Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

7 July 2020

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

KIERAN GILBERT:

Joining me now is the Government Services Minister Stuart Robert. You addressed the Press Club today, Minister. In terms of sovereignty for Australians' data, can you explain to us what the message is on that front? I guess particularly in the context of the Prime Minister's recent statements about the cyber threat and how much the Government's putting into that.

MINISTER ROBERT:          

Well the Government has made a decision that all services of government will be available digitally by 2025. Number of weeks ago, we released the new enhanced or the future of myGov. If you go to myGov and scroll to the bottom, you'll see a link to the future of it. And of course, we'll have the Data Availability and Transparency Act into Parliament shortly that'll allow all of government's datasets to be used to provide services and support to citizens. So as we start to have one digital front door for government and citizens be able to see all of their interactions with government, we need to take care of that data so we're exploring what does it mean for nationally significant sovereign data and how should we protect that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So basically, citizens, Australians, can have all their information as it pertains to government in one spot. But by doing that as well, you want to ensure that if that's the front door, you don't want the back door to be accessed by any…

MINISTER ROBERT:

Correct.

KIERAN GILBERT:

…cyber threat.

MINISTER ROBERT:

We want to say to citizens we're going to be very transparent with how we'll use your data and transparent in how we'll secure it. And we think there is a case and we're exploring this now for that Australian data sets to be in Australian data centres, run by Australians with Australian providers, and securely housed and routed within Australia to give maximum assurance to Australians their data's safe.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And the COVIDSafe app, I know you mentioned that there've been regular updates to the app and bugs have been ironed out, but is it actually working now to the assistance of health authorities in Victoria, for example, where we're seeing this spike?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely. It's been working for many numbers of weeks. In fact, Adelaide University just came out to say it's the most secure of all 34 tracing apps and the Sax Institute has just published a peer review paper talking it up as one of the leading apps in the world. Now, I haven't got the exact numbers but it's somewhere under a hundred times the app's been used. But remember, it's there to digitally enhance a manual tracing process, not that operate by itself but in concert with what public health officials are doing in terms of the manual tracing they can do.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And that- so they will be using that in an increasing way in the context of this, or effectively a second wave isn't it in Victoria.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I suspect so and I'd be encouraging everyone to download the app. Peer reviewed papers, including Australian universities, are saying it's safe. It's secure. It's one of the most functional in the world. 6.5 million Australians, over 40 per cent, with a mobile phone have downloaded it. It's one of the greatest debts in the world. It stood the test of time. It's now had seven updates. The tech communities have shown potential little bugs. They're all fixed. So it is a perfect opportunity, if you haven't downloaded it, to download the app.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah. You said you haven't got the exact numbers but have you got a rough sense of how many, say, in Victoria where obviously the tracing is a huge task right now, isn't it, when you've got a couple of hundred people today, new cases. They've got a huge challenge in front of them. Have you got a sense of how many times or how many occasions they've been able to use the app?

MINISTER ROBERT:

My understanding is it's about 90. Don't quote me, I could be slightly off. It was 30 cases a number of weeks ago but it's obviously growing as the number of people who contract and catch the virus, obviously, the amount of time the COVID app is used. But the beauty of the app is there is that you can never remember everyone you've been close to, but the app can when it connects to another downloaded application. Now, the Prime Minister used this analogy - it's a very good one - it's like putting sunscreen on when you go outside. Don't go outside, Kieran, without your COVIDSafe app.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah. Indeed. Well I've got it downloaded absolutely on my iPhone. I know the question has been that between iPhones that it might not be picked up. Is that a concern?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The challenge is we're using the ubiquitous nature of the software and the hardware. So an Apple and a Google phone. So the IOS, Internet operating system of Apple, the native Bluetooth is what we call a moderate effectiveness. So effectiveness is about 50 per cent of the time when it's locked in the background, speaking to another locked phone in the background, and it varies based on software build, based on handset. So they are the challenges. We're working with Apple to improve that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And would you- I know that Apple and Google are both establishing their own framework for tracing of COVID. Is that something you can engage with to maximise the app?

MINISTER ROBERT:

They've put out their exposure notification framework, which is the way they see the contact tracing should operate, which is only phone to phone. It excludes public health that only polls every five minutes. Ours poll every one minute. And of course, Apple and Google turned it on, they can turn it off. We think it's unacceptable as a sovereign nation: the tech companies will decide when a pandemics over or how often you poll. Hence, why Australia, Poland, India, Israel, Great Britain, France have all started on the journey - and Singapore - of their own sovereign applications. And I would say to Apple and Google, whilst their exposure notification framework has a much stronger Bluetooth signal than they provide for ordinary handsets, I think they have a moral responsibility to ensure that signal strength is also provided to all sovereign nations who've chosen a sovereign app locked in with their public health officials.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So ours, while it's got all the tech approvals and as you said, the peer reviews and so on have been glowing, it's not- in a practical sense, it's not a white elephant. It is being used.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's being used exceptionally well. And right now, I suspect it's being used in ever greater numbers.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yes. Okay. And finally, well a couple of things before I let you go. In terms of the overall position the nation's in, we've been doing incredibly well and then, this situation in Melbourne, obviously very… it's causing anxiety I think for many Melburnians and Victorians, not just because of their health concern but the upheaval again, with Daniel Andrews about to announce this lockdown in 20 minutes from now.

MINISTER ROBERT:

And it is sad and you've got to feel for Victorians, who the vast bulk of them are doing the right thing. And the nation was in a good place, but right now, we have to all lend our shoulder to the wheel. I've got 600 public servants from Services Australia now working with the Daniel Andrews Government to assist them, to help them, and the Commonwealth will continue to provide every assistance to help out our fellow Australians.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Okay. And Mathias Cormann announced he's leaving the Cabinet. You've got a military background; do you think could be Defence Minister maybe?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well the Prime Minister giveth and the Prime Minister taketh away, but more importantly, Mathias has been a great stalwart. I think about the work he's done in finance from the very difficult conditions we inherited in 2013. A budget back in balance but of course, now, a budget that's supporting the economy. He's done a great job. It'd be sad to see him go.

KIERAN GILBERT:

I think you're in a fair position though. The Prime Minister is one of your best friends. So, already in Cabinet; defence - is that something that would appeal to you?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, I mean, we all love defence. There's a whole bunch of veterans now, which is great, but as I outlined to the National Press Club today, we've got a massive job in front of us in the digitisation of delivery for government. In terms of NDIS, we're at 90 per cent rollout. I think I've got enough work to do, as do most of my colleagues.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Minister Stuart Robert, thanks. Appreciate it. See you soon.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Pleasure Kieran.

 

Page last updated: 7 July 2020