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The Australian Government is continuing its campaign against encryption technology when it limits the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate serious crimes. The Minister for Home Affairs signed on to an international statement calling on technology companies to find solutions to enable law enforcement agencies to access encrypted content where authorisation is lawfully issued.

The statement — which was also signed by the governments of the UK, US, New Zealand, Canada, India and Japan — also calls on technology companies to engage in consultation with governments to facilitate legal access to encrypted content. Technology companies have also been asked to embed functions allowing them to act against illegal content and activity effectively with no reduction to safety.

Australia’s participation in the statement follows the government’s introduction of controversial legislation granting the government powers to compel technology companies to facilitate access to encrypted content by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. However, the statement asserts that the signatories “do not support counter-productive and dangerous approaches that would materially weaken or limit security systems”.

It goes on to say that “particular implementations of encryption technology, however, pose significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies. We urge the industry to address our serious concerns where encryption is applied in a way that wholly precludes any legal access to content.”

Many in the industry have insisted that any efforts to facilitate access to encrypted content by unintended viewers of the content will have the effect of fundamentally weakening encryption, exposing legitimate users to a host of privacy and security concerns.

“However, we challenge the assertion that public safety cannot be protected without compromising privacy or cybersecurity,” the statement reads.

“We strongly believe that approaches protecting each of these important values are possible and strive to work with industry to collaborate on mutually agreeable solutions.”

The statement could have far-ranging implications, because while it focuses on end-to-end encryption, the statement asserts that the principles apply “across the range of encrypted services available, including device encryption, custom encrypted applications and encryption across integrated platforms”.

Cybersecurity is a major focus of the Australian government as cyber threats and attacks have multiplied over the last year.

To safeguard against even more cybercrime, the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) ICT systems will be upgraded as part of the federal government’s Economic Recovery Plan for Australia. The upgrades include new systems for control of personnel and logistics and more seamless voter interactions with the AEC.

As part of the 2020–21 Budget, the government is investing $96.7 million over three years to replace and modernise the AEC’s key elections systems, building on funding provided in the 2019–20 Budget.

This investment in ICT upgrades will help ensure the AEC can continue to efficiently run federal elections while improving services for Australian voters. The first stage of upgrades includes improvements to the AEC Contact Centre, including access to additional self-service channels with more online support and a telephone virtual assistant.

The upgrades include temporary election workforce systems, to ensure over 90,000 workers are efficiently deployed at every election, and supply chain management controls, to support rapid production and delivery of materials to polling places and counting centres.

Additionally, coordination capabilities will allow improved monitoring of operations and incidents. Future investments into the AEC’s IT systems will include the replacement of the electoral roll management technology, improvements to data analysis and the decommissioning of legacy systems.

Federal elections are one of Australia’s largest peacetime logistical events, involving a large scale of operations for venue management, staff recruitment and product movements. These events are highly reliant on ICT systems.

The Innovation and ICT Minister announced the launch of the Perth Angels Growth and Diversity Program and announced a new partnership with industry and not-for-profits to deliver the Indigenous Angel Investor and Entrepreneur Program in Western Australia.

The partnership was agreed upon between the government, a network of private investors who actively invest in early-stage companies in Perth, Western Australia (WA) and an initiative committed to creating parity for Indigenous Australians. The Indigenous Angel program will support the next generation of indigenous entrepreneurs to grow more Indigenous businesses and help diversify the Western Australian economy.

A dedicated program for Indigenous entrepreneurs, leaders and business owners, it will provide a world-class education to empower Indigenous professionals to become more involved in early-stage business, innovation and technology.

The Indigenous Angel Investor and Entrepreneur Program also aims to remove barriers and open up investment opportunities for Indigenous entrepreneurs and investors. The partnership is being supported by the State Government through a $10,000 sponsorship from the $16.7 million New Industries Fund.

The launch of the program, funded through the New Industries Fund’s X-TEND WA Program, was postponed due to COVID-19. Through a series of masterclasses and boardroom education events, it will now support the growth of the angel investor and private sector investor community in WA with a key focus on increasing the number of female investors.

