Global in perspective, regional in focus

Blog: Global in perspective, regional in focus: an Australian agenda for international cyber affairs

We live in a faster, more connected world. This challenges diplomacy  (Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, 2016)

We live in the most excitingly interconnected era in human history. Instantaneous communications, transactions, and access to information and resources keep our economies growing, infrastructure working, governments enabled and social capital flourishing. However, as the technology that enables cyberspace develops in rapid leaps, so do the methods and opportunities for those looking to exploit it for illegitimate purposes.

There is rarely an occasion now when the big international relations issue of the day doesn’t contain a cyber component.  Cyber issues have moved from being perceived as a technical, low priority matter to one of strategic importance.

This is why the Australian Government created the Ambassador for Cyber Affairs position. I’m delighted to be the inaugural appointee.

Working with the domestic lead at the Australian Government Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Alastair MacGibbon, and the operational lead at the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Clive Lines, it is my job to ensure Australia has a coordinated, consistent and influential voice on International Cyber Affairs.

Our international engagements are diverse, covering aspects of our trade relationships, international security issues, transnational crime, human rights (including freedom of speech and privacy) and even development assistance. In coordinating and prioritising these issues, I will consult and partner widely across government, the private sector and with relevant stakeholders.

Our approach to International Cyber Affairs is necessarily global in its perspective yet regional in its approach. In the Indo-Pacific, we sit in an economically progressive region where digital opportunities are endless. The potential to unlock the benefits of cyberspace will be enabled by bridging digital divides, building good cyber security practice and ensuring that the Internet remains open, free and secure. This includes ensuring the Internet is free of state censorship.

Focusing our resources on developing cyber capacity in the region is  crucial. It will enhance the benefits of the online world in our region and enhance Australia’s national security and export opportunities in the digital age.

This is why my inaugural overseas visit focused on our regional partnerships, to reinforce their importance to Australia’s present and future in cyberspace and to build our ties on cyber affairs. I landed in Singapore to discuss cyber-capabilities in the Asia Pacific and international norms of state behaviour in cyberspace at a preeminent regional forum and  met with our key partner agencies there.

I then travelled to Indonesia and Malaysia to discuss enhanced cyber cooperation between our countries and met with private sector companies working on aspects of cyber security. We shared ideas on how to progress a future Internet environment that benefits our economies, societies and  national security.

The hard work is already underway in developing an Australian International Cyber Engagement Strategy, which will provide a clear narrative for what Australia hopes to achieve in cyberspace. In addition to this strategy, capacity building is a priority and DFAT’s Cyber Cooperation Program is our key mechanism for delivery. Each year for the next four years we will fund $1 million worth of cyber capacity building initiatives.  I’m delighted we’ve already kicked off with an initial call for bids on the DFAT website. Applications for the first round close on 17th February, so get your bids in quick.

In partnership, Australia and the Indo-Pacific can all benefit from the digital age.

Dr Tobias Feakin is Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Cyber Affairs. He leads Australia’s whole‑of‑government international engagement to advance and protect Australia’s national security, foreign policy, economic and trade, and development interests in the internet and in cyberspace.

Follow Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs on Twitter: @AusAmbCyber