Julia Gillard will take command of cyber security policy away from the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) under a sweeping cabinet reshuffle that also claimed the scalp of Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.
In a single line buried within the Prime Minister’s press speech, but not read by Gillard, the Federal Government announced that “responsibility for cyber security policy will move from the Attorney-General’s portfolio to my portfolio”.
The Attorney General's Department and Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) could not immediately say what the changes mean for Australia's cyber security agencies.
Requests for clarification from the PMC's cyber security area were not returned by the time of publication.
Staff within cyber security agencies told SC it was "business as usual" as they had not been informed of changes.
But government and industry insiders say the move could give teeth to the upcoming cyber security whitepaper being drafted by Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Former AGD staff told SC more involvement in cyber security matters by PMC would bode well for the industry. They said it could bring Cabinet support to fix the string of gaps expected to be identified in the paper to be released mid next year.
Insiders also said it could also pave the way for Australia to install a cyber security tsar and a security clearing house recommended by a House of Representatives committee.
The closest government head to a cyber tsar is national security adviser Dr Margot McCarthy and deputy national security adviser and former Defence Signals Directorate official, Rachel Noble.
Both are focused on a broad spectrum of security issues that include counter-terrorism efforts.
Robert McClelland became Federal Attorney-General in 2007. During his tenure he established the cyber security agency CERT Australia and helped spearhead PMC’s cyber security whitepaper with defence minister Stephen Smith and communications minister Stephen Conroy.
But several former AGD staff said outgoing McClelland had failed to solve the “big problems” in Australia's cyber security arrangements.
“Generally speaking it is considered that he did not do much,” one senior source said.
“There were many problems – the big one is imbalance in funding between cyber security agencies, that the funding is not going to the right agencies.”
SC understands that ASIO had mopped up the lion’s share of cyber security funding, starving CERT Australia of much-needed cash.
McClelland's office could not be reached for comment.
Sources said former Liberal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Daryl Williams had taken “more interest” in developing Australia’s cyber security capabilities.
Ruddock told SC that during his tenure as Attorney-General, he considered information security a "very significant matter".
"We were very alert to it," Ruddock said. "When I had those responsibilities, a trademark of mine was to act properly and quickly on matters on which I was advised. You cannot afford to contemplate and cogitate long on these matters because they move on quickly."
However Ruddock acknowledged that information security threats were "very embronic" during that time and had become more complex during McClelland's term of office.
McClelland will be replaced as Attorney-General by outgoing Health Minister Nicola Roxon and will remain in Cabinet overseeing disaster management housing affordability and homelessness.