Anti-meddling task force set up ahead of Australian by-elections

Australian elections will be safeguarded by a new federal task force targeting cyber attacks and interference.

Voters posting their votes at Byford North polling station on election day during the Canning by election

Voters posting their votes at Byford North polling station on election day during the Canning by election Source: AAP

A task force to safeguard Australian elections from cyber interference and attacks has been established ahead of five upcoming federal by-elections.

The new electoral integrity assurance task force is thought to be the first to be established for the sole purpose of assessing cyber defences for election.

It was set up before the five polls on July 28 after a request from the Australian Electoral Commission, which feared a repeat of attacks which crashed the online census survey in 2016.


The task force will be led by the Home Affairs Department and agencies including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Federal Police.

A Home Affairs spokeswoman said the group would ensure potential risks to elections, especially cyber interference, are identified and addressed.

"This is a precautionary measure, which in the age of increasing levels of cyber-enabled interference and disruption, will need to become the norm," she said.

"It is not target at any specific threat actor or impending malicious action."

It comes amid warnings from intelligence agencies of an unprecedented level of foreign interference in Australia.

Federal parliament is expected to pass laws to prevent foreign powers from meddling in Australia's democracy by the end of the month.

A bipartisan deal was struck on Thursday to pass amended legislation targeting secret attempts by foreign spies to influence Australia's politicians and media as well as ethnic and religious communities.


A second bill forcing people acting on behalf of foreign powers to register or face criminal charges is also expected to get Labor backing.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says while a final position has not been reached on the second bill, the proposed changes to the register scheme appear to avoid the problem of capturing charities, journalists, religious groups and universities.

The government says the laws are needed to ensure future elections are not interfered with by foreign players.

Ministers also point to advice from ASIO warning foreign actors are trying to access classified information about Australia's global alliances and military, economic and energy systems.

As well, ASIO says ethnic and religious communities in Australia are the subject of "covert influence operations" designed to diminish their criticism of foreign governments.

Greens senator Nick McKim says the laws will erode people's basic freedoms.

Parliament resumes for a fortnight of sittings - the last before the long winter break - on June 18.

3 min read
Published 9 June 2018 at 7:44am
Source: SBS