The firm is one of 11 Western Australian organisations to receive backing through the X-TEND WA Program. In addition to the Growth and Diversity Program, the group has also received funding to provide business advice and mentoring to start-ups and SMEs, as part of the Government’s COVID-19 recovery program.

This Indigenous Angel Investor and Entrepreneur Program is being piloted with the view of rolling it out nationally in 2021. Applications for the program open on 15 October and close on 29 October 2020.

The Innovation and ICT Minister stated that creating more jobs for Western Australians and diversifying WA’s economy is the foundation of the government’s New Industries Fund. The announcement of the Indigenous Angel Investor and Entrepreneur Program aims to improve knowledge, networks and opportunities for Indigenous Australians to enter the world of Angel Investing.

Empowering local entrepreneurs through tech

The New Industries Fund was announced in November 2017 as a $16.7 million fund over four years that will support and accelerate new and emerging businesses to diversify the Western Australian economy and create new WA jobs and industries.

The fund will support and grow local jobs by building on Western Australia’s competitive advantages in sectors like agribusiness, life sciences, tourism, resources, education and training, space, defence, digital data and cybersecurity, both in Perth and in the regions.

It will support a self-sustaining innovation environment that maximises State and Commonwealth agency collaboration and private sector investment. The State Government consulted extensively with a broad range of stakeholders from across the innovation community over 18 months. Further consultation is built into the fund as programs are reviewed and new ideas considered.

Regional Innovation

$4.5 million from the NIF was allocated to regional areas, with the Departments of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation; and Primary Industries and Regional Development working together to identify strategically important industries and areas for investment.

Innovation Hubs

Innovation hubs bring a critical mass of people together, with access to expertise and facilities, making better use of talent and technology, and creating WA jobs. While innovation will take place across Western Australia, a designated hub provides focus and acts as a beacon to attract start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The various state governments of Australia have rolled out cybersecurity initiatives in an attempt to sure-up the country’s digital security infrastructure. The first of these the annual cybersecurity survey of the Australian Signals Directorate which covers compliance with the Essential Eight threat mitigation strategies. The survey, which is mandatory for all non-corporate Commonwealth entities to complete, also covers cyber threats and an organisation’s cybersecurity culture.

The ASD is urging all corporate Commonwealth entities and Commonwealth companies to respond to the survey as well, though it is not mandatory. All departmental CISOs have received a link to the survey via the ASD’s government portal. The survey will be open until 30 October 2020.

Survey respondents will receive individual reports detailing their entity’s results in late 2020, while key findings from the aggregated data analysis will be released to Commonwealth entities in March 2021.

In another initiative, a collaboration between defence and industry has improved the ability for analysts to search for and assimilate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data.

The Wagardi Mission System is a new computer user interface that searches across multiple ISR databases, delivering information to the warfighter that is more complete in a reduced timeframe. The Chief of Joint Capabilities stated that the project is an important investment in sovereign capability.

The Wagardi Mission System is being delivered in partnership with an Australia-based science and technology solutions leader and is part of the first tranche of Joint Project 2096 – ISR Integration. The system will improve the ability for personnel to provide complete information, in a reduced timeframe, to support operations.

Once complete, the project will have invested around $450 million in the Australian industry, providing opportunities across a number of sectors. The initial operating capability was recently declared for the Wagardi Mission System, on budget and three months ahead of schedule.

This offers Australian industry opportunities in development and integration services, data analytics and ICT support, and includes the addition of 65 new jobs for a development and support centre. The word ‘Wagardi’ (meaning ‘dilly bag’) comes from the language used by the Larrakia people — the traditional custodians of the Darwin region.

These measures come just in time as Public Health England recently blamed a technical gaffe traced to potentially outdated Excel spreadsheets on a debacle which led to 48,000 people failing to be told to self-isolate after having close contact with patients testing positive to COVID-19.

