSW. She acknowledges there is much work to be done in educating the diverse members of her electorate about how far the whole gender debate has moved.
While there was a small women’s march in her electorate - in Albury - she notes the silent majority who are desperate for change:
“Women on farms, women who are powerless in their relationships because they wouldn’t even be able to talk about these things at their kitchen table or, in some cases, women who aren’t allowed to leave the house because of the nature of their personal relationships.
"There were women silently cheering this from everywhere.”
Ley was one of the first government MPs to voice her support for quotas within the Liberal Party - to afford more women political opportunities.
Talking to Michelle Grattan, Ley advocates for what she calls for a “smart quota system” in contrast to a “blunt instrument”.
“I’m uncomfortable with something that would say ‘okay, your seat’s a woman seat, your seats not’. I mean, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Under her idea, “in [the Liberal Party] constitution, it will say we accept that we will have 40% or 30% of women candidates in our seats.
"It then has to say not just women candidates, because sometimes candidates have a very small chance of winning in safe opposition seats. So you’d have to say we’ve got seats that we describe as winnable…and unwinnable.”
“And the ones that step forward in seats where there’s not so much chance would get very well supported, so they wouldn’t be left to fend for themselves.”
On Monday, women across the nation marched, demanding justice, safety and equality. But the government's response was lacklustre, with Scott Morrisona and the Minister for Women Marise Payne refusing to go outside to the crowd.
Morrison later chose his words badly when he said: "Not far from here, such marches, even now are being met with bullets, but not here in this country".
Independent MP Zali Steggall described Morrison's comments as "incredibly sad" and "just stunning".
A former lawyer and olympian, Steggall is currently championing two private member's bills - a proposal for a national climate change framework, and an amendment to the sex discrimination act which would allow judges, MPs, and statutory appointees to be prosecuted for sexual harassment.
Steggall is disappointed in the government's response to the strong push for women's rights. "I've been quite baffled to understand the Prime Minister's response to this situation and the [rape] allegations."
And she doesn't believe Payne has been much better. "I've been absolutely, really disappointed with the minister for women's response."
She is somewhat more encouraged by the government's changing attitude towards climate change, noting Morrison's language has changed "dramatically" in the last 12 months. But simply saying he wants to get to net zero "as soon as possible" is not good enough, she says.
"That's not the certainty that business and the private sector are looking for. They are looking for it to be legislated, and with a clear pathway."
Christian Porter has unequivocally denied the historic rape allegations levelled against him, and says he is determined to stay in his job as attorney-general.
Both Scott Morrison and Porter are adamant the "rule of law" in this country places the attorney-general beyond prosecution, now that the NSW police have closed the case.
Porter is the country's first law officer and many argue that requires a stiffer test of suitability.
This week UNSW professor of law Fleur Johns joins the podcast, to discuss the legal role of the attorney-general, how allegations of this kind can affect the performance of his duties, and the validity of the "rule of law" argument.
The role of the office of the attorney-general is both one of "actual powers" and "a repository of great symbolic power," Johns says.
This symbolic power is compromised by "serious allegations that go to the ability of a person to exercise power over another person in a way that is responsible."
"Allegations that are made of a serious abuse of power having been conducted could erode...public trust, especially when those allegations have not had an opportunity to be tested, as is the case here."
Johns "wholeheartedly" rejects the view an independent inquiry into the rape allegations would compromise the rule of law.
"It's absolutely par for the course that the rule of law is delivered through a range of different procedural mechanisms."
"The testing of these allegations...with the appropriate protections to ensure the rule of law, would actually be a way of ensuring that that ideal of the rule of law is defended and promoted.
"[It would show] that we do experience a sense of being governed by laws and legal processes and legal institutions, rather than by particular men and women who happen to be in power at any one time."
The Royal Commission into Aged Care has now delivered its final report, and its findings are an indictment of the inadequacies of the present system. The report calls for a refocus within the aged care system, placing the people receiving care at the centre.
However the feasibility and affordability of the 148 recommendations are yet to be assessed.
Patricia Sparrow is CEO of Aged & Community Services Australia, a peak body which represents not-for-profit members providing residential care for some 450,000 people throughout the country.
Speaking to Michelle Grattan, she says she is disappointed the commmission did not provide estimates of the funding needed to reform the system.
“Royal commission research showed that Australia spends around 1.2% of its GDP on aged care, but other comparable countries in the OECD, the average they spend is around 2.5%.
"I’m not saying that’s exactly what’s needed, but I think it gives us a sense of the scale and the scope of what’s going to need to be considered.”
As for fears the government might fall short of serious change when it releases its full response around budget time, “I think the indications are that they will do a serious response, but [there have been] 20 reports over 20 years and that hasn’t happened.”
“We want to ensure that…there is a desire to fundamentally reform the system. Because anything short is not going to cut it.”