Sunrise Interview with the Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

13 November 2023


NATALIE BARR: Australia's biggest ports operator is unable to say when it will recover from a major cyber attack that's brought its operations to a standstill. DP World, which manages 40 per cent of Australia's container shipments at terminals across the country is working to restore its operations and is in talks with rival operators to get freight moving.


The shutdown has raised concerns of shortages of everything from medical supplies to Christmas toys, with experts warning a lengthy disruption could trigger another interest rate rise because of supply chain issues. Let's bring in Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, and Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie. Good morning to both of you. Tanya, the government tried to resolve this with the company. This is very important to this country. Do we know what on earth has happened?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. It is absolutely vital, as you said, about 40 per cent of goods come in through ports that are operated by this operator in Fremantle and Melbourne and Port Botany, just down the road here, and Brisbane.


We're working very closely with the operators to get things moving, and more broadly, we're working with our cyber security coordinator to make sure that businesses right across Australia are safe from cyber attacks. We know that there are criminal syndicates around the world using ransomware to try and extort money from businesses; we know that that's happening in Australia, but we don't know the extent of it because some businesses are just paying that ransom without reporting to the government. So we want to work more closely with businesses, first of all, to help them through these ransomware attacks, and secondly, to make sure that we've got a real handle on the extent of this problem in Australia so we can combat it more effectively.


BARR: Yeah. Bridget, this is a Middle Eastern‑owned company. Is there indication that it could have something to do with world affairs at the moment?


BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Well, Nat, this is exactly the type of thing that the company is investigating at the moment. They closed their landside operations on Friday in response to the attack, and they're conducting an investigation with appropriate authorities as we speak. 30,000 containers are stuck on those four ports, and that has significant impact, as you said, not just for retail shopping, but for some of those critical supplies, particularly medical supplies that can be subject to quite short use‑by dates, so if any of the viewers have concerns about that, DP World has made it clear that they will try and facilitate the quick exit off the port of that type of good. And, you know, it's the reason that Tanya outlined that we've made sure ports were part of the Critical Infrastructure Security Act in 2018 because 99 per cent of our goods come in via a port.


BARR: Yep.


MCKENZIE: And so when ports shut down, our entire economy shuts down.


BARR: Yep. The trouble with being an island, I guess. Moving on, the New South Wales Premier is calling on Canberra to help states cover the cost of policing pro‑Palestinian rallies. Chris Minns says the bill is more than $1 million each week, and this comes after thousands gathered at separate pro‑Israeli and pro‑Palestinian rallies in Sydney yesterday. Tanya, will the federal government help cover the costs to police those things?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I think it's really important that people are able to peacefully protest in a democracy like Australia. Of course, the decisions about how those protests take place, where they take place, they are matters for state governments, as are policing matters more generally. And, you know, one of the important things to note, I think, is that the protests we've seen in Sydney in recent days have been well‑behaved and peaceful. Well, that's just part of democracy.


BARR: Tanya, your colleague, Penny Wong, also under scrutiny this morning for pushing for a ceasefire in the Middle East. What's your response to that?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, I think what the Foreign Minister said is that we should be working towards a ceasefire, and just as the government has been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself, we have also said that it's important how that occurs, and that of course we should be seeking to minimise civilian casualties, and particularly in hospitals, and those vulnerable facilities in Gaza.


We know that every civilian death is a tragedy, we have consistently said that the Hamas attack on Israel was horrific and unacceptable and that hostages need to be released immediately. But working towards a ceasefire, calling for a humanitarian pause, that is a recognition that the civilian casualties in Gaza at the moment are very high, unacceptably high.


BARR: Yep. And the other side of the story, the Israelis are saying that under International Law hospitals lose their protection if they are used for military purposes, which is the accusation here.


Back on the funding ‑‑


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: And Hamas are being as bad to their own people.


MCKENZIE: Tanya, there aren’t please ‑‑


BARR: Bridget, you want to say something on this?


MCKENZIE: Sorry, Nat. Yeah, I really do. I mean for Tanya to pit these protests as peaceful really is misinformation par excellence. Our Australian Jews are currently being intimidated, threatened and assaulted in their homes, in their businesses and on the streets of Australia, which is unacceptable, and when you look at calls for state governments, you know, needing more money from Canberra to actually police these rallies, what state governments need to be doing, not just here in New South Wales, but in my home State of Victoria as well, is actually prosecuting these perpetrators so that our Australian Jewish community can feel safe through this time, and right now, because of the Foreign Minister's equivocation yesterday calling for a ceasefire as if there was some equivalence between the actions of Hamas and the actual reality of war is absolutely appalling, and it needs to be highly condemned.


BARR: Yep. Look, there are two difficult sides to this. I think you've both had your say. Just before we go, Tanya, your usual sparring partner Barnaby Joyce just got married over the weekend. Would you have any wishes for him?


MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, of course. It's always a happy day for the couple who gets married, their friends and family. I wish Barnaby and Vikki all the best.

BARR: Okay. Thank you very much, Tanya, and thank you, Bridget. We'll see you next week.