The failure of the contact tracing system led to nearly 16,000 COVID-19 positive patients not being included in the daily reported cases. According to an advisory, over 75% of these cases should have been reported between 30 September and 2 October 2020.

While in all of the excluded cases, people received their test result as normal and were told to self-isolate, the cases were not transferred to the contact tracing system until 3 October, after the gaffe had been discovered.

The Labour Health spokesman has estimated that at least 48,000 people should have been contacted last week and told to self-isolate if the positive tests had been referred to the contact tracing system as intended.

The advisory states that mitigation has been put in place that splits large files and a full end-to-end review of all systems have also been instigated to mitigate the risk of this happening again. But the disclosure has led to questions about why government authorities are storing critical health data in Excel spreadsheets, to begin with.

Thus, it is critical that Australia’s cybersecurity infrastructure is up-to-date and secure to handle the new threats posed directly and indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian Government is making significant digital reforms to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to cut red tape for more than 4,000 businesses applying to register medicines and medical devices each year, as part of its Deregulation Agenda which will also improve the timeliness of report on patient safety.

The Government is investing $12 million over four years to digitise, transform and modernise the TGA’s business systems and infrastructure, better connecting services to get medicines and devices to patients sooner. New digital processes will deliver simpler and faster interactions between industry and government. This means earlier approvals of medical products, reduced administrative effort, and timelier decision-making by the TGA.

Under this Deregulation Agenda, the Government is focused on ensuring regulation is and remains fit-for-purpose – making it easier to do business while ensuring essential safeguards with the lightest touch. This measure will yield a significant reduction in red tape, cutting costs for the medicines and medical devices industry. It will also position Australia to more quickly access emerging and new health technologies in the international market.

The TGA receives around 26,000 applications every year for medicines and medical devices to be listed or amended on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), which allows them to be imported, sold and used in Australia.

The digital changes will enable simpler and more secure interactions between Government and industry to apply for, track, pay and manage listings for regulated and subsidised health-related products and services. The TGA receives 15,000 adverse drug reaction reports on patient safety per year which are entered manually through PDF rather than through a central database.

With these reforms, medical companies will now be able to use an electronic database to report these patients’ safety events with automatic data transfer – saving them up to 15 minutes per report. All Australians will benefit from a streamlined process which increases the timeliness of decisions on the safety, quality and efficacy of therapeutic goods, and their approval for listing on the ARTG.

Consumers and health care professionals can also have greater confidence in the safety and efficacy of therapeutic goods, with increased transparency built into the reforms. Cybersecurity will also be bolstered to ensure the protection of commercial-in-confidence information from industry.

Australia’s Deregulation Agenda

The Australian Government is committed to busting regulatory congestion and removing obstacles to business investment The Government has made deregulation a key priority. It previously achieved over $5.8 billion of savings from 2013 to 2016 through its Cutting Red Tape Agenda.

The government has now embarked on a new Deregulation Agenda to continue to remove impediments to business investment and job creation, establishing a Deregulation Taskforce to drive improvements to the design, administration and effectiveness of the stock of regulation to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose.

The Taskforce has already looked at three key areas: making it easier for sole traders and microbusinesses to employ their first-person; getting beneficial major projects up and running sooner, and reducing the regulatory burden for food manufacturers with an initial focus on exporting.

The Taskforce’s primary focus is to identify barriers to investment and job creation from the perspective of business, and then to work with business and agencies to co-design solutions across jurisdictions. This includes exploring opportunities to use ‘regtech’ to make it easier for businesses to identify their compliance obligations and engage with the Government.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) recently announced it has awarded $15.14 million in funding to 16 research projects to help address solar PV panel efficiency, overall cost reductions and end-of-life issues.

The funding has been awarded to research teams from six Australian universities including the Australian National University, Macquarie University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Sydney and Swinburne University.

ARENA initially opened the application in December last year with a $15 million commitment. The round received over 50 applications with a total project value of over $150 million.

