Fresh from his redemption after The Great Bush-fire Debacle, Scott Morrison is reverting to type. In a farcical press conference he stated that Australia’s institutions and businesses were being targeted by a sophisticated state-based cyber actor. In an unexpected outbreak of coyness he was unable to name the state-based actor. We were left to ponder the descriptor “sophisticated”.
So there was no attack, as such, but the country’s organisations were being targeted, by an unknown nation-state, for reasons undefined. He was particularly snappy when questioned by journalists, throwing back to his familiar lines like “I have already answered that question.” He is clearly a man on a mission, and he is not prepared to waste words when the country is facing an imminent ‘targeting’. It sort of reminds one of being in danger of being gummed to death by an ageing possum.
This is the old ‘national security chestnut‘, regularly resurrected, whenever the Coalition feels it is in danger of becoming becalmed. Trot out the Aussie flags, and talk in a hushed voice about a clear and present danger to the Commonwealth. This way you kill two birds with the one stone. Bird #1 – throw Peter Dutton a bait, so that he is distracted by mythical enemies; Bird #2 – frighten the citizenry, while implying that Labor is weak on national security. Generally they use better imagery than an unknown non-assailant doing a bit of targeting of unknown targets, but you go with what you have.
Various agencies have responded that it was well known that this country’s organisations were vulnerable, and that many government departments were aware of their own vulnerabilities, but were too incompetent, or too lazy, to apply available patches to software previously identified as open to attack. It seems that the sophisticated state-based cyber actor is a good sport, in that it did not escalate from targeting to attacking.
How to re-skill Australians?
In a seemingly related policy move the Government decided to re-design the university sector’s funding. Clearly the country would benefit greatly from having university qualified IT professionals who could actually apply those pesky patches. Certainly anyone with an Arts degree would be out of his or her depth.
The Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that universities should be more vocational based. So he was reducing fees on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) but increasing the fees for the Humanities. Supposedly the STEM graduates are more employable, and better satisfy current and future needs in the economy. This is an odd claim. For instance, Mr Tehan and his Labor party counterpart, Tanya Plibersek are both Arts graduates, and as Ms Plibersek noted, they both have good jobs.
Traditionally, the humanities include such fields as art, languages, literature, music, philosophy, religion, history, and cultural studies. His reasoning seems to be that a rounded education, with social skills and analysis and reasoning thrown in, is less important than pumping out efficient technicians.
So Scott Morrison has made two policy decisions this last week. In the first he put Australia’s organisations on notice that they are being targeted, in a cyber sense, and they better wake up to themselves.
Secondly, he decided that STEM will cost less than Humanities courses, so he is purportedly driving students to abandon Humanities courses. He framed the sweeping changes to university funding “as a re-prioritisation from arts to sciences to support the ‘jobs of the future’. But the details tell a very different story.
While the package punishes arts students, it also deprives universities of the resources they need to teach STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. https://www.theage.com.au/national/it-doesn-t-add-up-uni-funding-overhaul-will-also-hurt-stem-students-20200621-p554n9.html
So the sum total of the Government’s achievements was essentially in the eye of the beholder – Government by press announcements, smoke and mirrors. Welcome back, Scotty from Marketing.