The two-year R&D projects will support solar PV in the following areas:

  • advanced silicon: improvements to the overall cost-effectiveness of silicon-based panels already in mass-market production, and their production processes
  • tandem silicon: increasing the cost-effectiveness of silicon-based solar PV through the use of tandem materials
  • new materials: development of new materials with the potential to either reach breakthrough cost-efficiencies, or the potential for new deployment applications
  • end-of-life: new solutions, including upfront solar PV panel designs and end of life processing, that increase the cost-effectiveness of sustainable end-of-life management of solar PV panels.

The 16 projects selected will strengthen Australia’s world-leading solar PV R&D sector that ARENA has helped establish through its previous funding. This is the first time that ARENA has sought applications for addressing solutions to end-of-life solar PV issues. It is anticipated more than 50 full-time equivalent positions will be created across the 16 projects.

In addition to end-of-life issues, selected projects will also aim to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar PV for new or established applications and develop new materials with the potential to either reach breakthrough cost-efficiencies or the potential for new deployment applications.

The CEO of ARENA CEO stated that it was fantastic to see so much interest in the latest solar R&D round which is reflected in the great variety of projects across the priority areas, particularly in the Advanced Silicon field where Australia leads the world.

A key part of the funding round was finding a solution to the end-of-life of solar panels and ARENA is excited to see some interesting new research into this area. It’s an important part of the nation’s transition to renewable energy as it must be ensured that materials used in solar panels can be recycled or repurposed for future use.

The Australian Minister for Industry, Science, and Technology confirmed that Australia has ratified the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Observatory Convention. Under the convention, WA will host 130,000 antennas and South Africa 200 dishes – together making the telescope that will allow astronomers to view the cosmos in more detail than ever before.

The country will be a host of the world’s largest scientific instrument, which will help shape our understanding of the beginning of the universe.

Australia is the fourth country to ratify the SKA Observatory Convention. The Australian component of the SKA, SKA-Low, will be the world’s most sensitive low-frequency radio telescope.

Not only does the project further cement Australia’s reputation for science and research and boost its international standing in radio astronomy, but it also has the potential to create 200 construction jobs in regional Western Australia and Perth and a further 100 permanent positions.

Hosted at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, it will initially comprise more than 130,000 antennas spread over 65 kilometres in remote Western Australia. The SKA will also boost Australia’s advanced manufacturing sector, enabling local businesses to partner with international counterparts and design and build high-tech telescope components.

The WA Minister for Science stated that the move marks an important milestone for the SKA Observatory Convention and for Western Australia’s role in co-hosting one of the biggest science projects in human history. Australia’s ratification of the convention enhances Western Australia’s position as a global hub for radio astronomy and will offer significant economic and job-creating opportunities for the state.

Just over a decade ago, there were only a handful of astronomers working in WA and now there are around 135 astronomers, 25 engineers and 25 data scientists working in WA on the SKA project and in astronomical research, with more to come. The project is expected to move into the construction phase in mid-2021.

Australia investing in space tech

As part of a joint effort between the Royal Australian Air Force, DEWC Systems, Southern Launch and T-minus engineering, a DART rocket carrying a Defence payload was launched from Koonibba Test Range in South Australia, marking the first commercial rocket launch to the edge of space from Australia.

At 10:09 am on 19 September 2020, Southern Launch ignited Australia’s first commercial space-capable rocket at the Koonibba Test Range north-west of Ceduna in South Australia. And in a second first for Australia, only an hour and 40 minutes later at 11:49 am a second space capable launch was safely completed. A recovery effort is currently underway to locate the DEWC-SP1 payloads and DART rocket stages.

At just 3.4 metres long and weighing 34 kilograms, the DART rocket is a fraction of the size of rockets launched by NASA and SpaceX. This successful launch makes a great start for the DART vehicle with rocket manufacturer T-Minus Engineering keen on getting more rockets off the ground in Australia and around the World.

The Minister for Defence noted that space is an increasingly important domain. This is why the government is investing $7 billion over the next decade in space capabilities as part of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan.

The rocket will carry a prototype radio frequency receiver unit designed for Air Force. Air Force’s Plan Jericho has sponsored this prototype, developed by DEWC Systems, and marks an exciting future for Australia’s space capability.

The payload, carried on a DART rocket, provides a stepping stone for Air Force to explore how advanced rapidly deployable networked sensors can be employed to provide information across Defence networks. The DART rocket launch is a partnership between government and industry, demonstrating future opportunities for both commercial and government applications.

The AquaWatch Australia mission, being developed by CSIRO and the research consortium under a leading local supplier of fully automatic satellite systems, is one of several large research initiatives aimed at solving Australia’s greatest challenges. They are focused on outcomes that lead to positive impact, new jobs and economic growth, in this case ensuring the country can maintain and manage water quality.

Natural events such as toxic algal blooms, the contamination of drinking water, and excess runoff from irrigation all present a significant influence on the health of our inland and coastal waters. Having real-time data about these events and Australia’s waterways supports water managers in monitoring and managing water quality.

While data gathered from space provides critical insights into water quality, currently available Earth observation satellites only provide 60-70 per cent coverage for major Australian water bodies. Moreover, while the quality of some inland waterways is monitored directly by testing, this data isn’t routinely combined with satellite data.

To fill this gap, AquaWatch aims to complement existing systems and build a comprehensive national monitoring system using an extensive network of ground-based sensors placed throughout Australia’s rivers and waterways.

The CEO of the local supplier stated that the AquaWatch scoping phase will include assessing the current range of water quality monitoring programs across Australia and identifying opportunities to drive efficiencies, advancements and adoption of new space technology to safeguard our water resources.

These sensors would work together with purpose-designed Earth observation satellites to deliver real-time updates, predictive analytics and forecast warnings to water managers.

In addition to monitoring the health of inland rivers, dams and waterways, the project aims to grow the industry and create new job opportunities across the environmental data services sector, primary industry and agriculture and support drought resilience efforts.

During the initial scoping phase, CSIRO and the satellite company are collaborating with partners from the research sector, government agencies and industry including the University of Queensland, UNSW Canberra, Curtin University, Frontier SI, Water Research Australia and SatDek. Partnerships with international partners will also be explored.

The project has great potential to deliver two-fold benefits of improving water quality management as well as creating new skills and job opportunities in Australia across a range of industries.

The Director of CSIRO’s Centre for Earth Observation stated that this early phase consultation will engage with collaborators from across the industry, research and government. The aim is to work directly with water agencies, community leaders and industry to better understand the challenges faced in water health monitoring.

The government is now working with project partners to analyse the core elements required to establish an integrated space infrastructure network and create the domestic technical capability to build it.

AquaWatch also has the potential to monitor coastal wetlands, aquaculture farms, riparian vegetation and terrestrial biodiversity, mine sites, mangroves and coral reef environments.

It was noted that the outcomes could lead to a step-change in Australia’s national water quality information delivery, supporting decision-makers in water agencies, local communities, water utilities and commercial water users to provide safe drinking water and manage this precious natural resource.

After the initial AquaWatch scoping phase, CSIRO and SmartSat expect to have a framework for the future development of the mission. This will help inform the development of future local advanced manufacturing opportunities, water modelling and Earth observation data analysis and applications.

Critical event management has come to the fore with the pandemic. Forecasting, planning and management of critical events help organisations and authorities prevent disruption of life and damage to property.

Governments rely on several, specific systems for critical event management. Such programmes are essential to national well-being especially with the increase in natural disasters. But, more often than not, they operate in isolation of each other. According to world experts in Critical Event Management – Everbridge, this siloed approach can create duplication in information and processes, data contradictions and, when unchecked, could lead to loss of life and damages.

Everbridge’s Coronavirus Preparedness can make a significant difference in mitigating harm caused by the pandemic. They provide richer intelligence and correlating threats with locations of assets and people ensuring more rapid and comprehensive incident assessment and remediation.

With the pandemic forecast to be around for some time, planning responses to adverse events must continue alongside COVID-19 management. In light of this, it is expedient for governments to re-look at their systems, tools, processes and platforms they have in place to manage critical events.

October 28, 2020 | 10:30AM IST | 1:00PM SG/HKT | 4:00PM AEST


Australia is currently developing its first cubesat, a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that is made up of multiples of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm cubic units, designed to predict where bushfires are likely to start and those that will be difficult to contain.

The development will take place at The Australian National University’s (ANU) Mt Stromlo campus, led by remote-sensing expert Dr Marta Yebra and instrument scientist Dr Rob Sharp.

For this project, the ANU Institute for Space (InSpace) has awarded AU$1 million (approximately US$665k) to the team to build an optical system that can detect changes on the ground through infrared detectors on-board the satellite. The ANU team will partner with other researchers and the private sector to complete the project and launch the new satellite into low-Earth orbit.

The new satellite will accurately measure forest fuel load and vegetation moisture levels across Australia. The technology will be specifically tuned to detect changes in Australian plants and trees such as eucalyptus, which are highly flammable.

With this mission the team will receive high-resolution infrared images and data of fuel conditions that will help firefighters on the ground, said Dr Yebra, an InSpace Mission Specialist from the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the Research School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Environmental Engineering at ANU.

This infrared technology and data, which is not currently available, will help to target controlled-burns that can reduce the frequency and severity of bushfires, as well as their long-term impacts on Australia’s people, economy, and environment, she added.

This satellite will be the first in a constellation of remote sensing satellites that will monitor Australia’s environment. The constellation will be designed to have a positive impact on Australia’s property management, insurance, geological, agriculture and defence industries.

The team will gradually build up the capacity to monitor these bushfire risks in Australia. At first, they are focusing on long-term monitoring. Within the next five years, they plan to be able to monitor changes to the landscape and environment in real-time.

Pushing forward critical event management tech

The new solution is an excellent example of CEM technology. As regions and countries across the world battle wildfires and other natural calamities, Everbridge’s public warning solutions have been developed to significantly aid the mitigation of harm caused by such critical events.

Australia also recently deployed another CEM solution. OpenGov Asia reported that the operator of the suburban passenger rail network serving the city of Sydney in New South Wales launched a safety, security and emergency management platform called CriticalArc’s SafeZone. The system will help mitigate risks to staff and customers and strengthen its capacity to respond to incidents and emergencies.

SafeZone will put up to 2,500 front-line staff at more than 175 stations directly in touch with security control room teams, letting them summon immediate assistance at the touch of a button and receive an optimised response via their assigned smartphone.

This will also provide the operator with real-time situational awareness and a more complete picture of critical events, supporting security management functions, such as sending targeted alerts to specific individuals and groups and enabling control room operators to pinpoint the location of individuals needing help.

The Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Everbridge stated noted that the company’s proprietary Public Warning solution enables government organizations and public safety agencies to immediately connect with every person in an affected area during a critical event regardless of nationality, residency or mobile telephone handset type.

He also noted that Australia is a model example for population-wide alerting and emergency preparedness over the past decade, and the firm was honoured to support them on the evolution of their national system.

Critical event management has come to the fore with the pandemic. Forecasting, planning and management of critical events help organisations and authorities prevent disruption of life and damage to property.

Governments rely on several, specific systems for critical event management. Such programmes are essential to national well-being especially with the increase in natural disasters. But, more often than not, they operate in isolation of each other. According to world experts in Critical Event Management – Everbridge, this siloed approach can create duplication in information and processes, data contradictions and, when unchecked, could lead to loss of life and damages.

Everbridge’s Coronavirus Preparedness can make a significant difference in mitigating harm caused by the pandemic. They provide richer intelligence and correlating threats with locations of assets and people ensuring more rapid and comprehensive incident assessment and remediation.

With the pandemic forecast to be around for some time, planning responses to adverse events must continue alongside COVID-19 management. In light of this, it is expedient for governments to re-look at their systems, tools, processes and platforms they have in place to manage critical events.

October 28, 2020 | 10:30AM IST | 1:00PM SG/HKT | 4:00PM AEST


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